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The Grange: creator of county fairs | Guest Column
By Susan Key
Special to the Journal
A certain glow can be detected on the faces of islanders this week, having been revitalized once again by our annual county fair. Many are showing off ribbons won for their paintings, jams, livestock, and vegetables.
Grangers in San Juan County know that glow very well. Friday Harbor and San Juan Island granges resurrected a long-held Grange tradition this spring by mounting an Arts Fair at the Grange Hall. Consider this a “practice run” for the county fair. This year’s local San Juan Island contest boasted over 100 entries, from wood working to painting, to food preservation and more.
We invite all of you to gear up for the county fair next year by entering the spring Grange Arts Fair. The contest is open to any resident. Categories cover anything you can make and there are separate categories for youth. Entries are judged, similar to fair, and the winners in each class go on to the contest at the State Grange Convention.
You could take home a Best in Class ribbon from the State Grange, as several islanders did this year.
The Grange boasts a 146-year history of civic, social and economic engagement for rural families, including the establishment of county fairs across the country. Many are still called Grange Fairs.
The first granges in Washington predate statehood, including Waitsburg Grange No. 1, formed in 1873 and still active. There are currently two active granges on San Juan Island, one on Orcas, and one on Lopez.
The first San Juan County Fair was held in 1906 in a warehouse on the waterfront in Friday Harbor during the first week of October. Agriculture was flourishing in the islands, and farmers and county residents alike were proud to show off the “splendid products of the soil,” the then-Islander newspaper reported.
The event drew a crowd of over 1,200 residents and included visitors from Bellingham and Anacortes, who came by steamer.
On display were prolific local crops: fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses, and flowers. The livestock exhibit included some of the best teams of horses driven by local farmers and ranchers, as well as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens.
Aside from “ordinary products of our fertile farms and fruitful orchards,” the paper reported that Orcas Islander P. Bostian exhibited tobacco, a crop he was experimenting with. Other farmers were trying out walnuts, chestnuts, quinces and citron.
Arts and crafts contests are one of the more enjoyable ways in which we carry out our Grange mission to improve the knowledge and skills of local residents, and to work together for mutual benefit.
For more Grange information: San Juan Island 378-5186; Friday Harbor Grange 378-6473; Orcas 317-5601; Lopez 468-3610.