The Grange

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The Evolution of the Grange

The ultimate object of this organization is for mutual instruction and protection, to lighten labor by diffusing a knowledge of its aims and purposes, to expand the mind by tracing the beautiful laws the Great Creator has established in the Universe, and to enlarge our views of creative wisdom and power.--- from the Preamble to the Constitution of the National Grange

The Grange is often considered an agricultural family fraternity. Historically, it has promoted building rural America through grassroot activities. The organization grants each member a voice within his or her local unit and subsequently the opportunity to impact national policy making. Founded in 1867 by seven individuals with varied agendas, the Grange has grown to be a conglomeration of interests; a shared vision to empower and improve the opportunities of agricultural people by offering a formal support group to address agricultural concerns and to reinforce family values in the context of religious heritage. While emphasizing the relationship between agricultural life and moral development, the Grange employs fraternal rituals based upon symbols relevant to the art of farming. C. Jerome Davis, Field Assistant to the National Master relates that "[t]he teachings of the ritual enable our Order to be political without being partisan, religious without being denominational, and though it binds its members with a strong fraternal tie, it assures a complete individuality."

Grange ritualism begins at the local or Subordinate level and at its most basic, is organized into seven degrees, the first four of which are the seasons of the year: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The county Grange proffers the Fifth Degree, the State Grange the Sixth Degree and the National Grange, the Seventh; these degrees are those of Pomona, Flora, and Ceres or Demeter. W.L. Robinson, author of the First Century of Service and Evolution: The Grange, 1867-1967, relates that "[t]hese degrees are available to all those who fully subscribe to the long-established custom of teaching by symbols and emblems, to the principle of using the power of ritualism to bring out the finer characteristics of the members and the beauty of rural life." The Bible sits in the middle of the Grange Hall during meetings and is opened and closed at the start and end of the gatherings. A prayer is usually said at these times as well. As Larry Algire, Deputy Master for Knox County Granges, reveals that while the Grange is not a religious organization per se, at the Grange, "the Bible [and] the Lord is present at all times."

The organization and ritualism of the Grange is primarily based on the structure of old English estates. Essentially, they were complete unto themselves and represented an individualism quite distinct from the American farm estate. The Grange Master's desk is symbolic of the baronial castle and is reached through a broad expanse of trees. The estate's fields or "granges" compose the farm. Grange officers are representative of the officers of the estate and include the Gate Keeper, the Overseer, the Lecturer, the Steward, and the Chaplain. The organization of the estate is evident in the physical designations of each of the officers' seats within the Grange Hall. This organization acts to reinforce the farm influence on the internal structure of the Grange.

National Grange rules suggest meeting at least once a month for both local and county Granges. Both meet independent of each other and are forums for public discussion. Grange policy decisions, also referred to as resolutions, begin at a local level because, as Algire relates "what works in Knox County does not always work in Morrow County." The resolutions reflect community interests and concerns about safety issues, conservation, development, farm policy, rural businesses, health inspections, commodities, farm credit, pesticide and chemical uses, disease control and animal care to name only a few. Resolutions are revised and refined by State Grange Annual Sessions and are reviewed and voted on by delegates at the annual National Grange Meeting. The Grange has effectively sought improvement in Federal Crop Insurance programs, assistance in the reorganization of the government's trade functions, active opposition to the selling of insurance by financial institutions, winning change on on-farm Storage Loan programs and by continued interest in gaining legislation to assist the small family farm-operator. Moreover, the Grange participates in the activities of the National Vo-Ed Advisory Committee, the Trade Policy Advisory Committees, the U.S.D.A. Ag-Land Study Group, the Pesticide Users Conference, the Policy Advisory Committee for Highway Users, the President's Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped, and the National Safety Council. Grange members involve themselves in alleviating the needs of their respective communities by engaging in service work.

The beauty and effectiveness of the Grange is directly a product of its origins. As an ideologically oriented organization, the Grange actively reinforces the values prevalent within a rural environment. Thirty-five states have active Granges, down somewhat from previous years. In all likelihood, the changing character of the Grange can be seen as a reflection of the dynamic nature of farming in the United States in the past three decades. While it is no longer exclusively farmer dependent for membership, each Grange seeks to examine and satisfy the interests of its community, typically a rural community where farm values are a significant part of everyday family life. Moreover, the Grange seeks to involve people of all ages and walks of life in its activities. Junior Grange Membership begins at age five and continues until the child turns fourteen, when he or she can be inducted into the Subordinate Grange. And while the Grange began with farm families concerned about the effects of Reconstruction on their daily lives, war times and economic depression have come and gone. The Grange has remained in existence because of its deep concern for protecting a most valuable way of life. Harvest

The Grange in Ohio

The Centennial History: Ohio State Grange, 1873-1973, relates that, "[i]t was indeed fortunate that before sinister or dangerous movements secured the ascendancy, the Grange movement took root in the soil of Ohio, and exerted an influence that has been a dominant factor through three-fourths of a century and will be such for years to come." The organization of Grange No. 1 at East Cleveland, Ohio was initiated by Oliver- "Father" Kelley and Anson Bartlett on March 2, 1870. March 9 of the same year marks the first Grange social event held in Ohio. From the start, Grange organizations seemed to Ohio like a remarkable idea. Granges made appearances in many townships, cities and villages. The National Grange, located in Washington, D.C. channels paperwork to each state. The Ohio State Grange, located on East Broad Street in Columbus then hands it down to the counties. State Master J. Bernard Shoemaker in turn acts as the Ohio State Representative to the National Grange. He, and other state representatives or delegates meet to discuss national Grange agendas once a year rotating between states.

The Grange in Knox County, Ohio

Middlebury Grange was the first Grange in Knox County. It was founded some 121 years ago under the name Waterford and became Middlebury Grange in 1905. It is often a regular stop on the Heart of Ohio Tour. In Knox County today, there are thirteen active Granges vaunting 630 members county-wide. Knox County has one of the strongest Grange memberships in Ohio, boasting more membership in its county than the entire state of Nebraska. While many Knox County Grangers hate to suggest that the Grange may be "dying out," they reluctantly admit that it may be "slipping." Reasons for the decline in half of the Grange organizations in Knox County, from twenty-six to thirteen in the past thirty years and a membership of nearly 4,000 to less than 1,000 over the same time span, are numerous. Doris and Jake Craft of the Wayne County Grange have found, after many years of membership that engaging the youth in Grange activities has become increasingly difficult. The acceptance of mass entertainment, television and computers in modern life has made the youth less willing to listen, to join and to actively participate. Their relative absence is particularly problematic because the Grange needs youthful visions to continue an interactive dialogue between big farmers, small farmers, rural business owners and urbanites. Their visions determine much of what reality will be for Knox County in the years to come.

Wayne Grange, Fredericktown, Ohio In an effort to view the activities of Knox County Granges, Wayne Grange will be considered and illuminated for the purpose of further generalizing about the nature of the organization within the community. Wayne Grange is Grange No. 262 and is in Fredericktown, Ohio. Jake Craft, current community service chairman, is responsible for finding areas of need within the community and remedying them to the best of the Grange's ability. He and his wife Doris' yearly report of activities describes Wayne Grange as being "in a rural area located on State Route 95, five miles east of Interstate 71. It was built in 1933-34 by its members." In 1995, the Wayne Grange had approximately 100 members, thirty-five of which engaged in community service projects. In addition, ten non-members also helped. An estimated 400 hours of volunteer time was given to a wide variety of projects undertaken that year. The report suggests that activities were selected based on the needs of the community, chosen by member voting, recommendation of Community Service Committee, and the suggestion by other organizations. The public was informed of the projects through community meetings at the Grange hall, visits to other civic/community groups, newspaper articles, state highway signs, and posters. Continued projects included highway pick-up, Blood Mobile volunteers, helping at the Knox County Fair, serving dinners to county organizations, working on floats, continuing to support aid recipients, donating to Interchurch, mowing a small part of the Forrest Cemetery, producing Harvest Night, donating to the Salvation Army, visiting the elderly at Christmas and supporting the deaf and blind organizations within and outside Knox County. Grange members also assisted in donating land for drilling wells and for mowing areas around them to provide easy access to them. In addition, they also helped educate people about blindness and other realted eye problems, by distributing literature about free screening tests and volunteering at the screening centers.

While Wayne Grange seems an exemplary community service provider, Jake and Doris reveal that it has not yet won a prize from the State or National Grange for its work. It is, of course, only one of a number of Granges providing service, and competition in Ohio alone is tough. While they are hopeful that one day their Grange might reap a prize, they remain steadfast in their belief that the work itself is reward enough. The Wayne Grange also has an Auxiliary, where women meet over lunch and discuss the contributions they plan to make on behalf of the Grange. Jenny Algire has collected a number of handmade quilts to distribute to babies stricken with the AIDS virus. Both Algire and the Crafts suggest that the focus of the Grange today revolves around family. Rooted well amidst the family and community mores of Knox County citizens are the remnants and active validations of farm values.

photo credit: Jake Craft

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