The Grange

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(HOST) Grange halls are a common sight in Vermont, and many of them still have active memberships. Recently, commentator Ron Krupp had the opportunity to learn more about the Grange and its place in a farming community.

(KRUPP) In July, on one of those hot, muggy summer nights, I had the good fortune of going to a delicious potluck supper for the Wooster and Capital City Grange in Central Vermont. Many farm families and rural folk are familiar with the Grange. In 1950, there were about 20,000 members in Vermont; however, many people have passed on and, as farming goes, so have the number of members declined.

There are currently 30 grange Halls, 2200 Grangers with 64 com- munity Granges, such as the Beacon Light Grange in Richmond, Blue Spruce in Essex Junction, Riverside in West Topsham and Battenkill in Arlington. In early 2005, 79 people who do contra and Afro-Caribbean dance joined the Capital City Grange close to Montpelier.

There was recent good news at the Ferrisburgh Grange. The sel- ectboard signed a contract to begin reconstruction of its 19th-cen- tury Grange Hall, which was destroyed by fire in February. The new building will serve as the town hall and will look exactly like the old one. This effort has brought this small Champlain Valley community together and has also kept space open for Grange meetings.

The Grange came into being in 1867 because of the vision of Oliver Hudson Kelley, a Minnesota farmer and activist. He had long held that farmers, because of their independence, needed a national organization that would represent them, much as unions were be- ginning to do for industrial workers. Farmers were at the mercy of merchants, both for needed farm supplies and for marketing their crops. Railroads and warehouse companies were taking advantage of farmers as well.

Kelley and some of his friends organized the National Grange, officially known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. The birth
of the Extension Service, Rural Free Delivery and the Farm credit system were largely due to Grange lobbying. The primary legi- slative objective is to represent the views of the agricultural community.

Early in its history, Grange leaders realized that social interaction was important to rural residents, especially during those long win- ter months. For nearly 130 years, Grange Halls have existed as community centers where residents gather for potlucks and meet- ings. 4-H, Future Farmers of America and scouting groups have thrived because of Grange involvement, and each year thousands of Grange members participate in numerous community service projects.

We live in a time when we need to re-build our communities and forge new connections. The Grange is the perfect mechanism for this most fruitful of activities.

This is Ron Krupp, the Northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

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