Throughout its 152-year history, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons and Husbandry has seen boom, bust and crisis in many of the same ways as the national economy during that time. Peaking at just over a million member in the 1930s, the modern Grange is a much smaller organisation – however their proud history and traditional community values still attract many American farmers and rural residents to this day.
Increasingly though, the Grange membership and the national organisation have been at odds over certain modern farming practices and policies in a changing world. Times are very different from back when Oliver Hudson Kelley first founded the order way back in 1967, and the community must modernize to remain relevant within the world around it.
1992 – 2002:
1992 was the year that started the trend of a declining membership, which would continue all the way until 2006 – when numbers stabilised at around 300,000. More funding was put into initiatives such as The National Junior Grange, encouraging young people to join up and take part in the community. During the 90s, The Grange also became more open and transparent in a bid to attract new signups. They dropped many of the masonic traditions and ideas they had adopted over the years and stopped holding meetings at secret times known only to members.
In the late 90s, the Grange was also (somewhat surprisingly) an early adopter of the need to provide internet access to rural communities. They foresaw the current problems plaguing Internet Service Providers in America, stating that they were ‘concerned that monopolistic regulations don’t allow for innovation and expansion of internet access for all Americans in a timely fashion,’ as early as 2001.
During the early 2000s many Granges were on the brink of closing down due to declining memberships. However, an influx of many new members towards the end of the decade – many of whom cared about environmental matters just as much as the business side of American farming – saw a shift in the attitude of many Grange halls and membership movements. These new ‘Green Grangers’ were often at odds with the national order’s support of agri-corporate policies, which were championed by many Grange members affiliated with politics in Washington.
For example, in 2009 the Mary’s River Grange in Oregon was facing the barrel with declining member numbers for many years. A tonne of new people joined to save the day however, rallying around local support for farmers who were attempting to ban the planting of new Genetically Modified Crops in their county.
They argued that GMO crops allowed big agriculture corporations, like the much maligned and now name-changed Monsanto, to effectively trademark certain crops that were resistant to their own pesticides – thus enabling a monopoly. The Mary’s River Grange was ultimately unsuccessful, with their public vote failing by 27 percent to 72, and the national grange officially supporting Monsanto in Washington.
However, this incident shows the changing attitudes among Grange members across the country. Similar stories will hopefully lead to modernisation and more democratic representation amongst the leadership of this proud and historic order.