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Annual Session - Master's Address
Master's Addresses are available for download in PDF form on the downloads page.
Master's Address for year:
Date of Address: October 17, 2020
Session: 136th Annual Session
State Master / President: George Russell

Brothers and Sisters of the Connecticut State Grange,

I can’t believe that my second year as your President has come to an end and boy what an unbelievable year it has been.  Who would have ever thought a virus would bring the world to a halt.  When the Governor asked everyone to stay at home and closed the schools, churches and non-essential businesses, such as restaurants, clothing stores and brought our Grange meetings and activities to a halt.  Social gatherings could have no more than five people inside and this made it so a Grange couldn’t have a legal meeting.

The Northeast Leaders’ Conference was scheduled for the end of March in Albany, New York and was hosted by the New York State Grange.  The Connecticut State Grange had 14 members signed up to go but unfortunately New York decided to postpone it until the first weekend in June.  As that date approached, it was finally decided not to hold it until 2021.  New York State Grange will host the Leaders’ Conference in 2021.  Hopefully we will be able to have it this coming year.  The Northeast Youth Conference was supposed to be hosted by the Vermont State Grange and that was also canceled.

I was glad the Connecticut State Grange hosted both conferences last year and didn’t have to go through what New York and Vermont had to in trying to reschedule these conferences.

Membership

Faith Quinlan, our Membership Director, approached the Board of Directors in February and said that she could come on full-time as our Membership Director.  The Board of Directors hired Faith the year before on a part-time basis and she felt that if she went full-time she could put more emphasis in putting together a stronger membership program.  The Board voted to hire Faith full-time as our Membership Director.  Faith has been working on putting together workshops and meetings to benefit our Grangers.  Faith had a workshop set-up for late spring, early summer but had to cancel because of COVID-19.  She is hoping to do these workshops in 2021.  Faith has been in charge of setting up the Zoom meetings for Granges to have their regular meetings each month.  She has also set up a virtual informational meeting for the Connecticut State Grange Foundation with President Susan Masino.  Susan went over a list of grants that Granges can apply for.

Once again this year we had a decline in membership.  From the second quarter of 2019, there were 1,745 members.  In the second quarter of 2020 there wre 1,615 members with a net loss of 130.  We had to Granges turn in their charters, Enfield Grange #151 merged with Vernon Grange #52 and Beacon Grange #118 members were sent demit cards and hopefully they will be joining other Granges.  Eureka Grange #62 is in the process of selling their hall and will be turning in their charter after it is sold.  I’m worried that the longer this COVID-19 goes on and limits the Granges in their fundraising activities and getting new members, there will be more Granges that will be looking to turn in their charters.

National Grange

National Grange has continued to update our National Grange Building in Washington, D.C.  The state-of-the-art Conference Room was completed and was ready to use right before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the building.  National Grange has one staff member working in the office and the rest of the staff is working from home.  The statement was issued by the National Master Betsy Huber in April and I quote, “With the number of elderly and high risk Grangers, you may want to consider postponing or canceling meetings if they feel it is advisable in their communities.”  No one would have thought that COVID-19 would still be with us in October.

Two of the issues that National Grange has been working on are broadband and Saving the Postal Service.  Broadband became important when COVID-19 closed schools and businesses.  Some parts of the country still do not have broadband available.  The other issue was the funding of the Postal Service.  Many of our members count on the Postal Service to deliver their prescriptions and medical devices that they need in their everyday life.  These are two crucial items that we here in Connecticut should support.
Sharon and I attended the 153rd Annual National Grange Convention in Bloomington, Minnesota.  Activities started with committee meetings on Monday evening and ending with the Seventh Degree on Saturday.  This was a busy week!  Sharon served on the Education and Health Committee and I served on the Conservation Committee.  The committees met and went over the resolutions and revised the National Grange policy.  Sharon participated in the Seventh Degree again this year.

Pomona Granges

The Pomona Granges are in their third year after being consolidated into three Pomonas.  Eastern Connecticut Pomona #14 and Mountain Laurel Pomona #15 held their meetings in the first week of March.  Unfortunately, Nutmeg Pomona #16 was unable to meet at the end of March.  The Pomona Granges’ Fifth Degrees scheduled in May and June were canceled.  There will be no Honor Pomona this year because all inspections were canceled.  The three Pomonas met in September and October either in-person or virtually.  Hopefully we can get back to normal meetings in 2021.

Education

Your Connecticut State Grange continues to support education by having scholarships and student loans available for Grange members.  This year the State Grange has $15,000 available for scholarships for our Grange members who attend college.  The scholarship committee awarded three $500 awards for first year students and four $3,000 awards.  The State Grange also has student loans of up to $10,000 with a 5% interest rate available.  I hope our Grange families will take advantage of the money that is available to them.

Our State Grange continues to support the 20 Vocational Agriculture Science schools and the FFA across the state.  Many of our Community Grangers donate each year to the FFA Foundation.  This money is used to help defray the expenses to send the judging teams to the FFA National Convention to compete in the various contests.  Several of our Community Granges have had their local FFA students come to their Grange meetings to put on a program.  This is an excellent way for the Grange and the FFA to work together.

Agriculture

Agriculture is still a large part of Connecticut’s economy.  Connecticut has many small farms and its agriculture industry contributes $4 billion dollars to its economy each year.  Greenhouse and nursery production is the state’s largest agriculture sector and it accounts for more than half of the agriculture production sales.  It has a market value of $298.4 million. This was an especially good year for the greenhouse and nursery industry where many people were unemployed or working from home and decided to put in gardens.  It was hard for the greenhouses to keep plants and seeds in stock.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have witnessed a breakdown in our food chain supply.  With a number of large meat processing plants across the United States closing because of infected employees, this created a meat shortage in our grocery stores.  These factory farms have thousands of chickens, hogs and beef cattle to process but no market to ship them to.  With the restaurants and schools closing, dairy farmers were forced to dump milk because the processing plants couldn’t manufacture smaller units like gallons and half gallons of milk that you find in your grocery stores.  This also contributed to the empty milk cases at your stores.  Here in Connecticut, over the last several decades the large Federally inspected meat processing plants have closed.  There are some small Federally inspected custom meat processors in Connecticut but not enough to handle the demand.  Many of them have a waiting list of two or three months.  Our State Grange legislative committee should recommend to the Commissioner of Agriculture to study the viability of opening more meat processing facilities in Connecticut.  With more organic and grass fed beef grown in Connecticut, we need Federally inspected facilities to process them.

It was nice to see our milk co-ops and processors distribute milk and other dairy products to food shelters and food pantries throughout the state to help people through this difficult time we are going through.  Our Agricultural Committee and Membership Committee conducted a project that donated 4,000 personal protection masks to farmers throughout the State of Connecticut. 

The Farmers Markets here in Connecticut have been a good alternative for purchasing fresh vegetables, fruits and meat.  These Farmers Markets were run under the COVID-19 guidelines of self-distancing, wearing masks and some even putting the product into your car.  It seems like the farmers in our State will do whatever it takes to serve the consumer.

Officers and Directors

I would like to thank the Officers and Directors for promoting the Connecticut State Grange in these difficult times.  It seems like in the last seven months every time we turned around, we had to cancel more and more events.  When “Let’s Celebrate” was canceled in June, the CWA moved the judging of the entries to State Session in the Fall.  Then the Northeast CWA canceled the needlework and craft judging at the Big E.  The committee decided to cancel our State judging and then, a short time after, the Big E was canceled.

We also saw over the last seven months the Youth Conference and Junior activities were canceled in the Northeast and many of them went on to having virtual contests.  The National Junior Committee had a 20-20 Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for the National Junior Committee.  Brianna Gervais, the Junior Ambassador from Connecticut, challenged Phil Prelli, Overseer of the National Grange and George Russell, State Master.  So, we sent in our $20 and poured a bucket of cold water on our heads!  You might have seen the videos on Facebook.  There were other members from Connecticut that also did the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Your Board of Directors has continued to meet at least once a month on the fourth or fifth Wednesday of each month.  In March, we started to meet virtually at least once a month and sometimes we met twice a month just to keep the State Grange running smoothly.  In May, your Board of Directors voted to provide a one-time stimulus payment of $1,000 to Granges that own their halls and $500 to those Granges that don’t own a hall but pay rent.  We hope that this money can offset some of the fundraisers that the Granges were unable to hold.  It has been a pleasure to work with the Board of Directors throughout this past year.  Each and everyone of them have put in some extra time to resolve some of the problems that have come up throughout the year.  One of the problems was at Camp Berger.  With the break-in at the cottage and the spray-painting of graffiti on the cabins, the Board of Directors voted to put the camp up for sale.  Meanwhile, Security cameras were installed at the Camp.  We hope to discourage anymore vandalism.  I would like to thank and commend the members of the Board of Directors for all their invaluable input and hard work throughout the past year.

Closing Comments

As my second year of being your State Master/President comes to a close, I would like to look back on some of the positive aspects of this past year.  Sharon and I attended the 153rd Annual National Grange Convention in Bloomington, Minnesota last November.  At the National Conference, Brianna Gervais was named Junior Ambassador for the National Grange.  I was so proud of her accomplishment that she had made and for working so hard to receive this honor.  I also attended the reception held at Ekonk Community Grange to honor her accomplishments.

I attended the Masters’ Conference in Baltimore, Maryland in mid-February.  The Masters’ Conference is a time that you are able to get to know the State Masters from across the United States and talk with other State Masters about their Granges in their states.  We all seem to have similar problems.

There were guest speakers and workshops scheduled for the two days with plenty of good Maryland food.  You have to try the crab cakes or cab salad, one of the State of Maryland’s specialties!

As I end my Master’s Address… This is not how we wanted to hold our annual session, with a virtual one-day meeting.  This is all new to us, so please be patient and we will get through this day.  Let’s hope that next year we can be back at the hotel in Norwich doing our three-day State Session and it will all be back to normal.  The National Grange will hold its Annual Convention on November 17 and 18.  It will also be a virtual meeting as there will be no one on-site.

I want to leave you with these words that we have heard over the last several months:  We are all in this together, wear your mask, keep 6 feet between you and the next person, wash your hands often and we will get through this together as the good and wonderful Grangers we all are.

Respectfully submitted,

George Russell

State Master

 
     
     
       
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