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Around The Grange
Grange president hopes to expand membership, interest

By James Mosher, Norwich Bulletin (1/9/11)

  JANUARY 9, 2011 --

The Connecticut State Grange is having an identity crisis and its new president says this can be turned into an advantage.

Jody A. Cameron, a member of the Ekonk Community Grange No. 89, of Sterling and Moosup, took over as state president on Oct. 23. He wants to use his two-year term to bring Granges back to communities that used to have them, including Ledyard, Groton, Mystic, Scotland, South Killingly and Thompson.

His strategy is simple — plant the Grange firmly in the simple life, and let its branches grow to where they’re most needed.

The Grange, also known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, is the nation’s oldest agricultural organization.

“We want to promote community in rural life in general,” said Cameron, who has been a Grange member for 30 years. “We want to be a family fraternity.”

Part of the growth will be advocating for agricultural issues alongside groups such as the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association. Cameron, 44, sees the Grange taking a more active role in publicizing country fairs and farmers markets.

“I’m anxious to begin working with other groups,” he said.

Farms preserved

Grange sentiment can be strengthened in New London and Windham counties through alliances on farmland preservation. The two Eastern Connecticut counties ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in farm acreage preserved during the administration of Gov. M. Jodi Rell. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, noted this in a Dec. 2 entry in the Congressional Record.

The Grange is “an integral part of our states’ efforts to preserve farmland, support rural communities and maintain the idyllic charm that is such an important part of New England’s past,” Courtney said.

Forty Connecticut Granges have disbanded in the past 12 years. The remaining 58 — at least 14 of them in New London and Windham counties — have about 3,200 members. Cameron is projecting the membership to increase to 6,400 within four years. His plan is for each Grange to add one member per month. If each registers 12 new members per year, the system swells by 2,784.

“It can be done,” Cameron wrote in his December 2010 president’s message. “I believe in the spirit of this organization and the strong will of our members.”

Growing membership and alliances will call for listening skills and drawing on the enthusiam of young people, Cameron said.

“We want to meet the needs of our communities in any capacity we can,” said the president, whose theme for 2010-11 is “community grown.”

The Grange’s youth movement is a great source of potential, he said. Cameron’s home Ekonk Community Grange is led by three teenagers, with his 18-year-old son, J. Allen Cameron, serving as master, or president. Ekonk also has a pre-teen organization known as the Junior Grange. There are two other Junior Granges in the state, including one in North Stonington.

Vilma Gregoropoulos, leader of the 10-member North Stonington Junior Grange, would like to change the graduation age to older than 14.

“At 14, they just sit around with the older people in the (regular) Grange,” said Gregoropoulus, whose daughter, Nizhoni Brown, 17, is an honorary Junior Grange member. “As teenagers, they’re much more happy and engaged in leading the younger people (in the Junior Grange).”

Gregoropoulus’ son, Noah Brown, 12, is a member of the North Stonington Junior Grange.

The Grange is “wholesome entertainment” for youngsters, Gregoropoulus says. Activities include biweekly tea parties and field trips to places such as the Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. trash-to-energy plant in Lisbon.

“There are very few activities for kids these days that actually improve them,” she said.

Jeff Barnes, president of North Stonington’s senior Grange, is vice president of the statewide Grange. He and Cameron are working closely to build the organization.  Connecticut is also home to 10 countywide associations known as Pomona Granges.

Agriculture students

Ledyard Superintendent of Schools Michael Graner said Eastern Connecticut students are interested in agriculture.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of agri-sci students at Ledyard High,” he said, noting 153 students from neighboring towns are enrolled in the program, an increase of 9 percent. And the number of Ledyard students has increased 20 percent, from 67 to 81 students.   

Ekonk Community Grange has 145 members and 29 junior members. Cameron thinks that success can be replicated throughout the state.

The Connecticut State Grange is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Small events are planned throughout the year with a larger “Grange Rally” set for April and a gala “Let’s Celebrate Day” June 12 at Cheshire Grange Hall.

At the height of its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, there were more than 200 Granges in Connecticut.

Nationally, there are about 3,600 Granges, with a membership of about 300,000.  Even though the number of farms and Granges in Connecticut has declined in recent decades, Cameron is optimistic going forward.

“As proud as we are of our history, it is the hard work, dedication and pride of the members that build upon our foundation,” he said. “With these strengths, we have nothing but growth in our future.”

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