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Around The Grange
Massachusetts State Grange: It's not only alive, it's celebrating

By Betsy Shea-Taylor, The Sun Chronicle, Massachusetts (12/4/11)

  DECEMBER 4, 2011 --

This weekend is an auspicious one for an organization that's largely invisible to the wider public's consciousness.

It's the Massachusetts State Grange, organized around 15 local granges, in Greenfield on Dec. 3 and 4, 1873.

The date, according to Grange history, coincides with the anniversary of the organization of the National Grange on Dec. 4, 1867.

Women were among the first officers and have always been welcome. Actually, everyone is welcome.

You might guess that an entity that originally coalesced around agrarian interests would by now have fallen by the wayside with the advent of modern farm technology and the growth and clout of urban America.

Not so. The nation's oldest national agricultural organization is going strong. It has a presence in 3,600 local communities, including at least three in the greater Attleboro area, and in 37 states, with up to 300,000 members.

Just this fall, the National Grange welcomed Michael J. Martin, Ph.D., a native of Cummington, Mass., as membership/leadership development director.

During its national convention last month in Idaho, members adopted several initiatives including a focus on dairy pricing, preservation of postal service and expansion of rural broadband.

National Grange Legislative Director Nicole Palya Wood said, on the national website, the actions of the delegates reflected a true focus on the betterment of rural America and quality of life for those in the field of agriculture.

"I am incredibly proud of the diligence of our members to address controversial and regional issues in such a cohesive manner," said Wood. "Congress could learn something from National Grange delegates and how we establish policy on such a wide ranges of issues."

Amen. Unlike Congress, which can arrogantly fiddle without compromise, ruining lives and corroding confidence at a safe distance, farmers have pragmatic challenges of weather peculiarities and crop disease and machinery breakdown and family tragedy to handle immediately.

They haven't the luxury of throwing up their hands and toddling home with no resolution to problems.

In a poignant example of fidelity to neighbor, a farm couple, the wife with breast cancer, the family with sprawling fields to harvest, were visited by dozens of friends from miles around, bringing tractors and chicken pies and goodwill - all pitching in to accomplish in one day what it would have taken their friend weeks to finish.

The Grange describes itself as "family centric" - a term that seems somehow politically incorrect in this society where personal independence is prized above all else and so many relish bashing of their own families. 

Family values are promoted, taught and woven into Grange activities and events, according to the National Grange.

"We serve as a safe environment for every member of the family, from newborns to great-grandparents, to spend time. Unlike many other social organizations, there is a place for everyone at the Grange."

On this anniversary of major Grange milestones I will warn the non-profit that it is wading into dangerous territory by talking up "family values."

Family values has become a political hotcake, the right and the left each hijacking it, each insisting on its own definition to what is simply, at its heart, "loving, taking care of, and supporting one other." Is that so difficult and dangerous?

The Grange is focused on community service these days, not only to farmers, but also to the wider populace. National Grange's most recent newsletter described donations gathered by one local elsewhere to help a Haitian family, another to boost a depleted food bank. One in Pennsylvania draped old-fashioned quilts on public buildings to show community spirit, another helps to provide dogs to the deaf and another - in East Providence - donated dictionaries to a school.

Happy anniversaries, Grange. You are a refreshing antidote to the self-centeredness that has come to define so much of society, from lawmakers to lawbreakers.

Party until the cows come home.

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