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Around The Grange
NE Lecturers' Conference puts focus on education, sharing ideas

By Ezra Silk, American Journal, Standish, Maine (8/6/15)

  AUGUST 30, 2015 --

The Grange, the venerable agricultural advocacy group, held its 100th annual Northeast Lecturer’s Conference in Standish August 3rd - 5th.

About 150 Grange members from across New England and New York gathered at Saint Joseph’s College from Monday to Wednesday to socialize and exchange ideas on a variety of topics. The theme of this year’s gathering was “100 Years Of,” with lecturers from each of the seven states performing skits exploring the history of a range of topics, including agriculture, education, literature and music.

The Grange was formed in 1867 as an advocacy organization acting on behalf of America’s small agricultural communities, when America’s farm population was far greater than it is today. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the group effectively lobbied for the Granger Laws regulating railroad and grain elevator companies, the Rural Free Delivery postal service and the Farm Credit System. But, through the years, the Grange’s membership has dwindled and grown older.

Accordingly, Grange members have tried to reinvent the organization, and make it accessible to non-farmers. Along with historical skits, this week’s conference in Standish included workshops on the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, fundraising and community service.

The 47 Maine Grange members on hand performed a number of skits on the topic of transportation on Monday night. Elmira Collins, a Standish resident and lifelong Grange member, performed in a humorous skit focused on trains.

Collins, who is the Lady Assistant Steward of the Maine State Grange, said the skits fulfill the role of the Grange Lecturer, or program director. Lecturers are a key position in the Grange, a hierarchical organization that borrows influences from Free Masonry, Greek and Roman mythology, and the Bible. According to official Grange materials, Lecturers are called on to design programs containing “education, inspirational, entertaining, musical, and recreational components at each meeting” for their membership. They can also design contests meant to allow members opportunities “to express their ideas, thoughts, and talents, as well as develop their leadership potential.”

According to Nanci Greene of Norridgewock, a Grange subordinate lecturer, the skits at the Standish conference are a way of keeping ideas circulating among Grange Lecturers.

“The purpose of the skit is to exchange ideas with other states to give us new material to present to our members – to share ideas,” Green said. “The Lecturer’s position is to educate and entertain, provide a program for the members.”

Collins was born in Westbrook, but has lived in Standish for 40 years. A member of the Cape Elizabeth Grange, Collins considers the Grange part of her family heritage. Before her parents died, four members of her family’s generation were simultaneously involved in the Cape Elizabeth Grange.

“The values that the Grange taught me as a child include respect to the Bible, respect to the flag,” Collins said. “It taught me how to speak before a group of people. It gave me leadership skills. And it’s given me a family not only in my Grange, but in the state and the New England area.”

Collins describes the Grange as a “community-minded” organization. In the 1950s, she recalled, her father helped kick-start a process that led to the creation of the Baxter School for the Deaf during a meeting at the Cape Elizabeth Grange Hall.

“My dad stood up and started talking about the school for the deaf that used to be on State Street in Portland,” Collins said. “We wrote a resolution that something needs to be done to better the school for the deaf people. We wrote it in a grassroots location, our Grange. It went through the proper channels and at the state convention that is held every fall, people said we need to support this resolution.”

“The state legislative committee took it to the Legislature and that’s when Gov. Baxter heard about it and in turn donated Mackworth Island,” Collins continued. “It was because of our Grange presenting this idea to the Legislature that they heard about it and acted on it, accepted the governors gift and built this beautiful school and my sister was in the first graduating class.”

Collins said she hopes the Grange can reverse the long-term membership decline and begin appealing more to young people. She said the Highland Lake Grange in Westbrook held several workshops on vegetable gardening last year that proved popular with younger people and non-Grangers.

“There’s an interest out there,” Collins said. “People are looking for things about not only farming, but they’re looking to be involved in their community. We have grassroots values. They start in the local Granges and then move up and make a difference in each state. We’ve got American values, but hometown roots.”


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