Local granges serve as a center of rural life in many agricultural communities. People who live outside such communities may be unfamiliar with granges, including what they are.
The most basic definition of a grange is an outlying farm or land with a manor building on the property. When first developed in 12th century Britain, granges were properties that may have been owned by a lord, who chose to live on the property or leased it to others. Other granges were held by the church, mainly by monasteries.
The grange definition and system was modified when the concept was brought to North America. After the Civil War in the United States, Oliver Kelley, the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, realized while touring the region that poor farmers in the South bore the brunt of the war’s devastation. Kelley noted outdated farming practices that were disorganized and largely ineffectual. He considered an organization that could bring farmers together across the country with a spirit of mutual agricultural cooperation.
Out of this idea the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (also called The Grange) was established as a nonprofit organization in 1867. The goal was helping rural American families with a strong emphasis on issues related to agriculture. The first grange (Grange #1) was founded in 1868 in Fredonia, New York. Other granges soon sprung up across the country.
The organization operates on four tiers: community, county or district, state, and national level. It is the oldest American agricultural advocacy group with a national scope. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., it has membership in the hundreds of thousands. According to The Grange, their mission is to “strengthen individuals, families and communities through grassroots action, service, education, advocacy, and agriculture awareness.”
In addition to agricultural advocacy, The Grange has been involved with a number of legislative and practical initiatives. For example, it currently is aiming to find ways to reduce the cost of Medicare as well as helping to reform the U.S. Postal Service. It also is advocating for open auctions of spectrum frequencies used for wireless technology to provide greater access to high-speed wireless technology to rural areas. Various Grange halls and centers are located across the country, and these facilities host events and provide gathering spots for families.
Tracing their origins to 12th century Britain, granges remain a central component of agricultural life in the 21st century.