By Linda Hamilton and Trina Bianchi, Contributors

Charlotte Grange: Our Values and Vision
Welcome to our new monthly column.  We hope you will enjoy learning more about the Charlotte Grange and how it is building on its proud 100+ year history in town and revitalizing its role in our community.

Background
The Grange is a uniquely American organization established in 1867 to support farming families after the Civil War when US agriculture changed in important ways.  Most people lived in fairly isolated communities, without effective ways to voice their concerns to state or federal government, while corporate interests were gaining influence and pushing for agriculture to produce in greater volume for distant markets.  Traditional agriculture and rural ways of life were destabilized by these outside forces, and farmers struggled to adapt and survive.

Enter Oliver H. Kelley, a charismatic self-made man who farmed in Minnesota.  He was acutely aware of the strains being placed on small farmers, and began to promote the formation of “agricultural societies” for the mutual improvement of farming practices through the sharing of information among farmers and training in new technologies.  When the US Department of Agriculture was established in 1862, he eagerly sought a position there and in 1865 was given the special assignment of touring the south to collect detailed information on the condition of farming.  Seeing that region’s agriculture in disarray further convinced him of the need for farmers to band together to better understand and address their common problems.

Building on the rise of labor unions and other organizations promoting mutual support in this post-Civil War era, Kelley and a few others established a national farm fraternity they called the National Grange Order of Patrons of Husbandry, with state, regional and local units known as Granges.  Kelley was a Mason and understood the strength and appeal of fraternal organizations with clear values, membership requirements, and rituals.  Powered by his personal zeal, the first Grange was formed in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1868, and the idea spread rapidly from there.   Within five years, there were 9,000 Granges across 31 states, with an estimated 700,000 members.  By 1875, membership was at 858,000.  Vermont formed the first State-level Grange in New England in 1872, in support of the local Granges springing up in many Vermont towns.

Charlotte Grange #398 was established in 1908, and became a solid part of our community.  In 1940, there were about 200 members, or almost one in five Charlotters.  After several temporary arrangements, in 1958 when Charlotte schools were consolidated and the Lyceum Schoolhouse in East Charlotte was no longer needed, the Grange was able to purchase it as its permanent home.  Today Charlotte Grange has about 25 members.

Core Grange Values
National Grange quickly became known and respected for its promotion of cooperatives to buy or sell farm supplies in bulk, mutual aid for neighbors in need, education on new farming techniques and tools, lobbying state and federal government for policies and assistance favorable to agriculture and rural communities, and enriching social interaction among families otherwise isolated.  They were forward thinking in many ways, including supporting women in Grange leadership roles even before the country allowed them to vote.  National Grange was instrumental in establishing landmark federal programs such as the Cooperative Extension Service, the Farm Credit system, and Rural Free Delivery of mail.

As the interests of communities changed over time, so has Grange.  150 years ago, formal Grange structure and meeting rituals added a welcome uplift and stability to the hard lives of farm families.  And opportunities to share conversation, concerns and food with neighbors were otherwise rare.  Today’s local Granges are flexible regarding both traditional formalities and the programs they focus on, reflecting the contemporary nature and needs of their communities while staying true to the core values of Grange: faith, hope, charity and fidelity.  We are still a non-partisan support and advocacy organization working on behalf of rural communities and the agriculture which supports us all.  We remain a “fraternal” organization, not in the sense of a “brotherhood,” but rather in the sense of an inclusive “kinship circle” of community members who care about the well-being of the land and our fellow residents.  Membership and leadership roles are open to all.  And no matter what else, we still offer regular opportunities to share conversation, concerns and food with neighbors!

Our Vision for Charlotte Grange
Today, even though Charlotte’s population and economy are multi-faceted, our connection to the land remains strong and we care about it and each other.  We know we are stronger together as we face life’s challenges, and Grange nurtures that strength.  Our mission is to support learning and helping each other especially around:

  • food production and access, and other agriculture-related issues,
  • sharing of creative arts and music,
  • enhanced understanding and appreciation of the natural environment and our relationship with Nature,
  • healthy activities for all ages which promote personal development, community cohesion and resilience,
  • timely and reliable information on issues related to the community’s ability to evolve and thrive sustainably,
  • civic engagement,
  • civil dialog, social interaction, and FUN!

We have a robust Program Committee, and despite the restriction on group gatherings due to COVID, we are finding ways to offer more programs and activities each year.  In 2022 we anticipate not only more music concerts on Town Green, clothing collection for Food Shelf families, Words for Thirds dictionaries for third graders, farmer round-table discussions, honoring of military veterans on Memorial Day, open mic events for budding artistic talents, speakers/book discussions/candidates nights etc., but also some new ventures including more service projects.  And …….. if COVID restrictions allow, our popular rummage sales will be back!

We have big hopes and plans for our sturdy little Grange Hall in East Charlotte, aka the Lyceum Schoolhouse. …… But that is a story for next time!

This winter we look to expand our circle of members and supporters so our programs can grow and reach more people.  Consider this your invitation to join in!  Become a member and/or get involved periodically as you can.  Contact us by email to learn more and to explore ways you can help.  Or call Linda Hamilton at 802-425-5795.  Thank you!

 Long-time Charlotte residents Linda Hamilton and Trina Bianchi are members of Charlotte Grange.