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Around The Grange
Washington Grange Builds On Community

By Steve Brown, Capital Press (7/15/10)

  JULY 20, 2010 --

Ed Luttrell says he didn't join the Grange by his own will.

"When I was about 13 1/2, my parents put an application on the kitchen table and said, 'Sign here, you're joining the Grange.'"

Now, as national Grange master-president, Luttrell recalls how quickly that unwillingness was transformed.

"The defining moment for me, at my very first Grange meeting, I realized that -- as a member -- if I had the courage to stand up and speak my mind on a topic, respected leaders in my little community would listen to me ... and my parents couldn't tell me to sit down and shut up."

June Hendrickson, who is president of the Washington State Grange, says her first memories are from before she was 5 years old, when "there were so many of us running around during the Grange meeting, they formed a Junior Grange just so the grownups could hear what was going on."

Before Luttrell and Hendrickson joined a July 12 Grange meeting at the Elk Plain Grange, about 40 miles south of Seattle, they sat down for an interview with Capital Press:

Q: Apparently the Grange is not just an agriculturally focused organization any more.

EL: In the Grange there are three things that are crucial to us: agriculture, family and community. We're looking at the entire spectrum of agriculture, which includes the production farmers, the small niche or specialty markets, and we're looking at the consumer and the gardener, the person who raises a few tomatoes. ... The whole reality of the modern world is that we all have to have a basic understanding of agriculture. ... It's not the only thing we do. We are far more than that, just as farmers are people who have many, many concerns that are common to all of us.

Q: And you are adding small farmers to some of the language.

JH: The definition of a small farm could be quite anything. But we've had a lot of interest of people having a little bit of acreage, and they're very serious, using their property the best they can with all the requirements -- the zoning, the municipalities. We have a standing committee for agriculture that includes the various types of agriculture -- dairy and so forth -- so we added this year by delegate action for small farmers to have a permanent place on our 10-member committees.

Q: How is the Grange bridging the urban-rural divide?

EL: Not just rural and urban, it's young and old, it's all these different things that could divide us. The Grange is finding ways of making those as common denominators, bringing people together. ... We're a part of a tremendous resurgence of people finding an organization that can meet their needs and do things relevant to them, to their communities and to their families.

Q: The Grange has a strong lobbying presence. Is that the main focus?

EL: Not at all. However, it has been an integral part of our organization since its inception. ... We are non-partisan. We refuse to endorse candidates; we don't play the games of campaigns. We work with elected officials. We also serve as a forum ... where candidates get equal chance to educate the public on what their stands are. ...

We are grassroots-based. All the policies of the Washington State Grange, all the policies of the National Grange start at the local Grange. ... It makes our jobs as leaders different than most. We're not creating policy -- our job is to do our best to see that it becomes implemented.

Q: Speaking of grassroots, how many members do you have?

EL: We have roughly 200,000 scattered across 38 states.

JH: (In Washington) We have a couple of different types of members. We have about 18,000 fraternal members and probably an equal number of supportive members.

Q: Are there any misconceptions about the Grange you want to dispel?

JH: A large one is the idea that we're a secret organization. Being a fraternal organization, we have never been a secret organization, where you have to join to be able to come to meetings. We've opened that up. ... Also the misconception that you have to be a farmer to be a member. People are really surprised about that.

EL: The perception that you must be involved in agriculture is very common. Before 1900, our organization opened up its membership to not just farmers and their families, but to anybody of good character -- people who are concerned about the welfare of their community, who want their kids and their grandkids to grow up to be happy citizens. ... In the suburban or the rural environment, the common denominator is the family atmosphere.

Q: Is faith a common thread?

EL: Oh, very definitely. We're not sectarian, so we don't get into one denomination or one faith over another, but one of the things we do recognize is there is a supreme being. ... The reality is the rules our society lives by or destroys itself by -- these do come from a belief in something greater than us. We have a lot of references from the Bible in our ritualistic work.

The second aspect of that is we're a very patriotic organization. We require the American flag be present, too. ... I think between the flag and the Bible, that says something about good, American values. We don't preach -- we live our values.

Q: What else is unique about the Grange?

JH: The fact that the juniors have their separate organization ... where they can speak their mind and be listened to.

EL: There's no seniority system. As I got older and more experienced, I realized that our organization's very culture is to allow every member to live up to their full potential. ...

The National Grange is working to make sure all Americans have broadband access. ... It would be good for America to give everybody access to tele-medicine, tele-education -- the things that people with broadband take for granted. ... The economic and environmental benefits to America require that every American have that access.

Tied into that is the fact that civic participation in our society has declined ... with fewer people going to church, fewer people running for office. The Grange is a place where we can bring people together. These two issues become very tied together, because some of the connections today are being made through the Internet and it's changing our society.

Not just the Grange but also other organizations are making sure we are building participation.





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