Guest Blog: Increasing the Yields of Our Labors

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Michigan State Master Chris Johnston for this post. This first appeared as part of his Master’s Column in the Michigan State Grange’s newsletter, Michigan Grange News.  

“Since God placed man on earth, agriculture has existed. There is no occupation that precedes it, no order or association that can rank with the tillers of the soil.” Yesterday I spent some time driving around the state and it was made very apparent that farmers throughout southeast Michigan were very content and anxious to be once again doing what they do best and tilling the brown soil from which life is sustained.

It makes me happy to see that the teachings and lessons of our ritual has been made part of the daily life of the agricultural world. For many years in the beginning of the Grange, we not only worked towards the betterment of rural life, but also for the betterment of production practices. What has now become common to find local farmers around a table drinking coffee in small town America used to be the Grange meetings, where farmers would come to once or twice a month and talk about how they have found a way to increase their yields.
It has now become the duty of Grange members to work towards increasing the yields of our labors. Whether it be through community service projects or through our legislative connections we have built over the last 140-plus years. While we continue to have a very strong interest in agriculture, we have morphed into an entity larger than just agriculture. We now have taken on such tasks as pushing for the advancement of the 21st century in ways such as broadband internet access to not only the urban but also the rural areas of the country.

As we continue to work with the legislature to provide the means necessary to accomplish this goal we are, in effect, working towards the betterment of rural America. Since the internet is now used in many agricultural aspects such as directing the farmers in the best way for planting to increase yield, allowing a farmer to have just a portion of a field fertilized as opposed to just blanket fertilizing the entire field. Thus saving money for the farmer and saving money for the consumer.
With spring in the air and the essence of agriculture all around us, this is an excellent time to refresh our membership of our ritual through the exemplification of the degree work.


FFA and the Grange

This week, FFA chapters are celebrating National FFA Week. The Grange continues to have a strong commitment to this ag education youth organization. Subordinate Granges provide ag education scholarships and outstanding students in agriculture awards. State Granges connect with state officer teams. And many Grange members, including myself, have rocked a blue corduroy jacket and a blue subordinate Grange sash.

In honor of FFA Week, I am reposting the story I wrote back in the fall of 2010 talking about the connection between the two organizations. The story is as follows.

The Connection Between FFA and Grange

Walk the halls of almost any high school in America, and there are few things as universally recognizable as the blue corduroy of an FFA jacket. It is not only the unique style and bold colors that make it stand out, but also the young men and women who wear these jackets with pride. For many, the FFA is a focal point of their high school career. However, from the first time a student dons their FFA jacket, in the back of their mind, they realize it will one day come to an end.

Hanging up the blue jacket can be an emotional time for a retiring FFA member. They have invested countless hours in preparing for contests, developing leadership skills, and organizing their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project. Many are faced with the question of “what now?” For many, the Grange serves as the springboard for FFA alumni looking to take the next step in life.

Across the country there are Grange members, both current FFA members and alumni, who call the Grange home and say the blue sash of the Grange is a perfect fit.

From its inception, the Grange has advocated agricultural education, and has been an ardent supporter of FFA. Formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, the FFA was formed in 1926 to augment what was taught in the classroom with extracurricular activities. The Grange supported vocational education efforts, including the passage of several laws that lead to the FFA’s formation. The first FFA Executive Secretary, Henry Groseclose, was also a Seventh Degree Grange member, and is the author of the FFA Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Some might think the similarities between the two organizations are coincidental. However, look beneath the surface, and the connection is profound.

Victor Salazar, 2010-2011 Connecticut FFA State President said, “Both organizations are rooted in agriculture, both promote excellence, and both make the member a better individual.” Salazar served as the 2008 National Grange Youth Master as part of the National Grange Youth Officer Team.

“I believe the best way to illustrate the connection between the Grange and the FFA is to look at the closing charge of the Master in the Grange and the President in the FFA;” he cited the charges’ common themes of diligence in labor, honesty and fairness. While each is said differently, the similarity is undeniable.

“These were written more than 50 years apart from each other, yet they say basically the same thing. To me this exemplifies the connection between the two organizations the best,” Salazar said.

National Grange Master Ed Luttrell said the FFA provided him with several life skills that he utilizes today in his Grange duties. However, he is quick to point out that it was in the Grange that he was able to take the classroom experience and apply it to real life.

“That is why the connection is so positive. You learn the skills on one side (in FFA) and then use them on the other side in Grange,” said Luttrell. During his time in the Hillsboro Mid-High chapter in Oregon, Luttrell said he participated in every FFA contest possible, soaking up information “as a sponge.” A favorite contest was parliamentary procedure, a skill that comes in handy in his current role as National Master.

Former Pennsylvania FFA State Reporter, and Elizabethtown Grange member, Suzannah Mellinger said that the one unique aspect of the Grange is its sense of family among its members. It is one of the reasons she joined the organization near the conclusion of her State Officer career. She also noted that for FFA alumni looking for the next step in leadership, the transition into the Grange is an easy one.

Caroline Tart, the 2009-2010 National Grange Youth Mentor and Rosewood FFA Chapter member, is facing this difficult phase of her FFA career; putting on her blue jacket for the last time. Like Salazar, she has had an active FFA career, including chapter and regional FFA offices and serving as a National FFA convention delegate for her home state of North Carolina.

“Hanging up my blue jacket was a very tough realization and the end of an era,” Tart said. “However, having the Grange there helps fill the void immensely. I know that it is an organization that has a passion for agriculture and helps improve the youth of today and those two things are what I am passionate about.” She also noted her dedication to agriculture and education did not have to end with FFA and that she is able to continue her work, just in a different way.

2009 National Youth Officer Team Master Joe Stefenoni of California encourages FFA members to seek the Grange to use their talents; “Once FFA members are out of high school they have very few places to use those skills, and the Grange is one of the places they can.” He is a member of the Sebastopol- Analy FFA chapter.

As an FFA member who has an appreciation for the opening and closing FFA ceremonies, Stefenoni said he has developed a passion for such Grange traditions as its rituals, describing them as “beautiful.”

Pennsylvania’s Gail Switzer, 2008-2009 National Grange Youth Mentor, and Conrad Weiser, FFA Alumni, said the National Grange Youth Department activities allow her the opportunity to continue her leadership growth through contests such as public speaking, gaining responsibility by completing tasks, and making her community better through Grange service projects.

The Grange is noted for its traditions of family and rural advocacy. It is those traditions that have made the lasting impact for FFA alumni in the Grange.

“The thing I remember most from FFA is the friendships we had,” said Luttrell. “We were the ag boys when I was in FFA… in reality, we were a close bunch because of the activities. Those things are exactly the same in the Grange, except the friendship and fellowship is far deeper and much longer lasting. There is a real difference from being a group of just high school students to being a part of a group that includes grandparents and little kids. The family structure of the Grange fills the void from FFA. It’s more than a bunch of peers, it’s a family. As we go through life, family becomes more and more important to us.”

Freeda Findings: Promoting Grange Youth

Charlene and I have spent plenty of time talking about how do we raise awareness to Grange youth and young adult opportunities in the community or subordinate Grange. Because, it’s the local Grange, that has the greatest impact on encouraging Grange Youth and Young adults.

In about six weeks, Grange Month will be here. We both think what a great opportunity Grange month provides for Grange Youth and Young Adults to have a lot of fun, encourage others to join their Grange and the chance to show others the impact of a Grange on its local community.

What better way to promote the Granges ideals of American Values, Hometown Roots.?

Need some help getting started? Here are some ideas. Also feel free to share your other successful ideas.

1.         Have a food drive-in.

2.         Organize job shadow days with Grangers, for youth and others to learn about different careers in their communities.

3.         Work with local and school newspapers, radio and TV stations to run public service announcements highlighting local Grange activities.

4.         Host a “fun night” at the Grange Hall with games like “Minute-to-Win It” or other game show activities, invite friends to attend.

5.         Partner with other local agriculture organizations to host a farm/city exchange between a local farm family and government official/local media personality. Host a Farm/City dinner/reception at the Grange to hear from both groups about their experiences.

6.         Work with elementary school students or your Junior Grangers to plant a tree—or two – in honor of Grange month.

7.         Hold a Grange Open House for the community and conduct interactive activities for participants.

8.         Connect with our agricultural heritage, host an ag career day to learn about different job opportunities. Invite local speakers, farmers, Extension agents, agribusiness owners and managers. Statistics show this will be an employment growth industry for young people.

9.         Conduct a “Flat Stanley” contest for members to photograph their Stanley at different Grange events.

10.       Organize a community clean-up campaign.

11.       Invite your state Grange youth royalty to speak at a community Grange meeting or participate in a local Grange event.

12.       Work with a local FFA chapter on a joint community service or agricultural awareness activity.

13.       Partner with other youth or young adult organizations on a community service project.

14.       Determine your “Top Ten Reasons” to join Grange and utilize them during an event to generate awareness to your Grange.

15.       Host a Grange movie night, invite the community to the Grange hall.

16.       Host food and clothing drives or other community-wide outreach.

17.       Tweet it. Post it. Like it up! Post your activities and encourage them to go viral through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

18.       Organize a school supply or toy drive.

19.       Create a fun video of Grange youth/young adult activities, post the video online and use to promote your local Grange’s impact.

20.       Put on a petting zoo, pedal tractor pull or coloring contest for elementary students.

Invite non-members to a meeting.

21.       Host a dance in your Grange Hall or organize a barn dance.

22.       Look into hosting events like a lock-in, pizza party, movie night, bowling, karaoke, and more.

23.       Have a local mayor and/or other community officials sign a Grange Month Proclamation.

24.       Present a community service award/ honorary membership awards to a Grange youth supporter.

25.       . Volunteer for a day with Habitat for Humanity.

26.       Host a bowl-a-thon, raise funds for the National Grange Youth Foundation.

27.       Organize a celebrity “cook off” – could be chili, ice cream, or other local food specialty – invite the community in to sample the entries, and select a winner.

28.       Organize a “youth/young adult officer” night. Let youth and young adult Grange members run a Grange meeting.

29.       Invite your state youth director or youth committee member to speak at a Grange meeting about state youth/young adult events/opportunities.

30.       Invite your state master and Grange herd partner to speak with your Grange youth. Get a photo with their Grange herd mascot and share on my Facebook page.

Freeda the Mouse. The official mascot of the National Grange Youth Department.

Freeda the Mouse. The official mascot of the National Grange Youth Department.

Can You Make a Difference in a Life?

Paying it forward. Random acts of kindness. Making a difference. This past Saturday, Jan. 18 one small gesture went viral online. Sgt. Ariel Soltura wrapped up a routine traffic stop in Rosenberg, Texas. He saw a boy standing alone, tossing a football, looking for someone to play with.

What happened next, tugged at the heart strings of America. With Soltura’s dashboard camera still running, he stopped the car. The kid leaves the frame, only to return running, going deep to catch a football, tossed by the officer.

“Everyone that sees it has probably at one time thought that they were that kid,”  Soltura said.

Think of ways you and your Grange can make a difference. Isn’t that how we make our communities better? One person at a time?

ABC News named the officer “America Strong” to see the segment go here.