The Freemasons of the Field

Earlier this week a friend gave me a copy of The World Was My Garden by the botanist David Fairchild, who happens to be my friend’s great grandfather.  I’m just a few chapters in but there’s this interesting tidbit toward the beginning about the opposition to the Hatch Act of 1887, which provided federal funding for land grant colleges:

However, when the Hatch Act was first proposed, it met with strong opposition from a powerful organization called “The Grange,” composed of conservative and retroactive farmers who did not want their sons exposed to fancy “book learning.” They feared that additional funds would be used by the colleges for classical “trimmings.”

The act passed, but only after Congress (on the advice of Fairchild’s father, who ran a land grange college) placated the Grange by limiting the use of funds exclusively to “experimental work in agriculture.” But who are The Grange, this mysterious group of people who hate fancy book learning and are influential enough to successfully lobby Congress? Fairchild doesn’t say.

It turns out that they’re still around. The official name is National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. They started in the Antebellum South as a way to share what today we would call “best practices” in agriculture and advocate for farmers in Washington DC. Britannica says that they fought monopolistic grain transport practices in the decades after the Civil War. One of the founders, Oliver Kelley, was  a Freemason. He presumably had the masonic model of fraternal organization in mind at the Grange. Naturally, they had an esoteric initiation ritual and secret meetings.

And after 150 years they’re still around: as of 2016 they had an annual budget of almost $2 million, and this past August Betsy Huber, their national president, had a piece published in the Daily Caller pushing for more rural internet investment. And, naturally, they’re pro-immigration. I tried, but could not find, their current position on book learning.

 

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