NORTH KINGSTOWN – Carol Freeborn Perry has been a Grange member for more than 40 years, watching the agrarian organization evolve from a socio-political force into an entity deeply committed to community service activities.
Like the gardens in her backyard on Ten Rod Road, Carol's roots run deep in the consortium founded in the midwestern farm belt in 1867 as the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry.
Locally, she says, “My ancestors were instrumental in forming the Slocum Grange in 1908. My father, mother, aunts, uncles and siblings were all members and now I'm the only one left. It's just me trying to carry on” the traditions.
Among the things she retains from early years learning from her mother are the annual ritual of canning home-grown produce and baking brown bread that's shared at public events.
In the 1870s, when the national Grange was in its infancy, socially-isolated members on far-flung farms got together for barn dances and homemade desserts.
As crop prices plummeted and Grangers launched a lobbying effort, a Kansas lawyer advised, “raise less corn and more hell!”
Many Grange activists still pursue traditional practices, raising chickens to sell their eggs, keeping goats for cheese-making and hauling vegetables to trendy farmers’ markets.
They’re also committed to making a difference in their little corner of the world.
As Slocum Grange's chairman of community service, Carol is proud of the wide range of projects in which the membership is involved.
“People of all ages – four to 104 or more – and all walks of life are welcome in the Grange,” she says. Slocum supports the NK Food Pantry, the Jonnycake Center and Welcome House of South County emergency shelter, both in South Kingstown and numerous health-based charities.
Grangers also contribute to scholarships, veterans’ support programs and animal rescue.
Today the Slocum unit numbers 69 members with 25 active. Once a month from September through May the group hosts a breakfast with the proceeds going to the various charities on its patronage list.
“I make the jonnycakes,” says Carol. Her husband, Bob, makes pancakes. This Saturday, from 7 to 10 a.m., the breakfast theme will be St. Patrick's Day and the pancakes will be green (from food coloring, not mold).
Other fundraisers include dinners featuring spaghetti-and-meatballs, ham and beans and chowder and clamcakes.
A bake sale held in conjunction with the breakfast benefits a dictionary giveaway program to third graders in NK public and private schools.
The Perrys also pitch in at the annual extravaganza known as the Washington County Fair: She sizzles in the chowder booth; he mans the country store.
Despite the fact that the Grange is shrinking across the country as agriculture becomes more industrialized – drastically decreasing the numbers of family-owned and operated farms – Carol believes the organization's basic tenets are still relevant.
The first, she says, is “fraternal love. There are 21 Granges in the state with just under 1,000 members and we have friends all over Rhode Island. That's one of the big [benefits.]”
A lot of families are still active in the organization, enjoying social activities and developing skills. “One of the big things they learn in Grange is the ability to get up and speak,” Carol notes. Membership, she adds, “gives people an opportunity to really grow mentally and morally, to have faith in God.
“A good Grange nurtures hope, dispenses charity and is noted for fidelity.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .