|By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Immigration laws, the death tax and keeping schools safe and secure were a few of the policy topics National Grange members debated earlier this month in the Land of Lincoln.
The 140th National Grange Annual Conference was at the Hilton in Springfield, Ill., Nov. 14-18. The Grange is the oldest national agricultural organization in the United States, organized in 1878 by founder Oliver H. Kelley.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization “provides opportunities for individuals and families to develop to their highest potential in order to build stronger communities and states, as well as a stronger nation,” its website stated.
“We have representatives from 38 states, each send their president and their spouse or a second delegate,” said National Grange President William Steel. “We have been creating policy for the year.”
The focus is not so much on the here and now, but the broad policy in the future.
“In the agricultural area, we are looking down the road about 20 years,” said Steel, who added that the Grange’s goal is to determine “how will the greatest number of people be able to take part in agriculture and make the best living.”
Immigration was one of the top policy discussions for Grange committees this year.
“What do we do to guarantee legal farm workers, and at the same time, control immigration,” Steel summarized the scope of the debate. “We can’t say we don’t want to be responsible for our workers.”
Another topic, he said, was the estate tax and passing down the farm to future generations.
“We would like to see stepped-up value,” Steel explained.
He said this means an estate should be valued at its current worth rather than its value when it was purchased, so the capital gains tax would not be as big of a hardship for heirs.
“We also talked about security,” Steel said. “How do we control schools? How do we handle the safety of our kids?”
The National Grange initiated a project with third grade students in Springfield schools during their conference.
“We distributed dictionaries to all third graders in Springfield,” Steel added. “This is a neat project, and no one had done it in Springfield.”
Grange members hoped other organizations might learn of this project and add it to their own communities.
Conference visitors were also able to enjoy members’ work in the Best of Illinois Display Room, where Grange projects and photographs were on display. There is an arts-and-crafts corner where workers gather to knit premature infant caps.
There were also displays for the Idea Fair, where Grange programs were profiled. In the room, there was a display of the Oliver H. Kelley farm, a living-history farm that can be toured. In Elk River, Minn. and operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, the farm offers a glimpse into 19th century agriculture.
A highlight for Steel and the Grange, Kelley was inducted into the National Agriculture Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kan. this year.
“He is one of 37 people inducted. Bob Dole was one of the others,” Steel said.
After several interesting but busy days, he said his highlight listening to veteran farm broadcaster Orion Samuelson at the banquet.
After the conference, Steel was on his way back home to Pennsylvania to bake. He started a program where his family baked pies for Thanksgiving, and they had informed him that the number pies ordered was going up by the minute.
For questions about the Grange, write the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, 1616 H Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20006, or call 888-4-GRANGE or 202-628-3507.
Information is also available online at www.nationalgrange.org
This farm news was published in the Nov. 29, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.