The first successful national farming organization was the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, better known as the Grange, founded in 1867.
Oliver Kelley was an active leader in local agricultural circles who was dedicated to the idea that the area's farmers benefited from each others' experiences. He wanted to create an organization that would advocate for and educate farmers and their families, enrich their social lives, and share information.
With ideas and encouragement from his niece, Caroline Hall, Oliver Kelley and six colleagues from the U.S. Bureau of Agriculture started the National Grange of fhe Order of Patrons of Husbandry. The Grange opposed the manufacturing and processing monopolies that fixed grain and livestock prices at a disadvantage to farmers. They also protested the high railroad freight rates farmers had to pay to get their products to market.
Within two years, Minnesota had 40 Grange chapters and a state organization. By 1873, with farmers battling falling crop prices and rising railroad shipping costs, Grange membership had grown to nearly 700,000 members in 9,000 chapters across the nation.
Thanks to Caroline Hall, the National Grange was the first national organization to require leadership roles for women; at least four of its 16 elected positions had to be held by women.
Over the years, members fought for many issues like railroad regulations, farm loans and universal suffrage, and the National Grange still exists today with 2,000 local community Granges across 41 states and nearly 80,000 members. The organization will celebrate its 150th birthday in December 2017.
The American Civil War was a pivotal period for Oliver Kelley, his family and his farm. Kelley had an appetite for innovation as armies of the era had an enormous appetite for vast quantities of food. When the war came to an end, Kelley was called upon by President Johnson to assess the dire condition of farms in the south.