‘ ‘What’s the difference,” inquires the first sentence of a handwritten letter from a reader, “between a wheat farmer and a little puppy?”
Then comes the punch line, delivered in a labored scrawl, “When a little puppy grows up, it quits whining.”
“After reading a copy of ‘Wheat Life’ February 1995, about the growers of wheat bellyaching about your story about them,” the writer goes on, “I just had to sit down and give you my opinion.”
And so he did, challenging wheat industry rhetoric right and left. Just one example: “As to wheat farmers bringing cheap food to city folks, 90 percent of Washington wheat is exported. Never seen by city dwellers.”
Following four pages of rollicking, knowledgable, highly readable, insider anecdotes gleaned from personal experiences, he ended this way:
“I was raised in Spokane and started working on farms 60 years ago (the 1930s!) for $8 a month and board and room. Saved my money. Bought a small farm. And now have several hundred acres.
“No inheritance. No government handouts. And no debts.”
“I’ll remain anonymous,” he wrote in closing, “because I have neighbors that are wheat farmers.”
Good thinking. I understand.
After all, every one of 17 wheat growers whose letters were published in the magazine referred to above appeared anonymously. That’s fine.
As editor and publisher David Andersen wrote in the introduction to a full magazine section of written critiques, “The opinions themselves are what count.”
Precisely. And few are likely to appreciate that more than an opinion columnist such as yours truly.
Fact is, I enjoyed the entire 12-page spread “Wheat Life,” the official publication of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, devoted to criticism of a column I wrote about the need to cut farm subsidies.
Indeed, some of the letter writers were really quite complimentary in a way.
“David,” the first of them began, addressing editor/publisher Andersen, “I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this editorial. It’s a humdinger!
“I expect that most wheat growers had the same immediate reaction I had - rage.
“However, this rage was quickly replaced by a sense of gratitude. Mr. Bartel has very clearly stated our industry’s biggest challenge. We (agriculturists) all know that agricultural subsidies are the key element of our nation’s policy of insuring an abundant food supply.”
Skipping ahead: “Mr. Bartel has pointed out that in the public’s mind, subsidies are simply pork. He also points out that it is our (agriculturists) responsibility to change this image.”
Not all the letter writers were so kind.
That’s OK. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.
So, when Anderson asked me if he could reprint my column with the aim of eliciting comments from growers, I was pleased to cooperate.
I am most gratified with the outcome.
Though, some did seem to go to excess.
Wrote one, “Criticisms based on working knowledge is one thing. Your diatribe is reminiscent of too many of the political ads of this election season - misleading undeserved mudslinging that leaves residue on the people hurling the slime.”
But overall, responses of readers were certainly fair, many chock-full of excellent information and insight - far too much for me to present in a column format.
Fortunately it will not go to waste.
In his forward to the magazine section, Andersen informed readers: “This group of articles, centered around Frank Bartel’s controversial article and issues relating to farm programs-farm subsidies, is also being sent to U.S. Senator Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee; members who sit on congressional ag committees, and all Washington state congressmen.
They (the outpouring of letters, along with the original column) will also be sent to members of the general media throughout the state, region and nation.”