In yet another testament to the careful inattention this office consistently pays to the career of its founding (and, as ever, only) staff member, an anniversary of sorts came and went a month ago with nary a notice, nod or neigh.
During the first week of June, 1993, 20 alarmingly fast years ago, this column first saw print in the Galesburg (IL) Register-Mail. A week later, two other Illinois newspapers, the Peoria Journal Star and the Bloomington Pantagraph, began to carry it. Both still do.So do dozens more in 26 states from Maryland (The Delmarva Farmer) to Montana (The Glendive Ranger-Review and the Western Ag Reporter).
Twenty years of 51 Farm and Food Files per year add up to 1,020 columns and, in round numbers, 714,000 words.Lightweight Leo Tolstoy managed to stuff only 587,287 words into his 1,440-page turner, War and Peace. Truth be told, 30 years of freelance writing and 20 years of column writing takes a toll. It’s especially hard on office equipment (four computers, five printers, three desk chairs, one pencil sharpener) but easier on the body.
Journalism is, after all, inside work where any heavy lifting is limited to little more to a full pint glass after deadline or an empty page two hours before deadline. Someone mention deadlines?In 20 years and one month of weekly deadlines, the Farm and Food File has not missed one. Ever. While some might knock on wood to ward off any jinx the mention of that fact might bring, I only thank the Good Lord for good health, good ideas and really good, really fast fingers.
While deadline pressure never changes, ag journalism has. For example, three years into this writing adventure, in 1996, five newspapers still received the column by mail.
Mail. How quaint. Other, more tech-savvy subscribers to the column back then received it by modem. Remember the beep-beep-beep dialing, the screeching, wailing, shhhhshhh-ing, and ping pinging of dial-up modems?
You would if you had to send several dozen editors a farm and food policy column late every Wednesday afternoon one slow telephone connection, one unique password and one newspaper at a time. Since every column was composed, edited and sent to (most) newspapers by computer, an electronic copy of each survives.
Once, all were stored on really floppy 8-in. magnetic disks; now all hibernate peacefully on a “thumb drive” that is, in fact, smaller than most infants’ thumbs.
A printed copy of each sleeps, also, in file upon file in banker box after banker box in an office storeroom.
Arranged by day, month and year, the boxes amount to a small dumpster of paper someone will have to lug to the recycler one day. But not just yet. Lately one of my best editors ever, daughter Mary Grace, has read her way through a large pile of files that feature memories of my family, Uncle Honey, and the hired men on “the large southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth.”
Years of writing columns about these people and times has delivered more than 60 “youth” stories. Amazing. The goal is to publish a small book of 50 or so of the columns so at least that portion of the Farm and Food File — unlike its 20th anniversary — is not forgotten.
What will never be forgotten, however, are the hundreds of thousands of readers who have read, commented and, often enough, cursed this effort every week for 20 years. Thank you very, very much and keep reading, writing and (ahem) commenting.
And thanks to all the newspaper managing editors, editors and publishers who have printed the column through the years. Writing what I write, the way I write, isn’t noteworthy. Having the courage to print it, however, is highly praiseworthy.