Together, on the road to Abilene

By Andy Juris
President, Washington Association of Wheat Growers

wheat field

Progress. Seems to be a controversial word these days, yet it’s what most of us are striving for in one way or another. You hear some people say they’re a progressive person; I think that means they sell auto insurance though. Folks debate progress. Is it good? Bad? Does it matter? Reasonable people would probably say both, depending on what it is. Back in my airline days, management decided we needed to capture the vision of progress for our company, so they had us watch an industry production called “The Road to Abilene.” It was a grainy feature film made back in the early 1970s when folks tended to sport bell bottoms, large-rimmed glasses, and way too much body hair. It was about a family picking up strangers and learning life lessons on a trip to Abilene, Texas. It was so bad that it was actually amazing, and while the lessons were undoubtedly lost on us, it made a lot of us wonder how kindly progress would look back on how we dressed and appeared in 50 years. So, how far on the road to Abilene have we come?

Ice cream is one area of great progress. I recently watched a youngster devour an opulent creation worthy of being called art. When I was young, ice cream meant shoving half-melted orange sherbet out of a toilet paper roll and then chewing on the plastic pusher until someone gagged on it. Now that I have a granddaughter, I’m amazed at the variety of wipe-type materials available to young mothers. Nearly every body fluid emergency seems to have a tidy package of wipes ready and available to meet the challenge. As a kid, I was faced with my grandmother scraping on my face with a well-used Kleenex that she had pulled out of the sleeve of her sweater. 

Some progress seems to make life more complicated, however. The high/low beam switch in my car went from a knob on the floor to a multi-knobbed stick on the steering column that has 42 functions. Now, instead of dimming my lights, I signal a turn, run the wipers and fluid, and attempt to restrain un-Christian language. Cell phones, while amazing tools, have turned meals into zombie-like scrolling sessions where folks must text each other at the dinner table to converse. Speaking of that, I think I’ll put this on my Facebook.

With all this progress, one has to wonder if, at some point, the way forward is to look at the past. When I consider what the farmers in my family did to survive and sustain the farm for the next generation, one word comes to mind: persistence. Those who came before faced illness, frontier life, the great depression and everything Mother Nature could throw at them and kept going. Not only that, but they also founded organizations like the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the Washington Grain Commission, built elevators, schools and communities. The will to keep going when everything told them to stop pushed them to create the world we live in.

Today we are again faced with challenges. Mother Nature is as angry as ever, the fertilizer bill makes me cry, and the political scenario is extremely concerning. Let’s take a page out of the past and use it to mark the way forward. Instead of going back to the farm, staying out of the fight, and hoping the few folks working on our behalf are successful, let’s be persistent. Let’s take the thousands of wheat farmers in this state and let folks know that we aren’t going away quietly. But, we need you all to do it. Not some, all. Persistence. Progress. Our road to Abilene is one we, like our grandparents, must walk together.