To be perfectly honest about it, not everyone in the Alcohol Rehabilitation Program of the Salvation Army really enjoyed his first taste of cooked whole wheat at Tuesday morning breakfast.
"No, I guess you'd have to say that only half of them did," said Jo Ann Forsness of Wolf Point, Mont., who is used to resistance to whole wheat. "Of course they didn't know how to doctor it, you know with honey or butter. But that's okay, it's new to them."
Forsness, a heavy woman with black hair and a direct gaze, was one of five purposeful and pleasant Montana women who brought the wheat with them to Washington and cooked it in the Salvation Army kitchen on First Street.
The story of how they finally managed to give a gift to hungry people is of interest, since it tells us something about people who are determined to do good, and even more about the special character of America's farm women, who, long before the push for the Equal Rights Amendment, knew they were equal, and who, long before President Reagan started lecturing about voluntarism, were helping their neighbors.
The women belong to WIFE (Women Involved in Farm Economy), an organization founded in 1976 "over a bridge table in Nebraska" on the principle that "our men are much too busy in the field, we've got to take over the books." WIFE has chapters in 17 states, and is broken into groups that school themselves on various farm problems to the point where they can come to Washington and testify.
Forsness is chairman of the farm credit committee, and she went before a Senate committee to talk about farm bankruptcies and foreclosures. She spoke somberly of the stress clinics that have sprung up all over rural America in recent years.
Shirley Ball, president of Montana WIFE and an expert on energy and transportation, accompanied Rep. Ron Marlenee (R-Mont.) to a meeting with Agriculture Secretary John R. Block on the painful matter of the threatened closing of an agriculture experimental station.
Television gave them the idea of donating out of their plenty. Things are not that bad in Montana, there not being that many people, but the farmers' wives were distressed to see, on the home screen, people in soup lines. They decided to donate 750 tons of whole, that is, unprocessed, wheat, to help out.
"We wanted to do something positive, something creative," Forsness said. "We just didn't want to be down about our own situation."
Sharon Norman, chairman of the grain committee, speaking with the candor that was the mark of the group added, "We're not getting any money for grain anyway, only $3.50 a bushel."
They are not easily fazed--they, after all, cope with dust storms, hailstorms, grain embargoes--but they were somewhat taken aback to find out that nobody wanted their life-giving and nutritious present.
They explained to people the wonderful properties of whole wheat, 16 percent protein and no end of vitamins and minerals.
But a Mission organization in New York turned it down. So did General Motors and the United Foundation.
"Whole wheat is misunderstood," Norman said sadly.
Six months passed before the Salvation Army, once again living up to its name, came to the rescue.
Montana's senior Democratic senator, John Melcher, called the organization's Washington office, and the Salvation Army, which takes in everybody, took in the wheat, and took in the women, too, when they needed a kitchen. They wanted to spread the gospel of whole grain by cooking up a batch of "whole-wheat chili" for the House and Senate dining rooms. But Congress wanted to charge them $3 a plate for the use of the facilities. So the Salvation Army gave them the run of its kitchen to prepare their edible propaganda.
In gratitude, Norman, Forsness and Ball, with Ginger De Cock, who brought her sister, Marie Anderson, with her, fell to baking for the Army's breakfast. Working quickly and easily together--they are used to cooking for firemen's suppers, harvest crews and other large gatherings--they turned out 350 buns, 20 loaves of bread and several flats of cinnamon buns that were a smash with the men of the Alcoholic Rehabilitation Program.
Tuesday night the women were back, chopping and slicing the ingredients for the chili, and Forsness happily went off on rounds with the Salvation Army's mobile feeding program, which takes food to the "grate people" around town.
The women were pleased that their dream had come true. They had made a contribution to alleviate the general misery and to ease their own in the process. They say other farm organizations are getting the same idea about the irony of Americans going hungry while almost 1.5 billion bushels of wheat is piled up in bins and silos. They, as usual, stand ready to help out in any way they can.