Here’s a story you probably haven’t read before.  It’s one of those you only hear by word of mouth.  When my brother-in-law was in the army, he had a long car ride with someone who worked abroad for the Dept. of Agriculture.  When asked about Ezra Taft Benson, the guy got a smile on his face and said, “Let me tell you a story about him…”

Since then, I’ve done a lot of research and though all the pieces fit, that story is unfindable.  I don’t think it’s ever been written down!

(Until now.)

(I love this story.)

Back in the 1950’s, after the thin years of the second world war, agriculture took off.  New technology, tractors, etc, led to increased crop production.  At this same time, the New Deal (a policy where the government subsidized farmers, leftover from the Great Depression)*  was still in effect.  This meant that the government was paying a whole lot of money for food that no one needed to buy.

It was about that same time, 1952, that Dwight Eisenhower was elected.  To tackle these agricultural issues, he appointed a man who had been the Executive Secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, who had also organized a near-impossible relief effort in post-WWII Europe, and who was an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

This man’s name was Ezra Taft Benson.

Ezra Taft Benson was a controversial Agricultural Secretary of State.  As a farmer himself, he believed that the government should not subsidize farmers.  This made him unpopular among the farmers who were getting subsidies.  He sometimes had eggs thrown at him when he went out on campaign.  But; he gained followers as well–many farmers were independent, like him, and didn’t want to depend on the government.

They also admired when he showed up at their farms ready to help milk the cows.  He wasn’t like the other government reps.

When Benson was appointed, he inherited a massive grain surplus problem.  Up on The Hill, they called it “The Farm Problem.”

With the post-war boom, the US had all the grain they needed.  And all the extra grain was stored in government silos.  The transportation and storage of all this grain was costing upwards of a million dollars a day.  Every day the government waited to fix this problem was a million dollars gone.  The only solution was to sell it to other countries–who didn’t need the US’s grain.

Except for India.  At this time, Northern India & Pakistan was in the throes of a food shortage, and they would have gladly bought the American grain.  They had the money.  The problem?  The United States government didn’t recognize the Indian money, the rupee, as legit currency.  The US couldn’t sell their grain to them.

Some parts of Congress pushed to give the grain to India for free.  Benson felt strongly that this was a bad idea.  He was concerned that if they gave the grain to India–who could pay, after all–they would become dependent upon the US for their food.  India had only just gotten their independence from England, and Benson wanted to help them remain self-reliant.

But they did need the grain.  

Benson immediately got to work.  The same year he stepped into office, he managed to pass the “Public Law 480” act.  This allowed him to “dispose of {The USA’s} surpluses for foreign currency by barter or donation.”  With the help of this new act, he was able to sell a massive amount of grain to India and Pakistan–37 million bushels of wheat!

In return, he ended up with a lot of worthless rupees.

Or were they?

While the US didn’t recognize the rupee, the Japanese government did.  Benson took the money he had gotten from India and Pakistan, and exchanged it for yen.  But he didn’t exchange the yen again for US dollars.  Instead–and this is where the story gets a little crazy–he bought dozens of Japanese trucks.

I make this not up.

Each of these trucks had an oven in the back.  Benson hired drivers for the trucks, and sent them all out across the Japan countryside.

The drivers also cooked up a storm, and almost instantly, these little food trucks were the cat’s pajamas, attracting people for miles for the delicious, warm, sugar-encrusted deep-fried taste of…

DONUTS.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaa

(A side note: Donuts and donut trucks were all the rage in 1950s America.  Your grandparents might be able to tell you about their experience with Dunkin Donuts, or the Helms Bakeries trucks when they were kids.)

The Japanese people were enamored with donuts!  (Hahaha.  They’re a lot like me!)  What was this delicious new food?  “They’re called donuts,” the drivers told them, “and to make them, you need merikan-ko.”  American wheat flour.  Or in other words, grain.

Almost immediately, the Japanese government and the American government struck a deal.  Between 1954 and 1956, the two nations signed a series of agreements where Japan consented to buy the US’s surplus grain.  

(The Japanese taste for wheat, in a twist of revenge, spiraled to instant ramen in the late 1950s, from which we are all casualties….delicious, delicious casualties.)

Not only had Ezra Taft Benson solved the wheat surplus problem for several years, but he also gave India the dignity of buying their own grain, gave work to those drivers in Japan, and also gave the farmers here in the US the sense that their hard work had merit.  It was the Benson Solution.

After his eight years on Eisenhower’s cabinet were up, Benson returned to his position as an LDS apostle, and eventually became the president of the LDS Church in 1985.  He passed away in 1994, but is still admired by many people today.

Including me.  I really love this story because it reminds me that when I think the only solutions to my problems is bad solution A or bad solution B, there might be a Great Solution C I haven’t thought of yet–a Benson Solution.

And I can almost always find it ^_^

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