The e-mailer was hotter than a $3 pistol. "What part of illegal don't you understand?" the opening salvo of the angry note asked after a column on immigration reform - and the lack thereof - a month ago.

That 700-word piece, like many in the six months since I have turned this space over to the audience, drew a huge response. By a three-to-one majority, the writing readers echoed immigration's toughest reformers in Congress: arrests and jail time for illegal workers and their employers; taller walls, stiffer fences and deeper ditches on our borders.

A well-written, lengthy response from "kelleyb..." captures well what all expressed: "Citizenship is something that millions are waiting for and are using the proper legal procedures to obtain ... Most Americans would rather pay a little more for their tomatoes to have secure borders ..."

Other, angrier writers threw punches at me and at my (daughter-of-immigrants) mother. "How did your mother raise such an idiot?" asked one with a gift for directness.

Best guess is she chose the path of idiocy for me when, at age 14, I calmly informed her that the family's long line of Lutheran ministers would not be adding me.

A data-dripping column on America's failed (I called it knuckleheaded) free-trade policies, brought brickbats and bouquets alike from readers in more than a dozen states.

"The fact that one particular industry, the ag industry, is losing in their free trade competition should not lead one to believe that free trade is bad," wrote an AOL e-mailer. Look at televisions, he urged; today's are higher quality, better performing and cheaper than ever before - and all are imported.

Likewise, "China (with) ... new techniques, new seeds and modern farming equipment is going to (be) more efficient in many areas of agriculture. We need to recognize that and not ridiculously conclude that free trade is the culprit ..."

Another AOLer, this one a reader of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, took the opposite stand, mixing a compliment to me with a sarcastic slap at his former governor.

"... great piece of work. I hope our former Gov. Johanns, now Secretary of Agriculture Johanns, still reads the Lincoln Journal Star - but (since) he's involved in 'smallpox drill,' he may have missed it."

Energy policy starred in two columns over the last half year. Both brought buckets of anger and disdain for our political leaders.

"Not only is our energy policy a disaster," e-mailer Ron surmised, "our Department of Energy is a disaster for allowing so few companies to control the (nation's oil) refinery capacity."

In fact, he noted, most of our government agencies, like "the CIA, FBI, FDA, FEMA, SEC and FAA have had catastrophic failures in the last five years. Why? The real scandal is that our elected officials are for sale in Washington (and the cause of) this systemic failure."

A January column on the failure of the Packers and Stockyards Administration to file a single complaint against a single meatpacker for nary one anti-competitive market practice since 1999 brought a hail of e-mails like Larry's.

"It is finally time for something to be done about the chaos in the livestock industry. I'm a young farmer farming family land, 140-year family land, which I fear I will not be able to continue. The big business kings and the large farm dukes are ravaging us family farmer peasants.

"Something must be done," he added, "before agriculture is ruined for future generations of families. Most of us would love to get back into farming full time but can't because we must work off the farm to 'enjoy' the farm life."

Enjoy is what many, many readers seemed to do with a mid-winter piece on my family's annual hog butchering marathon. Most recounted similar red meat bonanzas from their youths and most agreed with me that hog brains shall never pass their lips again.

One letter writer included a recipe for blood sausage: "16 cups of blood, 4 1/5 tablespoons of salt ..."

Thanks for the letters. Next time, though, hold the blood - and the blood sausage.


Alan Guebert's "Farm and Food File" is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. Contact him at