Making the Point After

2/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Margaret Gates Regional Editor

The Super Bowl is nearly two weeks in the past, but it’s still generating buzz — not because of a no-call on a possible pass interference at the end of the game, but because of a commercial paying tribute to America’s farmers.

Few of us remember the details of a Super Bowl game, but we often remember what happened between the plays, whether it’s a power outage, a halftime wardrobe malfunction or a clever commercial.

This year, Ram Truck’s two-minute piece, “So God Made a Farmer,” ranked among the most memorable of the night.

The simple commercial is a series of compelling still photographs of farm life with a voice-over of legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey reciting the anonymous poem, “So God Made a Farmer,” that he first delivered to the Future Farmers of America in 1978.

In his familiar and folksy Midwestern style, the late Harvey intones:

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say, Maybe next year.’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out of hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.” So God made a farmer.

In two minutes, that commercial managed to accomplish what many farmers now toil daily to do — in addition to shaping ax handles, shoeing horses and making harnesses — paint a positive image of agriculture.

The spot aired just two months after Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack bemoaned the fact that rural America is becoming less relevant and urged farmers to improve communication with the food-eating public and use their energy to become more proactive and positive.

So, more than 100 million Super Bowl viewers saw this moving tribute to farming. Mission accomplished, right?

Well, should it surprise anyone that, along with all the positive reaction from farmers and nonfarmers alike, the ad has also stirred controversy in the blogosphere, the Twittersphere and every other sphere you can imagine?

Atheists were unhappy about the mention of God. Others complained that the ad tugged on viewers’ emotions for the purpose of selling a product (like that’s never happened before). Still others decried the short shrift given to women and Latino farmers.

Then there were those who debated the choice of Paul Harvey as narrator, because he was also an animal-rights supporter.

And let’s not forget the parodies: “So God made a factory farmer” or “So God made an undocumented farmworker,” to name a few.

And there are those who felt the commercial’s photographic subjects weren’t sufficiently representative of the farmer population, so they made their own, equally touching versions, such as “So God Made a (Latino) Farmer.”

“It is worth mentioning that farming is just another form of labor, and one that the taxpayer spends billions of dollars on every year through an often wasteful Farm Bill,” read one comment. “And this is worth mentioning to ameliorate this myth that farmers are somehow more independent and more hard-working than other people.”

Let’s face it: There are those who will never appreciate agriculture, even as they and billions of others sustain themselves on the fruits produced by the labor of a few.

There are the cynical among us, who would find controversy and ulterior motives in a toilet paper commercial.

But all of these reactions, even the negative ones, mean the ad sparked useful debate and put agriculture in the forefront of our consciousness, if only for a short time.

And it did it in a way the average farmer never could.

With Super Bowl ad spots going for $3.8 million per 30 seconds of airtime, Ram likely spent somewhere between $15 million and $16 million on the ad. Ram also has pledged to donate up to $1 million to the National FFA Organization based on the number of views the commercial gets online.

But as much as this commercial put a spotlight on farming, it is clear the real change in perception will have to come at the grass-roots level, where farmer and consumer co-exist and come together face to face.

The idea of “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” has to be about more than simply promoting local and regional food systems. It should be about connecting with consumers, being good neighbors, and sharing a bit of yourself and your farm with the public.

It doesn’t require millions of viewers or a million-dollar budget or a voice-over from a late, great broadcaster.

But it does require someone who can blog about how their livestock are raised, or take families on a tour to pick pumpkins, or explain to a civic group how their grazing practices and riparian buffers are protecting local waterways.

It requires someone who can do all those things and more, while still feeding the world’s ever-growing population.

So God made a farmer.

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