‘So God Made a Farmer’ commercial dives into food issues

A screenshot from the "So God made a farmer" commercial
A screenshot from the "So God made a farmer" commercial

In the wake of the glitz and glam of Sunday’s Super Bowl, farm country is what nearly everyone is talking about.

Dodge trucks paid for a two-minute ode to farmers and it set the Internet aflame (and you can watch it at the bottom of this post). The ultra-long commercial features an arresting series of stark images of modern farmers and farming set to “So God made a farmer,” a beautiful, folksy speech iconic broadcaster Paul Harvey reportedly delivered at the Future Farmers of America conference in 1978.

It’s not clear until the end of the advertisement what it’s actually for – it’s certainly more about farmers than about Dodge Ram trucks. And the commercial is a huge investment for the truck line’s parent Chrysler Group: merely airing the ad may have cost the company an astounding $16 million.

As with most things related to food production, the ad was no simple matter, even in farm country. It certainly glorified farming and many farmers and ranchers were glad to be represented on one of TV’s biggest nights. But it also touched on the ongoing debates about the shifting demographics of farming.

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal said the ad whitewashes American farmers.

“The ad paints a portrait of the American agricultural workforce that is horribly skewed,” Madrigal writes in blog post. “In Dodge's world, almost every farmer is a white Caucasian.”

Dafina Williams, who commented on Harvest Public Media's Facebook page, agrees.

“They really should have included some people of color in the video,” Dafina wrote.

And Ryan Louis, another Facebook commenter, said there are other demographic issues as well.

“It was a great commercial,” Louis wrote. “But it bothers me that it didn't feature any women. Are women not farmers, too?”

Of course, the add did include more than one women and a few pictures of male farmers that looked as if they'd identify as other than white, as well as one young girl. But if I had told you last week that a Super Bowl ad would lead to a discussion of gender and race issues in farming I wager you'd have been surprised.

In fact, as Madrigal acknowledges, the vast majority of farm operators in the U.S. are white males, according to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture (PDF). According to the Census, just 3 percent of U.S. farm operators identify as Spanish, Hispanic or Latino (82,462 out of 3,281,534 operators) and just 14 percent of U.S. farms list women as the principal operators (306,209 out of 2,204,792 farms). However, Latino farm workers make up a huge segment of the farm labor pool and some studies even report that more than 70 percent of farm workers were born in Mexico alone.

The commercial also led many to discuss the changing nature of food production. The ad evoked an old-timey, “Leave it to Beaver” feel that some say over-romanticized the way we farm now.

“It also seemed like a romantic view of old-timey farming, when so much modern farming is mechanized and farms are rarely small or owned by families,” Carol Thompson wrote on our Facebook page.

“I think Dodge took too much liberty with those words trying to evoke the romantic nature of agriculture that isn't the standard of agriculture today,” Traci Bruckner added.

Incidentally, the commercial does come with a point of a view, according to NPR's Maria Godoy:

Apparently, the ad is part of a Dodge Ram partnership with the National FFA Organization (formerly the Future Farmers of America) aimed at "highlighting and underscoring the importance of farmers in America," according to a statement from Dodge parent company Chrysler. The car company says that every time the ad is watched or shared, Chrysler will make a donation to the National FFA.

Expecting advertisers to be demographically and functionally accurate is probably unreasonable. But part of the reason the Dodge ad is so interesting is that it touched on important issues the food industry is currently struggling with.

What do you think? Did you like the advertisement? Hate it? Why? Click here to comment on our Facebook page.