'So God Made a Farmer' touched our soul
By Ken Root
I am pleased that the review of this year's Super Bowl includes a message about agriculture. It is good to know that Paul Harvey's voice, delivering prose about the merits of farmers, is the issue of debate rather than Janet Jackson's exposed breast or the abominable singing of the national anthem by ill-chosen celebrities. It took some courage, and a lot of cash, for Dodge Trucks to put the farmer-friendly message on the world stage but the result has been positive and revealing.
The first critical response I received was that the images and the message weren't accurate. The debut of Paul Harvey's reading was at the 1978 National FFA Convention in Kansas City, Mo. He was an active speaker back then and charged an astounding $12,000 to address an audience. He was already an icon and an early conservative voice on radio. The prose was probably written years before and appropriated by the master of mood and oratory. It implies hard physical labor and long hours along with community service and strong family ties. The message is timeless even as the farmer has evolved to be a production manager, financial specialist, human relations director, purchasing agent and chief executive officer. The heart and soul inside of the farmer remains the same but the exterior has become much more polished and capable of interaction with our overall society.
As Harvey gave this message to the Future Farmers of America, he reinforced what was already in their heads and hearts. He "empowered" them to tell Dad and Mom that they wanted to be the next generation of farmers. In 1978, that was a good decision. In 1981, it was a bad one. Many of these young people had their hearts broken by the harsh reality of producing a commodity and offering it to a world that saw little value in the abundance or had no money with which to buy. We can say that farming has changed a great deal in the past 35 years and yet it hasn't changed at all.
I have to say, as a longtime radio broadcaster, that Harvey had a unique ability to capture your attention for the entire length of his broadcast. He was the last of the radio voices that required silence as he spoke. We would all do better in our communications by being as succinct and spare with our words. The Dodge Truck commercial was two minutes. It had a lot of dead air at the front. He paused many times in his delivery and yet the message came through. In an era when commercials jam in as many words and images as the brain can bear, his style remains classic and refreshing.
The spot is worth examining again. You can do so on the Internet. Although Dodge wasn't the first to put the words to pictures, it was interesting to see their choice of faces and scenes. There were no immigrant faces but some hands looked Hispanic. The men were all craggy and weathered. The little girl had an independent and cute smile. The tractor was red. The closing shot, of a modern hog confinement building, tied Harvey's timeless descriptions to the current day. Good things will come from this endeavor. Dodge has set up a means to donate to the National FFA Organization and it appears Case-IH is linked in too.
Reviews of the commercial had criticism that "God" was mentioned. There was no identification of religion but the entire message implied that there was order in the universe because of a higher power and a humble worker. But, as Americans, we are also empowered to be humorously disrespectful as one posted comment said: "On the Ninth Day, God decided to chill, so he made a pot farmer."
There were ranting comments about "factory farms" and "anti-meat" agendas. That comes with the territory. Most had an agenda that defies reality. On Monday, the critics for metropolitan newspapers and big time blog posts didn't seem to have the guts to like the spot. They mostly professed that they didn't understand it. That's a sad statement for those who value rural life and link the progress of our society to agricultural endeavor.
Perhaps next year, some brave company will quote the words of an 1895 speech by William Jennings Bryant: "Burn down your cities and they will spring up again, as if by magic. But burn down our farms and grass will grow in the streets of every city in America."
Editor's note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.