I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my dad did. He was the youngest of 13 kids, several of them who grew up to own farms of their own. As a kid, my family had almost an acre in the country, but the only animals we kept on it were stray cats and the occasional opossum (the latter, not on purpose). Still, the school I attended was definitely in a rural, farming community, and I frequently spent time at my Grandma’s farm. She’d downsized since her kids were young and working the farm, but even when I was a kid and she was in her early 80s, she still kept chickens for eggs, cows for milk and meat, and sheep for wool. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of being at her house, gathering eggs, helping my uncle shear sheep, or just playing in the hay loft.
Her farm was small, with a big white barn and a little white house. This is what most people picture when they think of “family farm,” and what the recent “So God Made a Farmer” ad exploits. This makes us feel cozy. We admire the work ethic and values of farmers, as my friend and high school classmate Matt Reese notes, and the ad painted farmers in a very positive light–a stark contrast to the other Superbowl commercials selling their products on sex appeal with half-naked models. I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and “the rest of the story,” and honestly love this speech. It reminds me of home. However, Harvey passed away almost 3 years ago, and his speech was from 1978–I was 2 years old, and farming was much different then than it is now.
Today, while small, family farms of the type romanticized in the Dodge commercial certainly still exist, more and more are becoming industrialized–more land, more animals, and all of the issues that come with those. Contrary to the white men portrayed in the commercial, approximately half of the hired workers on farms today are Hispanic, and are paid roughly $10 per hour for their work. Many of these are undocumented, making it difficult for them to raise their voices when safety or health violations have occurred, or even to receive treatment should they be injured on the farm. Farms employing less than 10 people (the majority of all farms today) are exempt from OSHA inspections, so corners may be cut regarding safety. I won’t go into all the details; others have covered modern-day farming and even made a revised video featuring Latinos. “Funny or Die” also got in on the act, swinging the pendulum about as far from the original Dodge commercial as one could go.
No matter large or small, farming is an important and incredibly difficult job. For many, it is a calling rather than just a job, and some incredible people are out there working to feed all of us. However, changes in farming over the past several decades are killing off the family farms that we (and Dodge) still idealize. As David Hinckley noted, “As it ran, it felt a little like erecting a beautiful statue to a species we are hunting into extinction.” Indeed.