It’s March, and farmers are still talking about the Super Bowl.
Not about how the San Francisco 49ers nearly staged a wild come-from-behind upset or about the 40-minute blackout. No, the talk in coffee shops and online message boards is still about the masterful Ram truck ad combining a montage of rural images with a scratchy recording of Paul Harvey's “God Made a Farmer” speech to the FFA (Future Farmers of America) in 1978.
The ad struck a chord among farmers of all stripes (although minority farmers were seriously under-represented in the photos).When I last checked, the YouTube version of the ad had more than 14 million views. It didn’t take long, though, for someone to come up with a parody of the commercial. Soon, “God Made a Factory Farmer” began circulating on the web, with sharp digs on how Monsanto and other agribusiness interests have wrapped themselves in the mantle of the family farmer. When “God Made a Factory Farmer” first hit my email in-basket, I forwarded it to a couple of organic farmer friends.
From one came a terse reply: “Yes I saw this. I didn't take it too well… it groups us all together, in my humble opinion.” I talked to some other organic farmers and got the same basic reaction.
So, why would independent farmers who spend their days (and nights) trying to gain a toehold in a food system dominated by the conventional commodity producers and biotech companies object to a parody that exposes the likes of Monsanto?
In short, the Super Bowl ad touched a deep chord in these small producers. They recognize that the two-minute-long ad was designed to sell more trucks. But they also connected with Harvey’s core message that their role in the food system involves more than just manufacturing crops and livestock.
No doubt, the organic food system has grown because an enforceable set of federal regulations provides growers, manufacturers and retailers with a clear set of rules as to what could and couldn’t qualify for the USDA Organic seal. Much of the controversy swirling around today focuses on whether companies are meeting the minimal compliance standards.
For many farmers, though, their commitment to organic farming is not about minimal compliance. It’s about something much deeper.
Yeah, it was just a Super Bowl commercial, but it scored in a big way.
(Full disclosure: I love my 7-year-old, beat-up Dodge Truck).
Watch the commercial here: