Dad got up every day before the crack of dawn. He would go out and work until around noon when he would take a break, make a plate of scrambled eggs (one of the two dishes he mastered) and turn on the radio to listen to the markets. He would eat his eggs, maybe with a side of fresh tomatoes covered in sugar, and read his paper as the radio voice announced funeral services, weather reports and Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of The Story.” He retired a couple of years ago, finally prying himself away from the farm, and moved to town with Mom. I use the word “prying” because old farmers—if they don’t die on their tractors—all wrestle with leaving the farm. But in the end it was time, and so he turned over the land to my brother, just like Grandpa did with him. So it was my dad, then, and my time on our farm too, that made me tear up during RAM’s “God Made a Farmer” commercial on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s a haunting voiceover, a speech by Mr. Harvey to a National Future Farmers of America convention in 1978. I felt proud when I heard those words. I felt like that was my story, my family’s story. And then I watched it again.
The ad has already faced criticism for its lack of racial diversity, showing only one African-American farmer and a single Hispanic couple. It’s also been accused of presenting what many believe is the false idea that there are still family farms in America. I can personally attest to the existence of thriving family farms, but corporate farms and livestock mills are all too common a reality. But my biggest question is: Where are all the women? According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census of Agriculture, there were almost 30 percent more female principal farm operators in 2007 than in 2002. As impressive as that figure is for women in farming, it doesn’t tell much of a story. Women’s integral role in farming can’t be gauged by a census number. My mom worked our farm in equal measure with my dad—and I don’t mean by tending house or making sure dinner was on the table when he rolled into the driveway on the combine at midnight. She drove a hulking, green John Deere tractor, trailing wagons teetering under oversized loads of corn and soybeans the nerve-wracking two miles to the co-op. Most of the drive was over an ill-maintained gravel road. And when she made it to the co-op, there were just as many women as men behind the wheels of their own tractors queued up to offload. Dodge’s commercial shows only two solo females: one, an older woman standing against a soft-focus background, the other, a young girl standing in a field. There are women here and there—some seated praying over a dinner table or alongside a suggested male mate tending a stall at a farmer’s market. My nephews, Ike and Harris, are beside themselves with glee that their dad has finally taken over the farm. They run around that place like mad, much like my brother and I did when we were kids. My gut tells me Harris is the likely candidate to take over the farm when the time comes. He has possessed the required preternatural love of the farm, of the tractors, of planting and harvest—that unseen force that cannot be explained but only experienced. He made his maiden voyage on the combine this year at 12 years old, and I can report to you that it was the realization of his one and only dream. But I can also tell you this—there would be no farm to turn over to my brother or to my nephew if it weren’t for my grandma, my mom and my now sister-in-law. “Farmer” is a genderless term. The lady problem with “God Made a Farmer” is decidedly more nuanced and subtle than that of another controversial Super Bowl commercial, this one one by Web hosting provider Go Daddy. It is easy to turn up our noses at the creepy geek/beauty queen kiss and declare it sexist. “God Made a Farmer” is much harder to criticize because of its real beauty and truths. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
Andy Kopsa is an award-winning investigative reporter based in New York City, though raised on an Iowa farm. Her work on government corruption, justice reform, reproductive freedom and international affairs has appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy and others.