This year’s Super Bowl commercials were rather disappointing, but after 2013’s “So God Made a Farmer” commercial that included Paul Harvey’s famous 1978 speech that basically stunned America, it’s hard to live up to those kind of lofty expectations.
The Dodge commercial romanticized the plight and the characteristics of the farmer, sprinkling in some divine inspiration and used Harvey’s unique speaking style to really tug at your heartstrings.
This year, we got a chunky milk commercial and the Game of Thrones knight killing the Bud Light knight, so no wonder the biggest concern on Monday was the bearing of Adam Levine on national television. (For the record, Maroon 5 is not America’s Nickleback. Sorry Canada, you have to own Nickleback all by yourself)
As people bemoaned the lowest scoring Super Bowl on record, some posted the “So God Made a Farmer” ad on Facebook wishing something like this ad would save them from absolute boredom of the Rams punting once again.
That commercial didn’t come, and that is perhaps most fitting. We were fed a straight up snooze fest of corporate money, designed to appeal to the largest swath of people but actually appealing to nobody. I was way more entertained by the 20-minute nap I took, and wondering what fast food meal President Trump would feed the Patriots for their White House visit than the actual Super Bowl itself.
Statistics and trends are showing that while God made a farmer, we’re not doing a very good job keeping them around.. The number of farms in the United States is decreasing and has been for decades if not for over a century. Through a good chunk of our country’s history, there were more people living in rural areas as opposed to urban areas. In 1790, five percent of the country’s citizens lived in cities. That grew to nearly 40 percent by 1900 and then became the majority in 1920 when 51 percent of its citizens lived in the city.
With this, the number of farms declined by half from 1950 and 1970. The number of people on farms dropped from over 20 million in 1950 to less than 10 million in 1970. That number is drastically lower now and as of 2008, less than two percent of the population is directly employed in agriculture. There were 3.2 million farmers, ranchers and ag managers in 2012. The number of farms has dropped through the years as well, with there being 2.16 million farms in 2000, to 2,060,000 farms in 2016.
Single family farms have been consolidating to more commercial farms that are better capable of being more efficient and therefore probably pull in more money. Although ask any farmer and they’ll tell you that there is no money to be made in farming anyway.
Farmers are getting older, much like loggers and the younger generation is not stepping in to fill the ranks. It’s hard to blame them either; how would you like an “always on the clock” job that is dependent on the weather, dependent on the markets and in the end may not make you any money at all?
So some farms just go dormant as the farmer there retires or passes away. Commercial farms are taking over the responsibility that was once put on the shoulders of smaller family farms.
Then there are the rise in hobby farms, where it’s the general idea that the land around a home will get maintained and farmed, but it’s certainly not the sole source of income for the farmer. You may have also seen the farms that have become wedding venues, meeting spots and other Instagrammable settings but don’t serve as the once powerful economic engine of America.
That isn’t to say that progress isn’t being made. One probably wouldn’t like the living conditions of say a 1790s farmer, and real social progress was made when the industrial revolution took hold around the world.
But, you have to look at areas like Stevens County where years ago, there were more families that farmed, people were more self-reliant and created what they needed. Rural areas had their own kind of economy where people could make a living.
Now it’s like we’re haunted by the myth of the American farmer. That’s not to say you guys still aren’t working the land out in Stevens County and doing a mighty job of it. But if you look at the demographics, farming, nor logging nor ranching are the majority industries in even this rural county. Not to minimize these professions as they are still deeply important to the area, but government, medical and education jobs seem to be the prime employers right now.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “So and so can’t take care of the farm anymore” or “they’re just having someone else farm it now” right here in this valley. I can’t claim to be the solution as I’m pretty sure Bush was president the last time I drove a tractor.
But one can’t deny the change that the years bring. While we can romanticize about the hard-working American farmer, our country seems to sometimes look more like the bloated, underwhelming corporate gluttony that last Sunday’s Super Bowl was.
How can we prop up the American farmer as our ideal person, but the realities of our economy, government regulations, the current lifestyles of Americans and education actively contrast that?
It is like saying your house is a wood cabin made by hand when in reality its a double-wide bought at Sears.
The areas that have succeeded the most have diversified their economies to offer many opportunities. We can continue to claim that farmers are the culture of Stevens County, but young people aren’t going into the field in droves, farms are consolidating or being sold off, and the hobby farmer isn’t quite the independent, pioneering spirit that once made up the bulk of the American economy.
Our rural areas are hurting financially and show a great political divide from the urban areas so much so that the two types of lifestyles are nearly incompatible and we’re being ravaged heavily by drugs and poverty.
This area needs to either find ways to help farming or perhaps agri-tourism make a huge comeback (I see the fine work that some farms are doing and its great) or adjust to the winds of time and change, finding industries to stick here that get young people to move back to the area. Instead of praising a farming commercial, the powers at be should be more concerned about helping actual farmers.
(COLUMN BY BRANDON HANSEN/Managing Editor of the Chewelah Independent)