Progressive Voices

God made farmworkers too

As I watched the Super Bowl with my family recently, one ad stood out. It was the beautiful slideshow of farmers, accompanied by the eloquent words of the late Paul’s Harvey’s speech entitled “God Made a Farmer.” The ad was a moving tribute, evoking powerful emotions while praising the often unrewarding daily labor of farming.

Here’s an excerpt from Harvey’s words:

God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.’ So God made a farmer.”

 Again, it was a beautiful – almost haunting – two minutes. But why were all the farmers white? Why didn’t the ad depict the reality of farmworkers, the millions of men and women whose hard labor makes possible the abundance on our plates?

A recent critique of “God Made a Farmer” by a Florida group known as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers highlights this disconnect and why it’s wrong:

The vision of rural America at the heart of the ad—the visual definition of the farmer God made that is the subject of the two minute poem—is, almost without exception, monochrome as can be. Out of 21 images of people representing farmers, 19 are white, one is African American, one is Latino…

Today, the vast majority of physical labor done on the vast majority of commercial fruit and vegetable farms in this country is done by farmworkers—the vast, vast majority of whom are not white. There are more than three-million farmworkers toiling on farms in rural communities from California to Florida and everywhere in between, yet, in an ad extolling the virtues of farm work, the people who work on farms are almost nowhere to be found.

It is not wrong to extol the labor, daily sacrifices, and invaluable contribution to American life of our nation’s farmworkers. It is wrong to paint farmworkers white in order to do so.

The reality is that farmworkers pick the food we eat, and most of those workers are immigrant workers whose backbreaking labor—the selfsame noble labor exalted in the ad’s moving words—is systematically underpaid and underappreciated. If the words read so powerfully by Paul Harvey are able to reach deep inside of us and move us to buy a truck, they should be powerful enough to move us to reward the work of our country’s three-million farmworkers and provide a living wage and dignified working conditions in return for their virtuous labor.”

The lack of farmworkers in the ad is frankly a stunning omission, and it highlights the challenges that face farmworkers today. Farmworkers are routinely ignored in the policy debates that affect their lives. And it turns out that even tributes to hard work on farms, like the “God Made a Farmer” ad, fail to honor the contributions of farmworkers. It’s up to us to help turn the tide. It’s time we recognize that God made farmers and God made farmworkers too.

Got food? Thank a farmworker.

Chris Liu-Beers is a Program Associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches.

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