What Makes a Farmer?

Over Super Bowl Sunday we all got to celebrate the glory of advertising, and Ram Trucks won big points for its ad depicting striking portraits of farmers while a voice-over from Paul Harvey reminded us that God created them.

The ad went viral and hundreds of responses were immediately shared in magazine articles, YouTube videos, and on Facebook walls across the country, sparking conversations about the experiences of farmers and farming.

The analysis shared was far deeper than a simple truck commercial could encompass and I would argue that the responses, even the most nuanced, could have used more context as none were fully comprehensive of the current American farming experience.

Were the farmers represented too white? Too male? Too well-resourced? Too big? Too commodity-centric? Not representative of who actually labors in the fields?

Trying to represent the current state of American farming is a tall order. After all, who could possibly speak on behalf of all farmers? The sector is broad, diverse and impossible to accurately represent in a single article, blog post, report, or snappy hash-tag – much less a truck company’s re-branding effort.

In my opinion, RAFI’s decades of working alongside farmers from all walks of life fighting on the policy front and through direct services, can start to provide some of the needed context for a larger American farm story. By looking at our history and learning from the farmers we work with on a daily basis, perhaps we can begin to understand the breadth of the agricultural experience.

Through our Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund we work with farmers who are reinventing their businesses on the front lines of agricultural innovation. On the other end of the spectrum, we represent and fight for family farmers at risk of losing it all. Our staff can speak to the challenges and opportunities farmers from all backgrounds and sizes face, but we prefer to let the farmers do the talking, as they are the real experts.

Click the image to watch the recently released short film featuring Vargas Farms.

This year we are releasing four videos that depict the farming experience, drawing from 2012‘s TCRF grantees. Although we don’t pretend that these videos represent the stories of all farmers in America, these visually beautiful short films shed some light on what it looks like and means to be a farmer in America.

In our first video, you meet Felix Vargas. Felix came to the United States as a vegetable picker. He grew up deeply rooted in agriculture as part of his multi-generational family farm in Central Mexico, like many thousands of migrant farmworkers do.

While many barriers keep migrant farmworkers from owning farms, he was able to obtain citizenship and slowly build the capital to invest in his own operation. Felix represents a growing population of Latino farmers in North Carolina and throughout the US. The influence of this demographic shift is already significant and will be increasingly important as we explore the immigration reforms necessary to meet our agricultural needs.

Watch all four RAFI Farm videos here

In the end, as imperfect as it is, I’m glad Ram made the ad–so we can talk about it. And I’m glad they’re raising $1M for Future Farmers of America (FFA)–those young hopeful farmers are going to need all the help they can get and RAFI intends to lend a hand.

TCRF has awarded grants to over 500 farmers in its 16 year history, generating thousands of jobs and helping launch hundreds of farm-based enterprises in North Carolina. (Learn more about the program here) There is still work to be done.

By donating to RAFI you directly support our work with farmers like those featured in these videos and many more. A donation to RAFI is an investment in our agriculture and local foods future. Donate today and become part of our unfolding story.

Ask your legislators to support farmers’ access to credit and co-sponsor the Fair Credit for Farmers Act!CALL