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Potter's Wheel ‘So God made a farmer’ a good lesson for city dwellers

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Lori Potter.

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Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013 3:00 pm | Updated: 4:06 pm, Thu Mar 21, 2013.

I was transfixed for two minutes during Sunday’s Super Bowl, but not by the exciting Baltimore win over San Francisco. It was the Dodge truck ad based on broadcaster Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” speech at the 1978 National FFA Convention.

That ad and a Budweiser mini-drama about a man reunited with the Clydesdale colt he raised have been the most talked about Super Bowl ads.

People my age or older probably recognized Harvey’s Oklahoma-tinged voice in the truck ad’s first spoken word.

A 2009 obituary in the New York Times said his “twice-daily soapbox-on-the air” radio programs drew up to 22 million listeners in his heyday from the 1950s through the 1990s. “He championed rugged individualism, love of God and country, and fundamental decency of ordinary people,” the Times said.

Harvey was a conservative broadcaster-storyteller, but was nothing like the politically motivated, abusive loudmouths of today’s talk radio. Each Harvey broadcast began with a cheerful “Hello, Americans” introduction to the news and finished with a surprise “rest of the story” ending.

“So God Made a Farmer” made me think about my farm family. I hope it will help other Americans understand us better. By “us,” I mean family farmers and ranchers, and everyone else who lives now or grew up in rural areas.

Yes, the photos and Harvey’s voice are very sentimental. But city folks should know that the ad still speaks truths about many of the people who grow their food.

Harvey says God looked down on “his planned paradise” and decided he needed a caretaker. Most farmers and ranchers see themselves as caretakers of their land for the next generation. They also know they can’t survive if they don’t protect their natural resources.

No-till farming has replaced most plowing in Nebraska. When Harvey talks of people who “plow deep and straight and not cut corners,” I suspect he was addressing character as much as field preparation.

In 1978, little was known about pivot irrigation systems and nothing about operating them remotely with a laptop computer or smart phone. No one imagined that tractors could drive themselves, navigated by global positioning systems, or that variable rates of nutrients and water could be applied on the same field.

Technology never will replace many hands-on jobs on a farm, the value of experience or knowledge handed down for generations.

In Harvey’s speech, God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’”

Farm kids learn about death by loving and losing a horse, farm dog, barn cat, or 4-H steer, pig or lamb. They also know about the renewal of spring.

We’ve all met a McGyver farmer like the ones Harvey said can fix or make about anything. “And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon.”

Harvey listed chores done on a typical farm day that ended with going to town to stay past midnight at a school board meeting. A hard week’s work was finished with a five-mile drive to church.

My farm family was made of such folks. Dad served on the Wilcox School Board for many years and my brother Glen was president of the rural fire district board. Our Pleasant View Christian Church is 1½ miles from the farm.

There is praise and criticism of the “So God Made a Farmer” ad on the Internet.

Critics say that agriculture today is more about factory farms and government handouts than self-sufficient family farmers. Also missing are the many migrant workers who harvest farmers’ crops.

Those are good points worthy of discussion. However, a two-minute Super Bowl ad selling pickup trucks wasn’t meant to tell the entire story of agriculture. Is the Budweiser Clydesdale ad being criticized for failing to mention the many ruined lives and fatalities resulting from alcohol abuse?

The farmers Harvey described continue to fix fences, doctor newborn calves, repair machines, support small schools and churches, pray for rain, and hear the most important news of the day at the local café and around the supper table at home.

I’m proud to know them.

Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.

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