Ad of the Day: Land O’Lakes Makes Lovely Use of Amelia E. Barr’s Poem ‘The Farmer’

A poignant love letter to our social sustainers

God bless the seeds his hands let fall … for the farmer, he must feed us all.

This is the closing line from Amelia E. Barr's poem "The Farmer," written by the British immigrant and prolific writer after observing farm life in Texas in the late 1800s. It's a galvanizing piece of work, a reminder to a rapidly changing America that whoever you are—king or poet, doctor or soldier, lord or merchant, craftsman or beggar—you'll need to eat, and this responsibility rests on the shoulders of farmers. 

Now it's the anchor for an ad from Land O'Lakes.

Created by The Martin Agency, "The Farmer" recites Barr's poem as picturesque scenes of American agriculture, shot by a National Geographic team, flick across the screen. 

The result is a reclaiming of our agricultural roots, mingled with something sad and nostalgic. After all, how many of our childhood's sun-drenched wheat fields remain? 

The ad ends, "Land O'Lakes: Farmer-owned since 1921." 

The spot's job is to tell viewers that Land O'Lakes does more than churn table butter. It's also a farmer-owned co-op that's nearly 100 years old, and is a major butter and cheese producer in the country—one that boasts few detours between the farm and your table. 

Agriculture.com likens "The Farmer" to RAM's "Farmer" ad that aired during the 2013 Super Bowl, in which agricultural photos illustrated Paul Harvey's 1978 speech by the same name. Land O'Lakes CMO Tim Scott uses an interview with Agriculture.com to absolve the brand of possible cries of "Copycat!" 

"I enjoyed that commercial, as did most, but ["The Farmer"] was never intended to be used outside our own walls," Scott tells the site. 

It turns out The Martin Agency found Barr's poem by chance. Inspired by its beauty, Scott and his team asked for an accompanying video they could use in internal meetings.

"It was never intended to be shared with the broader public," Scott says. "But when we saw how it resonated with our employees and members, the decision was made to share the video more broadly." 

CEO Chris Policinski hopes the ad will "showcase our owners' rural values, their hard work and the vital role they play in all of our lives"—but those who grew up in cities may feel inclined to dismiss it, observing that farming is no longer a romantic, self-sustaining profession.

That's mostly true. In many cases, farmers are forced to sell land to developers, creating urban deserts where you can't find fresh produce at all—but also widening the disconnect between city-dwellers and farming folk. (This ironically makes us more likely to waste food, which aggravates the challenge of supply and demand that so haunts food growers.) 

But farming has never really been all that romantic. Being, as Barr wrote, a partnership with sky and earth, sun and rain (not to mention economics), it's a relationship that can be characterized only by volatility. 

When Barr wrote "The Farmer," rural life had already lost many of the charms we attribute to history. Most Americans still lived in rural areas in 1900, but urban sites were growing faster. A drought in the late 1800s drove many homesteaders into debt, forcing farmers to build alliances and even try forming a political party. (It didn't work out.) 

The agricultural revolution was also in full swing, with new technology (and hybridized corn!) completely disrupting established ways of life—paving the way for farming that looks a lot more like the creepy, cyberpunkish dystopia of Chipotle's "The Scarecrow."

With all this in mind, Barr's poem isn't so much a romance as a warning: "And men may rise, or men may fall/But the farmer, he must feed them all." 

We are often lulled into believing our urban professions are more meaningful or important than the "country work" so many of our ancestors left behind. But most of us can't grow our own food—indeed, most would die if "the farmer" weren't scrambling for ways to keep us alive. It's a critical lesson, especially in times as fraught and strange as these.

"The Farmer" debuted last week and will run in its entirety over a series of college bowl games, including the Music City Bowl, Orange Bowl, Outback Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl. Online, it will run through the end of January. 

Check out the 60-second cut of the spot below, along with the full text of Amelia E. Barr's "The Farmer."

The Farmer

The king may rule o'er land and sea,
The lord may live right royally,
The soldier ride in pomp and pride,
The sailor roam o'er ocean wide;
But this or that, whate'er befall,
The farmer he must feed them all.

The writer thinks, the poet sings,
The craftsmen fashion wondrous things,
The doctor heals, the lawyer pleads,
The miner follows the precious leads;
But this or that, whate'er befall,
The farmer he must feed them all.

The merchant he may buy and sell,
The teacher do his duty well;
But men may toil through busy days,
Or men may stroll through pleasant ways;
From king to beggar, whate'er befall,
The farmer he must feed them all.
The farmer's trade is one of worth;
He's partner with the sky and earth,
He's partner with the sun and rain,
And no man loses for his gain;
And men may rise, or men may fall,
But the farmer he must feed them all.

God bless the man who sows the wheat,
Who finds us milk and fruit and meat;
May his purse be heavy, his heart be light,
His cattle and corn and all go right;
God bless the seeds his hands let fall,
For the farmer he must feed us all.

CREDITS
Client: Land O'Lakes
Agency: The Martin Agency