“Television is to news what bumper stickers are to philosophy,” joked Richard Nixon.
Say what you will about Nixon: The man made a good point about TV.
With approximately one zillion different channels now wired into the homes of satellite and cable-television subscribers, there is certainly no shortage of bad TV to go around.
Fortunately, there’s some fine television out there as well. You just have to know where to look.
Here’s one new show that’s definitely worth watching: “America’s Heartland”–a high-quality program on how our nation grows food for itself and the rest of the world.
The show won’t appeal only to farmers. In fact, its main appeal may lie with Americans who aren’t involved in food production at all.
That’s because so many people have a romantic image of what farmers do. When they think of farming, they think of men who wear plaid shirts, women who carry wicker baskets, and little houses on the prairie.
Once I sat next to a guy on an airplane who was fascinated to learn that I was a farmer. “I would love to be a farmer,” he said, in a look that mixed deadly seriousness with wild-eyed wonder. He had no idea how hard farming really is, or how much skill, knowledge and money it demands. He seemed to think that because he grew a few tomatoes in his backyard garden, he could run a thousand-acre operation that grows five different crops on various timetables.
Other Americans rarely think about farming at all. They go to the grocery store and fill their shopping carts to the brim, never pausing to consider where their food comes from or the people who produce it.
Perhaps this is no surprise for a country in which only about 2 percent of the population farms. Whatever the case, “America’s Heartland” provides a fine introduction to the life and business of farming, in a TV-magazine format that is both interesting and educational.
“America’s Heartland” is an outgrowth of “California’s Heartland,” an excellent program produced by KVIE in Sacramento for eight years. Instead of concentrating on the Golden State, KVIE’s new show looks at the entire country. One recent episode traveled to Texas to visit the country’s largest cattle ranch, to Iowa for a sweet-corn farm, and to Idaho for a rainbow-trout hatchery.
“America’s Heartland” was the subject of a phony controversy this summer, when several radical groups complained about its sponsors. One activist called them “a rogues’ gallery of the biggest proponents of industrial agriculture and biotech crops.”
They don’t sound like rogues to me: The American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Cotton Council, the United Soybean Board, and the U.S. Grains Council, along with Monsanto, which is one of America’s most important agriculture companies.
The protestors, by contrast, were a rag-tag collection of political groups (the Wisconsin Green Party), modern-day Luddites (Greenpeace), and weird microbusinesses (a Utah company that specializes in selling anti-Bush t-shirts).
This may not surprise you, but these groups complained about “America’s Heartland” before even a single episode of it had been broadcast anywhere. They were whining about something they hadn’t even seen.
Do you think TV critics are allowed to get away with that? They’d be fired from their jobs!
“America’s Heartland” is a public-television program, which means there are no commercials. But somebody has to pay for it, which is why so many mainstream farm groups have come forward to help out.
I suggest that you do something the show’s critics can’t bother themselves with: Watch “America’s Heartland”!
Because this is public TV, local broadcast times vary dramatically–comprehensive listings are available on the show’s website. What’s more, the program is so new it still isn’t available everywhere. Starting in January, it will begin to air on stations in Kansas City and Los Angeles as well as Arkansas and Oregon.
If your local PBS affiliate doesn’t carry “America’s Heartland,” you can call in or write a letter. By demanding quality television, you just might get it.
Dean Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Farm Bureau. He chairs Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) a national non-profit based in Des Moines, IA, formed and led by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.