The Truck Farmer
"Truck Farmer, the special edition. Includes scenes the studio originally thought too graphic for audiences."
There's really only one reason this little "gem" of an educational short (how many still remember watching these kind of ten minute-or-so one reelers?) from Encyclopædia Britannica Films is even noteworthy. It was used for great comedic effect as the opening short in Mystery Science Theater 3000's I Accuse My Parents "experiment." Since it has now become inextricably bound to the show, it would be folly to attempt to separate the two. Therefore, I choose to embrace it....
Filmed in "Collaboration with J.F. Rosenborough" of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of [I'm guessingJoel and the 'bots are in the way] Texas," the film is supposed to show how vegetables get from the field to the grocery store. If one pays attention to things like the title, that suggests the all importance of the truck and the farmer who drives it. If one pays attention to the content of the film, that assumption is debatable.
It opens with a wagon train of one ("The Donner party.") setting out across the prairie because one must remember that "less than a century ago" things weren't as plentiful as now when "we take a number of foods for granted." Our "forefathers" had to set out and search for "good land" and a "place to farm." That this land already belonged to someone is one of the many things the film neglects to mention. It was a time that "we" think of as "romantic and exciting." Do tell.
See, back then, all they really ate were "meat and staples" ("Here's a 5 inch nail for dessert. Go Nuts!"), with no balanced diet in the winter in the "northern part" of the country. In order to service this upper part of the map, there needs to be a conveyance, some sort of transportation to bring that food to the North. Just what mode of transport could bring adequate sustenance to the dreaded winter zone? Perhaps the truck, driven by the truck farmer? Well...yes and no. We proceed.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica et al., it is "truck farming" that provides food for the "northern part" of the US. This is no small endeavor, eitherwe are shown people picking carrots in Florida and Texas ("These select few are making 3¢ a day.") and lettuce in California "for the sandwiches and salads of a nation." And we are informed that this truck farming thing is "big business" ("But not for these people.").
But "truck" farming is more than just about a truck, it is about many vehicles, all working together in some 1950s (or 1940s, I was unable to turn up a date on the b&w shortthe theater seats block it out) harmony. We see a bulldozer, clearcutting woods and overturning topsoil and people using pitchforks and fire to take care of what remains ("Here as anointed by God, man holds dominion over his earth.") in "a matter of days."
The tractors till the soil in preparation for planting, which includes plenty of fertilizer for crops ("And remember to be sure to use lots and lots of chemicals for a good crop.") because it "increases yield and adds to the food value of the vegetable." ("Hooray for chemicals!") Now if the machinerylike a rotary hoeisn't effective or "mechanical means are dangerous," one needs to use "chemical cultivation" ("Let's take you back to the days when DDT was safe.")this means weed killer.
But weeds aren't the only difficulty for the truck farmer. In Texas there can be another problem ("Texans."): water. But that can be remedied by "dams and irrigation," the Rio Grande, for instance. This fails to appreciate how the intense agricultural use of water (on both sides of the border) as well as its use for municipal water has created the possibility of running seriously low on hydrological resources for the region (especially when rainfall is low in source areas for the river, as it is at the time of this writing). This would not just have an impact in the case of farmers (our current "truck" farmers, as it were), but cities and towns along the border and even farther away. But don't let's allow reality intrude, okay?
Next in the line of technological marvels that support the grand vocation of truck farming is the airplane. For when simple, more direct methods of applying chemicals to the soil is not enough, it is time to enlist the aid of the friendly neighborhood crop-duster ("There's nothing we can't spray.").
But the backbone of truck farming is (apparently not the trucksurprise) but the people. These people ("Cheap, abused, hand labor.") can pick tomatoes and other produce with "experienced hands." This "hand labor" is often made up of Mexican citizens who come to the US to help bring in crops.
Of course, this would have been during the Bracero program, begun as a joint US-Mexican venture in 1942 that "allowed Mexican farmers come to the US as farm labor. Crop yields in Mexico were poor and they felt it was a way to make money to feed their families. The US saw it as cheap labor that was already partially skilled for the work" (sid, Ciudad Juarez). The people weren't "helping," they were getting the only work they could get. Damn realityback to truck farming.
This cheap labor not only helps with their "experienced hands," but has made it possible for truck farming to become the big business that it is. "Farm income from the sale of peas and other vegetables averages more than a billion and a half dollars a year." That money goes to the truck farmer. In fact, the "annual income of winter vegetables is nearly as great as the sale of bread grains." (This begs a repeat: "But not for them.")
Now that the food is picked, it goes to the factory. We then get a close look at a modern carrot processing factory, where the vegetable is washed and some canned and some packaged ("Some carrots are humiliated publicly."). We see them packed and conveyered into refrigerated railroad cars where it is hosed down with ice particles ("Later this device is used to beat back the workers.") before traveling via this mode of "rapid transportation." If the train only moves at the speed shown in the film, walking might make for faster transport.
In this way truck farming feeds the northern cities, something "we" take for granted ("Yes, the South starves while the North eats healthily."). As we finally see the finished product at the grocery store, once againto cover the doctrinal quotawe are reminded that truck farming is "big business" and that "Because of our truck farmers, the vitamins and minerals to be found in fresh vegetables are readily available all year long in all parts of our vigorous nation."
Joel: Praise the Truck farmer. Bow down before him.
Crow: Worship the Truck Farmer at the church of your choice.
Tom Servo: Offer burnt sacrifices to the almighty Truck Farmer.
All: Hail truck Farmer! Hail Truck Farmer!
That said, just how much actual "truck" farming is there? While the whole process is under the blanket term truck farming, just how much screen time does that truck get? Well, I did an analysis so you don't have to (the times should be within a second).
Here's the break down:
Length of the short: 10:19
First appearance of a truck: 1:20
Screen time for various vehicles, highest to lowest:
- Tractor(s): approximately 100 seconds
- Truck(s): 52 seconds
- Bulldozer: 40 seconds
- Covered wagon: 37 seconds
- Train(s?): 35 seconds
- Plane: 6 seconds
Of the 52 seconds trucks are on screen, 23 seconds of it shows them only in the background.
You never actually get to "meet" any truck farmers (unless it is assumed that they are the guys on the tractors). The short isn't about people, but business.
So, the "truck" farmer? I suppose....
Stinger that should have been: "Wait a minutehas anybody seen a truck yet?"
(Source: DVD of the I Accuse My Parents episodeas should be obvious, the italicized quotes are from Joel and company; and "thanks" to a certain someone who kept pestering me to write this damn thing. Happy?)