By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Cops. Lawyers. Doctors. Even ice road truck drivers have all received their due on TV, either in fictional or “true life” series.
It was about time farmers got some exposure and so they have on the Great American Country TV cable channel. GACTV has been featuring an especially hale and good-looking agrarian clan for the last two years, the King family of Butler County, Pennsylvania.
If, like us, you were in the dark about this rising celebrity farm family, you can jump on the wagon this month as Farm Kings launches into its third season. It starts on Thursday, December 19 at 9pm ET/8CT on the Great American Country channel. Just prepare to feel like a slouch on the couch while watching the whirlwind that is the Kings.
The series features a peppy, pie-making mom, Lisa King, and her nine (not a typo) sons and one daughter, most of whom are vigorously knee-deep in the business of farming. The “kids” who range from teenaged through age 30, are ridiculously rosy-cheeked, plain spoken (though not uneducated) and unsurprisingly buff. (In addition to selling produce and row crops, last season the King men capitalized on their six-packs, putting out a G-rated, but unabashed, beefcake calendar.)
Joe King, the eldest son, manages the farm with help from Tim King, the plant and breeding expert, while the younger boys work the fields, farm stands and loading docks when they’re not in high school or at college. Daughter Elizabeth has a culinary degree, baking up delectables for the farm bakery and food shop. “Bitty,” as she’s fondly known, also helps with Lisa’s the floral gardens, which provide an offshoot business supplying weddings and occasions.
The King operation entails many moving parts, with new ventures being brought on board or re-scaled all the time. This hive of activity constitutes the foundation of the show, set at the Kings’ 200-acre Freedom Farms north of Pittsburgh.
One thing we found appealing about the Kings is that they’re not the Kardashians of corn, nor are they trying to be the Ewings of rural Pennsylvania. Their show is firmly planted in the reality genre, but the focus is on the Kings’ work and lifestyles, not on petty disagreements or concocted dramatic subplots. Family spats are included, but generally when they’re a part of the story line, pertaining to the farm’s operations. Tribulations are not glossed over; Lisa and the kid’s father are divorced and there’s not a lot of love lost for dad, who lives nearby. But overall, the tenor of the show is upbeat. This forbearance is as refreshing as those crates of fresh-picked tomatoes that keep turning up at the King farm and lends an authenticity that’s a fine, but significant difference with other reality fare. Those who’re looking for dirt will find it encrusted on the boots of the King men, but not so much in the plot lines.
By passing on the hissy fits and melodrama, Farm Kings elevates itself, becoming more of an edutainment feature. We learn something about farming and food production and running a medium-size farm business in America in the 21st Century. (This season we’re promised more attention for the King’s CSA, Community Sustained Agriculture, which foodies and farmers alike may find instructive.) This opens an interesting window into a lifestyle, family farming, that’s been pummeled nearly to death by large corporate concerns over the last 60 years. We feel their pride, and admire their independence and hard work.
Watching the Kings, you can envision life as it once was, and could be again, if farming were retrieved from the jaws of mass production, or even if the USDA supported truck farming with half as much enthusiasm as it devotes to giant corn and livestock monopolies.
We’ll stipulate that this show’s not for everyone, especially those who’re looking for a “reality” show with stricken, desperate people in the mold of say, Hoarders. But we’re hoping the producers stick to their decision to depict a slice-of-life that’s inspiring instead of just another car wreck for gawkers on the cable highway.