This year marks the 25th anniversary of Farm Aid. In 1985, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm-families on their land.
Organized during the “farm crisis” of the 1980s, twenty-five years later the economic conditions of that time seem to be repeating, and their work remains just as important.
But the group is about more than just an annual concert; it works year-round on behalf of family farmers and good food and their mission remains the same: to keep family farmers on their land.
To date, the nonprofit organization has raised over $37 million and they work to promote food from family farms, grow the good food movement, help farmers, and take action to change the food/farming system.
As they say, “family farmers in the United States are under extreme economic pressure and thousands are pushed off their land every year. This crisis in farm country is threatening the very existence of the family farm in America. As family farms are forced out by large, factory farms, the quality of our food, our environment and our food security is in danger.”
As I have written about before, family farmers are important because they provide economic vitality to their communities, grow high quality food, and are stewards of the land working to protect the soil, air, water and biodiversity.
Some of the ways Farm Aid helps farmers include developing The Farmer Resource Network, 1-(800) FARM-AID, to provide immediate support services to farmers in crisis. Now the network is also online and it connects farmers to an extensive network of resources across the country to help find new markets, transition to more sustainable and profitable farming practices, and survive natural disasters.
They also point out that family farmers can only thrive if there are markets for them. Farm Aid works to connect farmers and eaters by creating local and regional markets, and working to get family farm food in urban neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, and other public institutions.
The group’s main event remains the iconic, yearly concert featuring the founders and others raising money for America’s family farmers.
This year’s concert, called “Farm Aid 25: Growing Hope for America” is focusing on sustainable practices on farms and local and regional food systems. It takes place Saturday October 2 at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In addition to board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews (who joined the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001), this year’s line up also includes Kenny Chesney, Norah Jones, Jason Mraz, Jeff Tweedy, Band of Horses, The BoDeans, Amos Lee, and Robert Francis. Tavis Smiley is hosting the event.
The concert is part of an all day-festival that features HOMEGROWN vendors, family farmed, local and organic food, and the HOMEGROWN Village that “give concertgoers a chance to meet farmers, get their hands dirty and learn how family farmers are growing good food, protecting our natural resources and connecting us to our roots.”
You can also get involved in Farm Aid’s Action Center where concerned citizens can become advocates for farm policy change. Part of this work includes working alongside farmers to protest family farms and inform farmers and eaters about issues such as growth hormones and genetically modified foods.