Photos by: Chris Besaw
Written by: Kelly Besaw
Big names in the music industry gathered at the XFINITY Theatre in Hartford, CT Saturday to celebrate the 33rd year of Farm Aid with a sold-out show to benefit family farmers. What is Farm Aid? Farm Aid is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on their land. Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985. Dave Matthews joined the board in 2001. The Farm Aid concert is music for a mission. To learn more please visit: https://www.farmaid.org/about-us/
Although the day in many ways is about the music, I want to take a moment to focus on the heart of the cause…the family farmers. Farm Aid 2018 kicked off with an hour-long press conference that focused on the stories of four local Connecticut farms. The stories ranged from a generational dairy farm that unfortunately failed to thrive, a farmer who had committed suicide, a young farmer who stepped over to help take over a farm after the owner died of cancer and a group that created a youth run urban farm. The message was clear: It’s not easy being a family farmer and they need our help!
Farm Aid co-founder Willie Nelson said, “We are here for Farm Aid 33 and things still aren’t perfect, but we are going to stay here until they are.” Farm Aid has set up a hotline for farmers who need help (1-800-Farm Aid). We were told that three dairy farmers had called the hotline just this past week and that they will be receiving grant checks to assist them with their living expenses. Farmer’s incomes have continued to decline over the past five years. We need to do something about this crisis. I implore you to support Farm Aid and to support your local farmers. Donate now https://give.farmaid.org/give/203141/#!/donation/checkout
John Mellencamp, Farm Aid co-founder, was angry about the state of family farms in our country. “We are being fed bullshit and it has to stop.” The corporations have control and we need to change that.” Farm Aid has raised more than $50 million to support family owned farms. Farm Aid is held in a different location every year so that it can shine a spotlight on family farmers in different regions across the country. For more information about Connecticut farms, please visit https://www.farmaid.org/blog/groups-improving-connecticut-food-system/
Farm Aid co-founder Neil Young presented a clear message, “Here is what you can do, if you see a farm stand or farmers market, stop at it.” He continued, “Know the people you buy your food from. Ninety percent of the food in America comes from corporations and it’s bad. It damages the land, our bodies, our baby’s bodies. So, don’t just sit there, get out and vote, buy an orange, do whatever you need to do.”
It sounds easy “stop at the farmers market” but for some people access to fresh healthy food is a challenge. Chef Michel Nischan CEO of Wholesome Waves Connecticut, discussed the challenges for many to accessing and affording good, healthy food. “Millions of Americans can’t afford healthy food. They are coming home from work and eating Ramen Noodles.” Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews stated, “In the wealthiest country in the world, it is unfathomable that people are going hungry and that they can’t afford or don’t have access to good food. Our tax dollars should be going to the urban farms and the family farmers who are working to bring good food to their communities.” Learn more about urban farming here: https://www.farmaid.org/?s=urban+farms
The press conference concluded but the message was certainly reiterated throughout the day, “If you’re out driving and see a farm stand or farmers market, stop at it.” Many of the speakers urged people to vote on the farm bill. To learn more about the farm bill check it out here: https://www.farmaid.org/our-work/farm-bill/
It is no surprise that the 2018 Farm Aid concert sold out a mere four hours after tickets went on sale, the lineup is incredible and features some of the music industry’s best. Farm Aid 2018 featured Willie Nelson, Neil Young with the Promise of the Real, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, Nathaniel Rateliff &The Night Sweats, Jamey Johnson, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Particle Kid and Ian Mellencamp.
Farm Aid is so much more than the music. Everything about the festival is focused on promoting family farms and educating concertgoers about farms, good food and sustainable practices. Farm Aid features Homegrown concessions. Concessions are family farm sourced foods that are sustainably produced by family farmers, utilizing ecological practices with a commitment to a fair price for farmers. Menu items included: fresh seafood options, veggie corn dogs, beet sandwiches, local greens, fair trade coffee, fries and loaded sweet potatoes to name a few. Farm Aid also incorporates a homegrown youth market. This year’s youth market offered fresh apples, pears, peaches, molasses cookies, fruit juice and cider. There is plenty of good food and you don’t have to feel guilty buying it because it is supporting local and regional farmers.
Another awesome feature of Farm Aid is the Homegrown Village. Each year, the Homegrown Village features educational booths, games, presentations and demonstrations. This year there were tables that focused on solving hunger, reducing food waste, integrated pest management, sustainable practices, organic farming, youth farmers, healthy soil, clean water, seed planting and new farm technologies. The Homegrown Village also has a skills tent where you can learn some of the skills it takes to be a successful family farmer. Presentations included: Beekeeping 101, Cheesemaking 101, starting a seed revolution, plant dyeing, Bitters making and hemp papermaking. My son and I had a great time creating our own food source sustainability pyramid, playing Chickapig, mapping our food history and learning about beekeeping and healthy soil practices. We also picked up some great seeds to plant in our garden next year.
The day culminated with some amazing music. All the performers play their hearts out every year for this incredible cause. They volunteer their time, talent and transportation to make Farm Aid a reality. I am proud to participate in this event every year. My husband and I have been attending as often as possible since 2002 and my son has attended with us the past two years. I go back to Neil Young for a final message, “Corporate farms suck. Stop at farmers markets. Don’t buy that other food. Just don’t do it.”
What can you do to help?
- Shop at your local farmer’s market or Farm Stands
- Vote (also in local elections) Register here: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote#item-212645
- Join a CSA
- Grow your own garden or participate in a community garden
- Teach your kids about family farms
- Learn about the Farm Bill https://www.farmaid.org/our-work/farm-bill/
- Talk to local farmers and learn about what they do and about their farming practices
- Contribute to Farm Aid https://www.farmaid.org/
- Write to congress and tell them they need to support family farms not factory farms https://www.farmaid.org/take-action/