Photos by Chris Besaw
Article by Kelly Besaw
Big names in the music industry gathered at the XFINITY Theatre in Hartford, CT Saturday to celebrate the 36th year of Farm Aid with a sold-out show to benefit family farmers. What is Farm Aid? Farm Aid is 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. Margo Price joined the board in 2021. 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. Due to Covid-19 precautions, the typical press conference was not held this year.
I was fortunate enough to spend time in the Homegrown Village talking with some of the farmers about issues, innovations, food systems and soil.
Some of my favorite takeaways from my conversations in the Homegrown Village were:
- How stressful farming can be. The suicide rates among family farmers increased during the pandemic. We need to do more to support our family farmers. I spoke to a representative who is working on connecting individuals who are engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs.
- Keys to maximizing garden yield in small spaces. I learned that it is all about what you plant together in a 12”x12” square. Planting corn, squash and cucumbers together allows the squash and cucumbers to use the corn for vine support and produces more overall yield. I can’t wait to try this next year as I have two medium sized raised garden beds and am looking to grow more. For more information check out Knox City Planters website knoxhartford.org
- Get Your Hands Dirty! This exhibit taught me a bit about soil health and how it is critical to our environment, water, and food. There were also several booths focusing on the importance of healthy soil, crop rotation, and incorporating farm animals.
I also enjoyed watching concertgoers paint the planter box that was donated to the Knox Community Gardens. Here are some photos of the progress throughout the day. There were some very talented artists in attendance.
Homegrown Skills Tent
The workshops held in the Homegrown Skills tent were amazing. The Fungi Power: Mushroom and Plant Foraging 101 presentation taught attendees about common plants and mushrooms that can be foraged in New England. The huge benefit is their edible and have medicinal uses. I connected with Tristan Johnson, one of the presenters, later in the day. I hope to learn more about foraging, particularly for medicinal uses and will be connecting with him for more information.
The other workshops for the day included learning how to make natural dyes for silk, wool, and cotton using plants in your backyard, and learning how to preserve extra crops with a demonstration of how to make lacto-fermented hot sauce.
The Farmyard Stage hosted a variety of panels throughout the day.
Farming: Where we are now, and where we are going?
The panel focused on the importance of making sure that funding is allocated to small farms and minority and women owned farms. The importance of recruiting young farmers and black farmers and some of the challenges in doing so.
Panelists included: Margo Price, Farm Aid Board Member, James and Tina Spaulding from Good Oaks Farms in Vermont, and Jennifer Fahy, Farm Aid.
Farmer Heroes. Climate Heroes
The panel focused on how corporate and factory farms are contributing to global greenhouse gasses and global warming. Supporting small farms who use eco-friendly practices is the key to stopping and reversing the damage that has been done. Attendees learned about the differences in grass-fed, sustainably raised meat versus factory farm meats. It’s all about soil health!
Panelists included: Nathaniel Rateliff and Joseph Pope III from Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, John Cleary from Organic Valley, and Martin Beck from New England Grass-fed at Cloverbud Ranch in Connecticut.
The Past and the Future of Black Farmers
The panel discussed the history of black farmers and the inequality that exists despite their contributions to family farming.
Panelists included: Allison Russell, Dania Davy from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Kama Doucoure from Sampoo Kafu farm in the Hudson Valley
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, falafel, gourmet grilled cheese, fries and loaded sweet potatoes to name a few. I honestly ate my way through the day and enjoyed everything I tried.
Farm Aid also incorporates a homegrown youth market. This year’s youth market offered fresh apples, pears, 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.
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. The message remains the same Support Your Local Family Farms!
2021 Farm Aid Lineup
Wisdom Indian Dancers
Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
Willie Nelson & Family
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 where your food is coming from. Do they use sustainable and eco-friendly practices?
- Talk to local farmers and learn about what they do and about their farming practices
- Start a compost bin
- Make a rain barrel
- Buy a Farm Aid t-shirt, hat, or poster
- Contribute to Farm Aid https://www.give.farmaid.org
- Write to congress and tell them they need to support family farms not factory farms https://www.farmaid.org/take-action/