Austin Fit Exclusive

Fighting for the family farm: Farm Aid's 27-year legacy of music and activism

Fighting for the family farm: Farm Aid's 27-year legacy of music and activism

Austin Photo_News_Austin Fit Cover_Nov 2012
Willie Nelson on the cover of Austin Fit Magazine Austin Fit Magazine

Editor's Note: The November issue of Austin Fit Magazine profiles Willie Nelson, longtime supporter of Farm Aid. In this piece exclusive to CultureMap, Austin Fit explores the history of Farm Aid and musicians.

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The songs of John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Willie Nelson and Neil Young have made their way from A-tracks to CD players to today’s iPhone. Most would be surprised to know that those same names that appear on your shuffle playlist appear on the list of names of board members for an organization that is fighting for the family farmer in America. The four renowned recording artists are leaders for Farm Aid, whose slogan reads “Keep America Growing!”

Farm Aid’s mission is simple: keep family farmers on their land. This nonprofit organization assists farmers struggling economically by connecting them to local and regional markets to get family food into the grocery stores and families’ cabinets in urban neighborhoods. Along with this focus on family farming is the Good Food Movement, which promotes the use of “direct sales” through farmers’ markets, community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) and farm stands. Through it all is the common thread of making good choices — for farms, in our food and the country’s agriculture policies — that build a better, healthier future.

27 years ago, in 1985, Nelson, Mellencamp and Young organized the first Farm Aid concert to raise awareness about the danger family farms were facing at the hands of factory farms. Today, local farmers are feeling the danger even more, with upwards of 80 percent of farms in certain agricultural markets owned by private companies. “We all see what’s happening with agriculture, what’s happening to our small towns,” John Mellencamp stated for the organization. “They are going out of business, and that’s a direct result of the farm problem.”

According to the group’s website, the movement has gone so far as to provide workers from the organization to participate in protests outside of factory farms. In addition, the group provides a hotline for support services for farm families in times of crisis. More recently, the Farmer Resource Network has been developed for families in difficult financial situations across the country. Another stride taken towards factory farms and the privatization of the market is education in the area of hormones and genetically modified food more widely produced by the corporate sector of farming.

“If we lose the family farm, we lose the caretakers of our land,” Dave Matthews told his audience in a short clip about the company’s mission. “It’s something worth fighting for because I think we’ll lose a lot more than the family farmer if we lose the family farmer.”

Every year, thousands of farmers are pushed off their land by the growing economic pressures of an industry that has created too much competition for a family farmer to survive without help. Through market strengthening, education and personal assistance to thousands of Americans, Farm Aid is working alongside the good food movement to get high quality produce straight from local farmers to schools, local stores and into the pantries of a wider market.

“It’s not about how big the food is, or how shiny it is,” Neil Young said in a video made for the Farm Aid website. “It’s about where it came from, and how it was grown.”

Last year’s concert featured a variety of high caliber bands, such as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Jamey Johnson, Kenny Chesney and Jack Johnson, alongside the veteran fundraisers and founding members. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews also graced the stage for Farm Aid’s Benefit Concert.

The appearance of such widely recognized performers speaks to the growing respect Farm Aid is gaining nationwide. Nelson, who has been a part of the company since its beginnings, describes his involvement simply: “There’s a new food movement sweeping across the country and Farm Aid is doing all we can to promote that movement.”

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Read more about Willie Nelson’s views on fitness, food and fuel (among other topics), in Austin Fit Magazine’s November cover story, Willie Nelson Talks Food, Fuel, and, yes, Hemp by Melanie P. Moore, at www.austinfitmagazine.com.