Farm Aid Celebrates Sustainable Family Farming

Farm Aid Founder Willie Nelson Photo © Paul Natkin/Wire Image

Farm Aid Celebrates Sustainable Family Farming

By Joe Korba

HERSHEY, PA – The legendary country singer, his gray hair in twin braids and his obligatory cowboy hat perched upon his head, wishes he didn’t have to be in rural PA putting on a show for over 30,000 fans.  “I’m sorry to have to be here, this problem should have been solved years ago,” Willie Nelson said at a press conference prior to the 27th annual Farm Aid benefit concert held at Hersheypark Stadium on Saturday. The problem Mr. Nelson speaks of is the ongoing and seemingly worsening plight of family farmers throughout the United States. Plagued by the summer drought this year, as well as the encroaching threat of industrial farming, smaller family farms are facing existential dangers, both natural and economic.

Since it’s inception in 1985, Farm Aid and it’s board of directors, musicians Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews, have raised awareness of the issues that affect farmers throughout the country as well as promoted the virtues of sustainable local farming.  Farm Aid is no longer a one-day event, but has evolved into a national organization that works to support farmers year round. “We’re not going anywhere. Someone has to stand up for small farmers. We are going to stay here and fight as long as we can stand, ” Farm Aid co-founder Neil Young said.

This year’s Farm Aid concert and all day event had a “Homegrown Village” that featured, along with food vendors and Nazareth’s own Martin Guitars, activists spreading the word about family farming and environmental issues, many of which Northampton county farmers face daily. The main goal was getting people to recognize that you can get good, fresh food locally, directly from the farm to your table.  Musician Grace Potter, called “the best female rock singer in the country” by USA Today, talked about how her band always tries to find farmer’s markets while on tour and the benefits of getting food from within your community. “We’re trying to raise general awareness of family farms producing food for us,” Ms. Potter said. “The farmer’s market isn’t always the most convenient option, but it’s the best option. You know what you’re getting and it just tastes better.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, PA has over 63,000 farm families who oversee 7.7 million acres of land. Agriculture contributes nearly $57 billion into our economy annually, making it one of the leading economic drivers in the state. Locally, the Bath and Nazareth Farmer’s Market, as well as the many others throughout the region, work to get farm fresh food on your dinner table. Buying produce and other items from community markets stimulates the local economy and helps to support sustainable, family farming, rather than Agro-Business giants like Cargill who are often under fire for environmental issues, food contamination and even human rights abuses.

Many of the performers at Saturday’s concert spoke of the strong farming tradition in Pennsylvania and how important the good food movement is to the physical, economic, and even spiritual health of the country. Neil Young drew thunderous applause from the audience while giving an impassioned plea for the youth to get involved in farming. “Be a rebel,” he said, “become a farmer. It’s a mission from God. We need young blood on the farm.”

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