"New York's a big city and there's a lot of people there who eat. So it seems natural to me that people would be interested in where their food comes from," states Willie Nelson, 74.
When the concert debuted 22 years ago, the message was clear and simple: Save the family farmers. That is still the goal of the Somerville MA "Farm Aid" concert series but it has also taken an increasingly wider stance over the years. Americans have become more interested in food-related issues such as humanely treated livestock, dieting and organic produce and the small, local farm is becoming even more popular.
It began in the mid 1980's when reports began to surface of the number of small farms that had been forclosed on and it seemed as though America was losing not only tradition, but part of it's economic backbone. Bob Dylan suggested to Nelson, after the success shown by Live Aid in 1985, that something should be done for the farmers to help them. By that September, the first Farm Aid concert, starring Nelson, Dylan, B B King, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Loretta Lyn, Roy Orbison and others hit the stage in Champaign IL.
The message then was help the small, local farmers in a way they needed, by raising money to help them restructure their debt. American's though had a difficult time understanding that although the farmers needed help, it wasn't by giving them food. At that time, most American's had no idea what food they were buying was raised locally or family farmed.
"What's interesting is that it's younger people that are actually coming to this. Family farms are actually very cool in a certain segment of the younger audience," stated Ted Quaday, Farm Aid's program director.
In addition to still working to help support and help the small farmer, Farm Aid is encouraging solutions that also benefit consumers. They support agricultural projects such as CSAs in which a group of city residents pay a farmer to deliver fresh produce during the harvest season. They are also working to build awareness of urban agriculture projects.
The promoters for the show today on Randall's Island New York City, NY couldn't get permits to bring along the cows but there will be plenty so see and do. Farmers and their chickens and an estimted 80% of all the ingrediants used for the food items sold there are either loca, organic and /or from family farms. Next Saturday, Union Square will become a "Homegrown Fair" with farm-related exhibits and demonstrations. Local restaurants have been selling special dishes and donating the money raised from them as well as The Whole Foods Market chain. They will be donating 5% of all their September 12 sales to Farm Aid.
It is not just the message brought by the concert that keeps it going, it is also the artists who play there that draw the crowds. This Sunday is no different from the first concert 22 years ago. The artists featured include, Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, The Allman Brothers, Counting Crows and many others.
It is sad to realize that two decades later, we are still struggling to save the small and family farms in America. Much of our food is grown on large corporate farms but many times, it is the small farmer who can grow much more efficiantly and with less waste. The fact that Farm Aid has broadened it's message I feel is a good move, raising awareness to what is locally produced and especially, how it is produced. Far too many people have no real idea where their milk comes from.......... unfortunately, they may still have that problem since the cows didn't get to enjoy the city for a day.