|Farmer Jeremy talks up organic farming at Farm Aid|
Over the weekend, Farmer Jeremy and I took at field trip to Saratoga Springs, NY. While we didn’t have the chance to visit any farms, we spent time with thousands of farmers, farm advocates. . . and rock stars. Farm Aid 2013 was a sensory overload, with 25,000 concertgoers, a ridiculous number of beer vendors, giant pixilated screens, a rainstorm, and some excellent tunes.
Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp started Farm Aid in 1985 in response to the farm crisis. At the time, farm foreclosures were epidemic. Now, after 28 years, these musicians (now joined by Dave Matthews) put on a benefit show each year, and Farm Aid helps to fund and coordinate a variety of farming organizations.
In 1985, as a suburban teenager, I heard about Farm Aid and imagined that farmers were all Midwestern white men, with faded wives, like Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. I saw those folks at the concert (as of 2007, only 14% of farm primary operators were women). Much of New York state is more Midwest than Midtown – I know this first-hand, having grown up in Rochester. The big-screen images on the main stage reinforced the American archetype of farm: round hay bales dotting flat country, sunflowers, a silo next to a red barn, Holstein cows crossing a lonely road, a John Deere tractor.
Farms and farmers encompass much more than this stock image. At the concert, I also met young farmers, a Cornell Ag Extension agent dressed as a carrot, a sparkle-eyed woman with a plan to strengthen urban-rural connections in New York called “Milk Not Jails.” I saw these groups from differing fields talking about their shared passion for family farms. I paid $2 for a concert-priced NY state apple at a stand next to the corporate beer stalls. I read Neil Young’s press statement connecting how we farm with exacerbating or mitigating climate change.
Farm Aid supports many organizations who work to strengthen family farms, and who advocate and build support for local and organic food. For those who wanted to know more, a tent full of organizations advocating for farmers had the chance to share their passion with the crowd. Jeremy was there to talk up the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), as a farmer and board member. He spoke with people from traditional family farms who were considering a transition to organic farming, as well people who already farm or garden organically. OFRF supports research on organic farming methods, as well as pro-organic policies in Washington, and other efforts to advance organic farming in the nation.
At 6pm, the booths packed up and it was time to join the throngs for the big party. It was fun, though we didn’t last to the concert’s end. Willie Nelson, age 80, came on well past Jeremy’s farmer bedtime.