Farm Aid 30: “Good Food Movement” & Growing Solutions
By Nancy Bechtol, APA Photojournalist/Assoc. Bureau Chief-Chicago
The “Good Food Movement” is a Revolution, and is growing. The previous night’s rain heavily drenched the muddy grounds of Northerly Island, Chicago –like a cleanse preparing for the event Sept 19, 2015, as the sun shone down and the heavens approved of the family farmers, advocates, artists, musicians, and participants in this important yearly mecca. The “Rock Board of Directors” of Farm Aid, a non-profit organization, is like no other-strongly rooted with Willie Nelson (President and Founder), John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and Neil Young.
As they spoke, an occasional smile broke the heavy burdens you could see in their faces. This fight is real. They stood together, flanked by a group of farmers onstage, speaking and embracing the courageous work needed to make real changes to keep healthy food and family farms supported.
WBEZ Radio’s Monica Eng moderated, food and agriculture correspondent who spoke passionately about people taking action in their communities. Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar addressed the issues stating, “We’re up against some of the same policies and corporate influences that gave rise to the need for Farm Aid in 1985. Now more than ever, we are rallying to put power—and our food system—into the hands of the people.” Now 30 years of grant making to family farmers, decades of this impressive struggle raising over $48 million, the artists contribute their performances.
At the opening Press Conference their presence gave testimony and support. Personal stories are both life-affirming and difficult. Like the volunteer who picked up the phone with the gun click and a voice of desperation from a family farmer seeing no way out.
The crowd numbered over 26,000, and the smell of wet earth was sweetly mingling with the natural food tents of responsibly grown, organic and non-GMO bounty. Yes, the music was an impressive lineup which included Willie, John, Dave and Neil. Ian Mellencamp, John’s son, played his first Farm Aid, and like many – used social media to engage. On Facebook he says, “Please keep supporting your local farmers and artists in order to better our global community!”
It is notable that the press was heavily covered by smaller, independent, and socially conscious press, bloggers and indie/social media, where the grass roots heart of it all beats. This is also the first time I have seen a reporter in the press pit with a cell phone, doing live tweets. The Local /National News also gave a nod to Farm Aid and, as you would suspect, the Rolling Stone Magazine. I even saw the legendary Paul Natkin, photographer in action. I spoke with a number of the reporters/photojournalists from the farm belt who came to connect and spread the word back home. Many long journeys to cover Issues deeply felt from folks who live with the land. They will send their message to the communities they live in and to Washington. They speak deeply of the tough battle with the big industrial farms and with the big business and commercial use of harmful pesticides and a host of chemicals as a raging warfare on our foods and health. They came wearing worn jeans and work boots and T-Shirts emblazoned with tractors and quotes like, “Farmers Kick Ass” and tributes of former events like Willie’s 4th of July and the new one “Willie’s Reserve”. Fun, and yes, There are also tears but advocates/activists use perspiration as fuel.
The concert was broadcast live on “Farm Aid 30 Live presented by Amy’s” at farmaid.org and on SiriusXM channel, Willie’s Roadhouse (59). Sponsors of Farm Aid 30 include Amy’s Kitchen, Horizon Organic, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Applegate, Canidae@ Natural Pet Food Company, Greener Fields
Food and homegrown abounded. HOMEGROWN Concessions fed the crowd with pizza, non-GMO corn, pasture-raised turkey legs, and pork BBQ. All food vendors were required to meet Farm Aid’s requirements of sustainable, ecological practices and with a fair price for farmers. In addition, recycle and compost bins were everywhere.
Raising a new generation of famers is also on the agenda with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Farm to School Network. Energetic Chicago School of Agricultural Science students sold home grown and baked goods. Witness to this is a 4th generation Greg Gunthorp of La Grange Indiana, who talks about how shape the future, education and awareness of consumers. More consumers know now how their food is raised. Locally, the Westside Bee Boyz with Thad Smith who works to put beehives on rooftops and backyard apiaries across Chicago. I spoke with the Founder, John Hansen who promotes and teaches the art of beekeeping. There was also a selfie opportunity, to “Take a Selfie with Bees!” Locally of note is the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project http://auachicago.org/ where you can connect to finding a community garden, restaurant or where to shop.
Sponsors were Lagunitas Brewing Co., Organic Valley, FirstMerit Bank, Rudi’s Organic Bakery, and Time Out Chicago. In addion to Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Matthews — who performed with Tim Reynolds — as well as Imagine Dragons, Jack Johnson, Kacey Musgraves, Mavis Staples, Old Crow Medicine Show, Jamey Johnson, Holly Williams, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Insects vs Robots, Ian Mellencamp and Blackwood Quartet. #road2farm aid and #farmaid30 on Twitter @farmaid and Facebook www.facebook.com/farmaid/FarmAid
The call from Farm Aid 30 echoes a call to each person. Add your voice and support to the Good Food Movement and by your daily actions by good food choices and being a political advocate/ support. Let the freedom of food choice for health and support the local farms lead us to be an educated eater. One way to do this is to follow the current legislation like the Farm to School Act of 2015. In addition, Hemp growing laws are currently evolving on a state basis, (Georg Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it) and also legislation with the government’s look at the cannabis policy.
So go forth and forage, eat your weeds, practice sustainable methods like paper making with local prairie grasses; eat natural and organic, grass-fed – words to Live Healthy by. Yes, it may cost a bit more, and take more effort to support the family farmer, but the benefits are boundless. Vote for our Mother Earth! We all are in this together. You can connect and get involved/support the non-profit Farm Aid. www.farmaid.org,