I attended the 2019 Farm Aid concert at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin.
The crowd was interesting, and the place was packed. People were wearing “End Factory Farming” and “F*** Bayer and Monsanto” shirts. The speeches given by Neil Young and other celebrities were painful to listen to. As a farmer I felt a bit out of place. The tone was, because we aren’t small organic farmers, we’re nothing.
Here is a little speech given by Mr. Young. Warning … it may raise your blood pressure a bit!
I wonder how many acres he’s actually grown. My guess is pretty close to zero. I couldn’t help but think about how many amazing farmers out there feel disrespected by messages like this. Maybe if he took the time to connect with the people who run larger-scale farms, he’d see just how much they care about protecting the planet, soil, and water. The farmer’s livelihood depends on it, after all.
While some people were sending anti-GMO messages, I couldn’t help but notice they were spending money and wearing T-shirts that were probably made from GMO cotton. They were consuming booze and food that could’ve come from GM crops as well.
Large farms are still family farms. They’re still REAL PEOPLE who care. In fact, 98 percent of farms in the U.S. are FAMILY farms, and we need them.
I attended with hopes to have a chat with the Farm Aid higher ups or the artists to explain that the kinds of operations perceived as “corporate” or “factory” farms are still run by family farmers. And they oftentimes have the same struggles as the little guy. Unfortunately I didn’t get that chance to talk to them and wasn’t chosen for interviews. I did meet some great people and had wonderful discussions though!
On the flip side, I thought Farm Aid did a great job raising awareness and encouraging people to connect with lawmakers regarding fair prices for dairy farmers. It’s true that we’re losing farms at astounding rates, and it’s so sad to see market prices so bad right now that many farmers can’t afford to stay in business.
This isn’t just a dairy thing though — farmers of all types are struggling. Beef, corn, soy … this isn’t just a dairy issue. This is an overall farmer issue that needs to be fixed.
During the news conference they had a farmer panel, but they were pretty small scale. All that is well and good, but it would’ve been great to see a more balanced group of farms from all shapes and sizes.
They also had volunteer farmers that we could interview. I had asked someone if they could put me in touch with a farmer that Farm Aid had helped. Of the 120+ farmer volunteers, to my knowledge not one of them was a farmer helped by Farm Aid. Not to say they don’t exist … I’m just not sure. But you’d think they’d be eager to share the stories of farms they helped! You’d think those farmers would be eager to come forward if Farm Aid had helped them to show off what a great organization they are. Hmm.
I’m skeptical. I really want to like this organization, I really do. Farmers need all the help and promotion they can get, but when you look at the sponsors of Farm Aid, it appears many are organic food corporations. Is the event for publicity for them? Where does the money from Farm Aid actually go? I’m not sure, but these comments regarding funds may offer some insight.
On the same note, I feel like we need a lot more celebrities on large-scale modern farms to help tell their stories. The story of “big Ag” and families behind them isn’t told often enough. The general public doesn’t hear about the input costs and technology in barns that allow farmers to take better care of livestock than ever before with computers and data tracking. They don’t hear about the latest technology in sprayers, improved buffer zones and conservation efforts that allow modern farms to be the best stewards of the land.
I feel disheartened by Farm Aid and genuinely wonder if they’d ever value and uplift all farmers.
Modern agriculture has a cool story to tell. It’s a story that needs to be told more, but the industry overall as a whole has got to do better in my opinion. Connect with celebrities in a more proactive way, because at the moment a majority of celebrities are very misinformed.
Global food security takes all types: Big, small, organic, or not. They all have a role and a job to do, and they deserve respect and understanding.
But in the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd,
“Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.