Farm Aid 2002

Press conference at Farm Aid 2002
Press conference: Speakers included Kim Seeley of Pensylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Rhonda Perry of Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Shirley Sherrod and Ralph Paige of Federation of Southern Cooperatives, John Hansen of National Farmers Union, Leo Gerard of United Steelworkers of America, plus musicians Dave Matthews, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Kid Rock, Lee Ann Womack, and others.

Neil Young at the organ at Farm Aid 2002
 

Rhonda Perry and Bob Scowcroft
Bob Scowcroft (with Rhonda Perry): "Now the real work of organics begins. Start by challenging each of our nation's 67 agricultural colleges to establish organic farming research and education centers. Last year, out of 886,000 research acres supported by our tax dollars, 151 were certified organic. And we must join with other activists to ensure a fair wage and decent living conditions for those who harvest our organic crops. Organic farming means more wildlife, cleaner watersheds, pristine air. But these are just some of the trees of a larger, more dynamic forest. These actions will succeed if you consumers assume a new level of responsibility about what you consume. We expect you to buy local and in season whenever possible. Being evolutionary activists, every organic purchase makes a difference. We have the power to fight back. Now's the time to stand and be counted."

David Amram at Farm Aid 2002David Amram: "Does the Homeland Security Act have any concern for the biological warfare we are committing on ourselves and on our children with the reckless and irresponsible inclusion of deadly chemicals which are going to poison future generations? The soul of America has to be saved by all of us. Young people, do not despair, don't give up, don't feel it's over -- it's just beginning. All of us older folks are just the ones who laid the groundwork from what we learned growing up on farms, from our elders: respect, love, sharing -- and the Native American principle that the Earth is sacred, the Earth is our mother, that we're all responsible for one another."

Farm Aid Director Carolyn Mugar
Carolyn Mugar, Farm Aid Director.

Photos by Linda Rosier

Report by Kathy Lawrence

On a fine September evening near Pittsburgh, PA, Farm Aid launched its 2002 events with a panel of farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates who spoke about the dangers faced by farmers and consumers alike in navigating the increasingly corporatized, factory-style American farm and food system. They spoke, too, from personal experience about the proven successes of sustainable and organic farming and marketing systems that work for farmers, workers, consumers and the land. The panel -- and the delicious regional/seasonal foods reception that proceeded it -- energized the many farmers and supporters from across the country who came to participate in the annual farm benefit concert founded by Willie Nelson in 1986.

Farm Aid is known for its hard-hitting critique of the destructive forces that drive family farmers out by the thousands. It is also a celebration of the farmers and ranchers who continue, against all odds, to farm, raise their families, contribute to their communities, and care for the precious natural resources we all depend on. This year's press events also highlighted the essential role of non-farmers: the consumers, grocery retailers, chefs and others who must create the demand for family farm-based agriculture.

Disillusioned with the political power games being played with our farms, our food and our very lives, the stars urged that we bypass Washington and federal policy, and take the fight directly to the people. Speaker after impassioned speaker called on Americans to make the connection between the food they eat, what they contribute to with every food dollar spent, and the destruction of farm and ranch livelihoods, pollution of our air, water and soil, and the production of food that literally makes us sick. The vast purchasing power of consumers to transform the food system and support family farmers and ranchers was invoked, and the plea was made for people to open their eyes and their wallets to buy local, family farm produced food.

We are up against powerful, entrenched systems of destruction based on ever-larger scales of production, unbelievable market manipulation and perverse subsidies funded with our taxpayer dollars. These forces are driving farmers out of business faster than consumer demand alone can counter, and our tax dollars will continue to be spent on federal agriculture policy, for good or for ill. So, I am concerned that we not send a message that our only hope is in the marketplace, and in direct relationships between farmers and consumers or retailers. This is an essential but insufficient part of the solution.

Now is the time to say the system is broken, we must fix it, and we know with absolute certainty that we can fix it. The only thing that will make democracy work is citizen action: grassroots-driven, informed, broad-based, diverse action.

We are beyond being divided and conquered. Groups and individuals across issue, class, race, faith, gender, livelihood and geographical boundaries know that we are all connected, that the various pieces of economic, environmental, social and political justice we focus on are all integrally linked and cannot be separated. We know we can work together to reinforce our mutual trust, solidarity and shared interests and to advance the cause of a living democracy that puts public interest and the contributions and concerns of the people before the short-sighted, destructive desires of supra-national corporations.

So let's take it to the people! Let's go with a message of righteous anger and of vision, hope and collective victories to work from. The people have the power, and we can help them channel it for maximum impact in two critical arenas:

  • the marketplace of food, fiber and other farm products; and
  • the democratic system of policies and funding that serve the people and land.

Among all the celebrities who spoke so movingly about these issues, it was Dave Matthews who first uttered the word I was waiting for: love. If nothing else, this world-wide movement for sustainable agriculture, farmer-centered development and food security is about love. It is about farmers and ranchers who love the land and their way of life. It is about people who love good food, real food and all that it stands for. It is about people love not just the abstract concepts of justice, equity and harmony, but who love the day-to-day personal practice, compassion and collective activism that gets us there.

It is imperative that we recognize and publicize the huge impact we had collectively on the terms of debate (if not final content) of the Farm Bill. We built among diverse groups, interests and regions unprecedented a solidarity that outlives the heat of the Farm Bill. We have brought farmers, ranchers, environmentalists and consumers together with labor, faith, social justice, rural, urban and suburban interests to forge a strong and unified voice that continues to grow. And we put the fundamental, structural issues of competition and concentration at the center of a highly-charged debate that we will continue to push.

The National Campaign is talking with cooperative grocers about how we can work with you and your members to focus and magnify the market demands and the political demands of the people. We're putting together regular action alerts and policy updates that you can easily drop into your newsletters. We're working to frame issues so they'll resonate with your members. Please contact us soon at (845) 744-8448 or [email protected]. The web site is located at:

http://www.sustainableagriculture.ne

See other articles from this issue: #103 November - December - 2002