By Kay Whatley, Editor
Farm Aid may be famous for their concerts, but the concerts are fundraisers for their year round work. For over 30 years, Farm Aid has been working for family farms and small farmers. Their new initiative continues this work. Rural/Urban Dialogues seeks to unify farmers and their supporters across the divide of rural farming areas and the city/urban customers — farmers markets, restaurants, and others who eat.
As part of the Dialogues project, Farm Aid plans to use a series of conversations uniting rural and urban community voices. The series will focus on the strengths, challenges, and opportunities of working together — customers, farmers, and everyone in between.
According to Jennifer Fahy, Farm Aid, on the Rural/Urban Dialogues project:
“Farm Aid’s role has been to bring urban and rural people together throughout our history, starting with the first concert in 1985. These dialogues come out of our desire to do that in an ongoing way and with help and participation from others, all over the country.”
The Farm Aid concert started in 1985 and continues today. Its origins were, in part, fueled by John Mellencamp’s experience with family farms in his home state, Illinois. From the Farm Aid website:
Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land.
Farm Aid has raised more than $50 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture. Farm Aid is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on the land.
Following the divisive political campaign, concerns were addressed by a statement released in November 2016 (here). That statement said, in part, that their internal and external discussions led to an increased desire to unify people for the sake of the food system and all who benefitted from it:
One of Farm Aid’s main areas of work is to amplify the voices of farmers. We take pride in telling the stories of farmers as they work each and every day to put food on our plates. Given the current feeling of division in our country, we want to take that work a step further. In 2017, we’ll introduce a new effort to generate conversation and listening between people in both rural and urban communities—in addition to farmers, we’ll bring in others who are involved in food and agriculture in some way.
The Rural/Urban Dialogues project is the result of the desire to unify. The project seeks to unite, as explained in the project goals:
We know we have differences, too. In nature, diversity creates strength and resilience. That’s true for people too. Since Farm Aid’s start, we’ve brought together people who have differences of opinion and who have a variety of farm experiences and knowledge. When we can come together, a healthy farm and food system is strengthened. We can all learn a lot from our disagreements and discussions. And sometimes, we can even change our hearts and minds.
For more information or to get involved, visit www.farmaid.org/our-work/rural-urban-dialogues. If you’d like to lend your voice, fill out the form on that page. The Farm Aid staff are seeking rural and urban voices to share their experiences, and are choosing people from all along the food supply chain from the farm to the table.
Farm Aid’s care for family farms was clearly demonstrated during their Raleigh NC concert in 2014. Area farmers were invited to speak at the Farm Aid 2014 press conference, including Bunn NC’s own Russ Vollmer (speakers list). Check out this video of Russ Vollmer.
Local farms and organizations also participated as vendors and educators, including Two Chicks Farm of Raleigh NC (list here).
Farm Aid, Inc. is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to working on the Rural/Urban Dialogues and supporting US farmers, they are planning their 32nd-annual concert, to be held later in 2017.
Ed. Note: Our original article on Farm Aid 2014 may be found here, with photos of founders, participating farmers, and concert.