Thursday, April 03, 2014

Win a $10,000 "Lift" for Your Farm!

JenI'm thrilled to be part of an exciting new opportunity for family farmers: the Mortgage Lifter project. Read on for a chance to win $10,000 for your farm.

In 2013, Beekman 1802 co-founders Josh Kilmer-Purcell & Brent Ridge had a big idea. For years they'd struggled to grow their farm business enough for Josh to leave his job in the city so they could both live happily ever after as full-time farmers.

So they decided to create a line of Pasta Sauces that would use a variety of tomato first bred in the 1930s with a funny, but appropriate name: "The Mortgage Lifter Tomato." (Find out how the Mortgage Lifter got its name.) If they could just sell enough jars, they could pay off their mortgage and Josh could move upstate permanently.

Then, through a lucky twist of fate, the pair won "The Amazing Race," a television reality competition. Finally able to pay off their own mortgage, they thought: "Hey, wouldn't it be great if other small farms could catch a similar break?'"

So they decided they'd pay forward 25% of the profits from their sauces to help promising small farms grow into medium-size farms. In 2013, they raised more than $13,000 for the project and now they're giving that money away to small farmers with big ideas.

Mortgage Lifter sauces are produced from quality, non-GMO whole ingredients sourced from both small American farms and also larger American farms. They are prepared by a family-owned co-packer with the scale to supply larger grocery chains. This combination of efforts results in sauces that taste as homemade as they are, but can be competitively priced to appear on a grocery store shelf.

But the best part is that 25% of the profits are then returned to small farms to help them grow larger.

Find out more specifics about who is eligible for Mortgage Lifter Lifts and apply today! It's easy, just tell your story. See if your local farmer has applied for a "lift," and if not let them know about it! There are four prizes, and the top prize is $10,000. Winners will be announced on April 29.

A Tale of Neil Young Fans and Longtime Farm Aid Supporters Coming Together

KariEarly Saturday morning one of Farm Aid's biggest supporters sent me a message, asking if I knew of anyone who might want front row, center tickets for Neil Young's show in Hollywood that night.

The email came from a man who I refer to as the head "Farm Aidian," a group of Canadians who attend the Farm Aid concert each year. Paul Salden, the dude in charge, organizes a group of his employees and pays their way to the concert. They refer to it as the annual company retreat. As you can imagine, they're a fun group. They load a bus up north of the border (Paul's wife Renee got a special driving license for this purpose alone) and make their way to wherever the concert is that fall.

I reached out to Deb and Brian Leedom, two members of Farm Aid's development advisory board who live in California. They are also incredibly generous supporters of Farm Aid's work, and the kind of people that will drop everything for an opportunity like this.

When Deb and Brian contacted Paul to see what price he was asking for the pair of tickets, he asked instead that they give a gift to Farm Aid. In the age of ticket reselling, the fact that he was giving away two tickets in faith that they would pay it forward made my heart swell. He could have gotten a ridiculous amount of money for himself, and instead he thought of Farm Aid.

The incredible thing about our loyal fans is their commitment to us. This has meant the same people often sit in the same seats at our concert, year after year. They've come to at the very least recognize faces, and in some cases have even struck up lasting friendships or relationships! I'm still waiting on one pair's engagement announcement.

When Deb and Brian met up with Paul and Rylee, they decided to make a night of it. The Leedoms took the Farm Aidians out to dinner, Hollywood style. When Deb called me Monday to tell me about the show, she could barely get her words out 48 hours later! "I COULD HAVE TOUCHED HIS FOOT!" she squealed.

L to R: Paul, Deb, Brian, Rylee

I'm so grateful that our "Four Guys," as we call them, have attracted people like these folks to our work. Many people come for the music, initially. Then they are changed by hearing their favorite artists convey their passion about Farm Aid's work to keep family farmers on the land. I am inspired by stories like this one, and so glad that our extended family members think of Farm Aid and want to do just a little bit more when they can.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A tribute to Jean Slachetka

CarolynIt is with heavy hearts that we write that Jean Slachetka has died. With Jean’s passing family farmers have lost a staunch supporter and advocate. We got the news at a meeting of farm activists about how to bring more and diverse people together on issues that impact family farm agriculture, a strategy that coincides with Jean’s dedication of her life to helping others, particularly black and American Indian farmers.

Jean was a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, and used her personal experience of the farm crisis of the 1980s to inspire her work as a farm advocate. Most recently she was a program development officer for the National Tribal Development Association. She was a farm advocate on the Land Loss Prevention Project, Inc. in Durham, North Carolina, working with black farmers. She worked as a counselor for victims of domestic abuse, and she was a farm credit and business planning expert. Her related volunteer experience includes Certified OWEESTA (First Nations) Credit Councilor, board member of the National Family Farm Coalition, and the chair of the National Family Farm Coalition Credit Task Force.

Jean's many awards include Cleveland County Farmer of the Year (1989), USDA Certificate for training USDA Outreach and State Directors from an Advocate's Point of View (1998), North Carolina Fruit Award for twenty years of service promoting rural justice, NC Association of Black Lawyers' Land Loss Prevention Project (2003), and the National Tribe Development Association Employee of the Year (2005).

Jean stands tall in a long line of farm advocates. Her devotion was mammoth, and she worked really, really hard. We praise Jean, and the folks like her who give selflessly of themselves—their time, their emotions, their health—because they know what it’s like to lose their farm. We speak often of needing new farm advocates, and we worry too about the advocates we have left and the knowledge they have. There is such a huge need for this knowledge to be shared and passed down. And not just the knowledge, but the commitment, and the human connection that results in that commitment. One of our colleagues shared his story of Jean’s dedication, explaining that a few years back he had called on Jean to help Hmong refugee farmers who were facing discrimination. Jean scheduled a three day trip to help out--then she stayed for a week and a half.

Farm advocates like Jean are born from a time that was terrible but for which we are thankful because it gave us people like her. In her honor, let’s keep working to make it such that family farmers don’t need advocates, but have all the resources they need to thrive.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Two heroes of family farmers meet

JoelI’m pleased to report that two American icons got together recently in Oklahoma.

The first, Farm Aid president Willie Nelson, needs no introduction to the Farm Aid faithful. But who’s that with him in this photo

That’s Mona Lee Brock, longtime farm advocate in Oklahoma, whose crisis and suicide intervention work with Oklahoma farmers for more than two decades has saved many farmers’ lives. Willie himself has said of her, “Mona Lee Brock has been the angel at the other end of the line, the person who Farm Aid has always relied on for the most desperate farmers.” Even today, though Mona Lee is “officially” retired, I still call her for advice or assistance when I field difficult farmer calls from Oklahoma on the Farm Aid hotline. And she is as willing as ever to help out in any way she can.

So, when Mona Lee called us last month to inquire about the possibility of getting tickets to see Willie’s show in her hometown of Durant, Oklahoma, well, we were happy to oblige. We knew Willie would be glad to make time for her and her friends after the show. Later, Mona Lee let me know that it was “the thrill of my lifetime” to visit with Willie backstage.

Mona Lee Brock is one of only a handful of deeply experienced farm advocates remaining from the early days of Farm Aid. There is no way to calculate the value of her experience, as she not only saved farms, but saved farmers’ lives.

As Farm Aid’s farm advocate in charge of our 1-800-FARM-AID and farmer hotline, I invite you to contact me at to learn more about how you can help us develop the Farm Advocate Link, our ongoing project with RAFI-USA and many other partners to recruit, train and support a new generation of farm advocates. We need about 50 Mona Lee Brocks out there, angels at the other end of the line, to let farmers know how fundamentally valuable their work is for all of us and to help them not only to survive, but to thrive.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Farmers can’t "Coexist" with GMO Pollution

AliciaOne of the problems with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they're difficult to contain. When pollen containing altered genes travels in the wind or on the bodies of pollinators like birds and bees, there's little we can do to stop it from spreading. What's worse, the companies who "own" those genes take no responsibility for the damage caused by their contamination.

The contamination of crops by neighboring GMO crop fields presents a huge problem for farmers, eaters and our environment:

  • For organic farmers, who have made expensive investments to grow without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, GMO contamination can undermine their farming practices and cost them the premium price they receive for their crops.
  • Conventional non-GMO farmers, meanwhile, have seen their crops rejected in global export markets as a result of GMO contamination.
  • For eaters, GMO contamination is a critical concern for the integrity of our food supply and our right to know and choose what we feed ourselves and our families.
  • For our environment, GMO contamination threatens biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Farmers whose crops have been contaminated not only stand to lose income, they're at risk of being sued for patent infringement by biotech companies. 145 farmers have been sued by Monsanto, for instance, for patent infringement.

Barn Field Photo

We have an historic opportunity to fundamentally change how our government regulates GMO technology and to hold biotech companies accountable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting public comments on recommendations concerning agricultural "coexistence" — or how GMO and non-GMO crops can grow side by side, without threatening the other. But make no mistake, until the USDA protects non-GMO farmers and concerned consumers from contamination, there can be no "coexistence."

Tell Secretary Vilsack to use his authority to:

  • Fully investigate the state of contamination in our seed and food supply.
  • Regulate GMOs based on their potential for economic harm as well as safety — as existing law allows — reform USDA's weak framework for regulating GMOs.
  • Prevent GMO contamination now by issuing mandatory contamination prevention measures.
  • Make biotech pay for contamination: Non-GMO farmers deserve fair compensation when contamination occurs and should not be forced to purchase additional crop insurance to protect themselves.
  • Address the broader economic and environmental costs related to "coexistence"

We have until March 4th to raise our voices for farmers, eaters and a better food system. Take action now!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Farm Aid Music Monday Celebrates Band of Horses

MattHappy Monday, everyone! It's been a couple months since our last Music Monday post, but I feel like today's the kind of Monday that could use a little musical pick-me-up. Today's audio boost comes to you from Farm Aid's 25th anniversary concert from Milwaukee with the Band of Horses.

So far, this appearance from 2010 is the only time the band has joined us on the Farm Aid stage, but they did just release a new live acoustic album (streaming now on their website) and they're touring now if you want to hear more. Watch "Laredo" and "Compliments" below, and then check out the special birthday greeting for Willie Nelson's 80th birthday they recorded on stage last spring.

Visit our YouTube channel for over 1,300 more Farm Aid videos!

Friday, February 21, 2014

One More Day* to Reject "Agent Orange" Corn & Soy!

Alicia* The USDA has extended the comment period until March 11. Please take action today!

The chemical 2,4-D is better known for making up half of the infamous Vietnam-era chemical weapon known as Agent Orange. A potent defoliant, 2,4-D is associated with a number of human health and environmental problems. It's also poised to replace Monsanto's Roundup as the herbicide of choice for GMO agriculture, as superweeds and pests that have developed resistance to Roundup spread across the countryside.

As I type, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in its final set of deliberations for approval of Dow's controversial 2,4-D resistant corn and soy, new genetically engineered (GE) crop varieties that are designed to resist heightened applications of Dow's 2,4-D.

What will it mean if more of this Agent Orange chemical is out in the fields? It's bad news for farmers, eaters and our environment and would open a new chapter of the seemingly endless chemical war against pests.

The good news is we still have time to act. USDA's comment period on this matter closes this Monday. Hundreds of thousands of farmers, eaters and public health officials are writing to USDA and voicing strong concern because:

  • 2,4-D is a very toxic herbicide. It's a reproductive toxicant, suspected endocrine disruptor and probable carcinogen.
  • 2,4-D will drift. 2,4-D is known to drift to non-target crops, and broadleaf plants like tomatoes, grapes, beans, cotton and non-GE soy are particularly at risk. Conventional and organic farmers alike could lose crops and income as a result.

  • 2,4-D-resistant "superweeds" will spread, just as Roundup-resistant weeds have taken over farms and countryside across the U.S.
  • 2,4-D corn will contaminate non-GE corn. Corn is wind-pollinated, which means contamination is inevitable. You cannot put a GE genie back in the bottle.

Join farmers and eaters in telling the USDA to reject 2,4-D corn and soy. You can submit your comments here on Here are some tips for submitting comments:

  • Not sure what to say? Use the sample letter below and personalize it.
  • Write your comment ahead of time — there is a time limit and you may get timed out if you write your comment from scratch.
  • If your comment is less than one page, you can copy and paste it into the comment box. Otherwise, write "See Attached" and upload a separate document with your comments.
  • Remember to click "Submit comment" at the end of the process. You should be taken to a new screen with a confirmation number — if you don't see one, then your comment has not been submitted to the USDA.

As always, we encourage you to read up and learn more about this issue! Check out HuffPo's recent article detailing more about Dow Chemical and its new GE crop varieties. And visit the National Organic Coalition and Pesticide Action Network for more ways to get involved.

Sample Letter:

Secretary Thomas Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW, Room 200-A
Washington, DC 20250

Re: Docket #APHIS-2013-0042

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I am writing to urge you to reject applications for Dow's new genetically engineered "Enlist" crops designed to survive repeated spraying of the herbicide 2,4-D. Your agency's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) indicates USDA's "preferred" determination that 2,4-D-resistant corn and soy need not be regulated under the Plant Pest Act.

Simply put, deregulating these crops is a very bad idea. Allowing them on the market will drive up use of 2,4-D, an antiquated and dangerous herbicide known to drift off target crops and linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption.

[Add your personal comments about why this issue is important to you. Are you a farmer whose crops would be put at risk by 2,4-D drift? An eater concerned about 2,4-D residues on your food? Just a few sentences make a difference!]

Farmers are deeply concerned that Dow's Enlist corn will threaten their crops. 2,4-D is known to drift — directly and through volatilization — which poses a very real threat to rural economies and farmers growing crops not engineered to withstand application of these potent chemicals. 2,4-D drift is already responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide, and its vastly increased use promises still more damage to crops like soybeans, cotton, vegetables and fruit.

Dow's 2,4-D-resistant crops follow the same short-sighted approach to farming taken by Monsanto's RoundUp Ready seed line — which is responsible for a dramatic rise in glyphosate-resistant "superweeds" that have afflicted millions of acres of farmland across the Midwest and South.

At a time when farmers, citizens and government have worked hard to limit our use of, and exposure to, toxic chemicals like 2,4-D and dioxins, approving this crop would take us dramatically backwards, endangering human health and the environment. I urge you to heed the warnings of the scientific and environmental communities and deny approval of 2,4-D resistant GE soy.

At the very least, USDA must conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement that carefully examines the human health, environmental and agricultural harms that will be triggered by 2,4-D soy, including a cumulative assessment that considers the compounded harms from additional deregulation of Dow's 2,4-D resistant corn.

Thank you,

Your Name