Friday, June 30, 2006

Nahreen stalks anyone wearing a Farm Aid shirt

It’s a well known fact in our office that I love Farm Aid merchandise. You can be sure that at least once a week, I’ll come to work wearing either a Farm Aid T-shirt or my blue 20th anniversary hoody.

But you know what I love more than wearing the merchandise I pack and send out weekly? Seeing complete strangers out and about wearing our Farm Aid stuff! And, not only do I think it’s cool, but often, I feel it’s my duty to approach the perfect stranger and introduce myself! (Consider this a warning to all those wearing anything that says Farm Aid.)

A few months ago, I was window shopping in Gloucester, a sea-side town about 40 miles north of our office, when I noticed a man behind a counter in a print shop across the street, wearing a familiar looking shirt. I did a double take, and sure enough, it was the Farmers Kick A$$ T-shirt. I considered playing it cool, just walking away--what any normal person would do. But nope, I couldn’t. I had to walk into the store to inquire about the shirt. Doing my best not to scare the poor guy, I said, “Hi, I have a strange question,” and proceeded. I asked if he ordered his shirt online, but he didn’t. I asked if he was at the concert this past summer in Tinley Park, but he wasn’t. Just as I was ready to ask how he got his shirt, he said, “I designed this shirt!”

Turns out he was our T-shirt designer, KC Hruby! This year KC’s at it again, dreaming up tshirt designs for our upcoming concert. I can’t wait to see the fantastic stuff he comes up with! In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for folks spreading the Farm Aid word with their shirts!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

When the staff’s in staff meeting, the dog will type


Hi! I’m Chico. I’m a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (“Toller” for short!) and I’m Farm Aid’s unofficial mascot. I come to Farm Aid three days a week with my mom, Jen. Although it’s not official, I have two main duties for which I feel responsible: Human Resources and the Waste No Food Campaign.

In the case of HR, I’ve got my paw on the pulse of this place and I am very conscientious about checking in with all staff throughout the day to see how they’re doing. If they’re stressed and need a break, I roll over and let them rub my belly or I bring them a toy to throw for me. In extreme cases of emergency, I’ll let someone take me for a walk around the block. Without me, some staff would never get up out of their chairs to take a break!

The Waste No Food Campaign is my own personal initiative to be sure that no tasty tidbits go to waste. Folks here are very good about making sure that everything goes to the compost bucket, but why should the compost heap get all the good stuff? I check all the trash barrels to be sure that no crumbs are tossed. Now that the staff has grown to 11, I’ve got a full plate (pun intended!) but I’m pretty good at multitasking—you’ve got to be at a place like Farm Aid!

Here’s the scoop: the best finds are in Wendy’s trash barrel—there’s always a coffee cup to lick clean and some scone crumbs to chew on. Jeni’s trash barrel never contains any food items but it does have some Powerbar wrappers that are good for a tasty lick! But I like to be proactive too… the best treats to sneak that haven’t been picked over by a human yet are in Carolyn’s office, in one of the many bags she brings each day. Usually I can steal a few choice items before she manages to disengage herself from the phone and shoo me out of her office! Then it’s off to the kitchen to beg for treats – Katie and Nahreen are total suckers and are always good for a lick of peanut butter or some carrots.

Sounds like staff meeting is wrapping up so I’d better sign off. Look for more posts from me, detailing Farm Aid from a dog’s eye view.

Chico out!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Jen talks about the audit

Whew…. Last week was a whirlwind! I didn’t even have time to blog about my “business trip” to Bonnaroo, where I had the opportunity to see 150 bands over four days on a 700-acre farm in Tennessee with 80,000 other folks. No, really! It was a business trip. I went to Bonnaroo to see how the world’s most successful musical festival works and to bring back ideas to improve our concert.

Sunbaked and jetlagged, I got back to the office in time to make sure all my paperwork was in order for our auditor, Debbie Dobbins, who spent two lovely days here in the office critiquing every invoice, contract, and all my math! (For every job perk at Farm Aid, there’s a price to pay—it’s not all fun!)

But seriously, the audit is a great opportunity for us to make sure that as an organization we’re doing all we can to ensure that our money (your donations) are being put to good use. After our auditor combs through all of my bookkeeping work for the year, we’ll have our finished IRS Form 990 and our financials—valuable tools that we use to explain what we made and where our money went.

All staff participate in pulling out the specific files and information the auditor needs to see. We all have to account for the expenses we’ve had over the past year. As hard as it is to have someone looking at your work so closely its good to know that for every check there is a balance.

Joel gets to meet Willie

Think your job has perks? How about meeting Willie Nelson in his tour bus and getting a back stage pass for his show?

As the newest Farm Aid member I couldn’t believe my luck. This was my happy fate on a recent Saturday when Willie and crew rolled into town for a gig. Several of us from the Farm Aid office met with Willie to strategize on a range of issues and discuss the upcoming Farm Aid concert. I was the only one who hadn’t met Willie before. We pulled up to the tour bus behind the hotel and hung out for a few minutes, waiting for the signal to enter from David Anderson, Willie’s road manager and then we stepped onto the bus -- beautifully laid out with a lounge area, kitchen, and table in the front half, and private quarters in the back.

Meeting Willie was a great pleasure. He’d been out for an afternoon bike ride and had been resting prior to our meeting. Wearing cut off shorts, a T-shirt, and running shoes, he emerged from the back of the bus and shook hands all around.

Willie put us at ease immediately. He is a warm, cordial, soft-spoken, 70-something man with flowing gray hair, quick eyes, and zero pretension. He is also smart, articulate, and well informed. He is Farm Aid.

That evening, Willie and his band played non-stop for two hours, with Willie playing lead guitar the whole time. While his distinctively beautiful voice was familiar to me, I was stunned at the virtuosity of his guitar playing. I will be happy to pay to see this man play next time!

Katie's Farm Aid party goes off without a hitch!

If there is one thing Farm Aid can do (besides advocate for farmers, provide resources for producers and consumers of food, organize an annual concert and distribute grants to organizations around the country that support local food systems…whew!) it’s throw a great party!

The Fresh From The Family Farm Picnic at Equinox Restaurant in Washington, DC this Saturday was a great success.

Nahreen and I arrived in Washington early on Friday morning and went straight to Vanguard Communications (Farm Aid’s public relations company) where Brandi Dobbins showed us to our temporary office. Though it was clean and empty when we arrived, under 2 hours later we had filled it almost to the ceiling with gift bags to be handed out to guests as they arrived.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to pick up the gift bags to bring to Equinox. When we arrived at the restaurant, I was so impressed to see the volunteers already setting up. The place looked great. I was nervous about how everything would go until the first guests arrived. They went straight to the kid’s activity area and started making ice cream (and they weren’t even kids!). It was a hit!

All of Nahreen’s hard work at finding fun things to do had paid off. Everyone loved making ice cream and butter. A chef also came and helped the kids make their own bugs and creatures out of veggies.

As soon as Mercy Creek started playing, I felt even better. The crowd really enjoyed their music and Jim Ball and Cheryl Nystrom (the members of the band) couldn’t have been nicer! I was lucky enough to grab one of their CDs and have been listening to it all day.

Everyone enjoyed the food as well. Before dinner, volunteers carried trays of sausages Todd Gray (Equinox’s owner and chef) had been cooking on the grill. The dishes supplied by the other chefs were delicious, too. I tried to sample a little of everything, though unfortunately I didn’t get to try any of the desserts.

I wanted to talk to everyone that was there to thank them for coming and making the picnic such a success. Volunteers, guests, chefs, Ellen & Todd Gray and everyone else involved, if any of you are reading this and I didn’t get to tell you in person, THANK YOU!!!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ted tends the compost

We’ve enlisted a whole new corps of sustainability experts at Farm Aid.

Farmers and gardeners everywhere call them red worms, and we call on them almost daily to help us recycle kitchen waste here in the office. Yes, we have a small kitchen here. You can’t be as involved with food and farming as we are without having a kitchen, a nice big table for the Farm Aid family (we do our best work as a team huddled around that table) and a big white bucket under the sink for table scraps.

We call it the Compost Bucket. Not very original, I know, but hey, it cuts down on the confusion and that’s a big deal in an office where ideas fly with the regularity of jet planes and birds. We’ve recycled paper, plastic and metal for quite a while, but it wasn’t until last year that we started recycling food scraps. It’s hardly innovative, but it took some time to get into the habit of tossing all that good green garbage into the bucket. Lots of food items lost for weeks in the refrigerator also end up as nourishment for the sustainability experts, and Carolyn, an urban dweller with no place for a compost pile of her own, often contributes food scraps from home.

Wendy, Carolyn, Glenda, Mark, Jen and I are all avid gardeners and most of the rest of the staff is plotting ways to launch urban or suburban gardens of their own. I consider it a small miracle that, for the moment, I’m the person on staff who gets to tote the Compost Bucket home every few days. The worms in my backyard compost pile love it, of course. They are extremely well fed. In return, they do me the favor of expertly turning out a yard or two of rich black earth every year. A fair and sustainable trade all around.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Katie plans a party in D.C.

It is a very exciting time at Farm Aid for me right now.

This Saturday is the 2nd Annual Fresh From The Family Farm Picnic at Equinox Restaurant in Washington, DC. If this year’s picnic is half as fun as last year’s, everyone there is in for a treat.

The event really IS a family picnic with a real family atmosphere. Last year we had face painting, coloring books and we made butter from cream with the kids. This year we’ve been planning and testing out some fun children’s activities in the office. Last week, Jeni and I each made a “hairy potato head”. If you keep them watered, they grow grass “hair” that you can cut. I named mine Salvatore and gave him a stylish mohawk haircut yesterday.

What amazes me is how many people have donated their time and talent to making the picnic so special. Seventeen chefs from the top restaurants in DC are bringing dishes for our buffet dinner. Farmers from the area are coming to sell their produce and products at our onsite farmer’s market. Mercy Creek, the folk rock duo, will be providing some excellent music. But most of all, Chef Todd & Ellen Gray, the owners of Equinox have been especially helpful. They donate their restaurant, the food and the time to make it all happen!

But I think I’m most excited about the items in our silent auction. Artists, writers, and companies have donated some great things. Of course, my favorite item is the front row tickets, VIP passes and hotel accommodations for the 2006 Farm Aid concert.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m can’t wait, but really, delicious food, great music, and “hairy potato heads”….what else could a girl need?

Joel talks about the farmer hotline

I’m Joel, the newest addition to the Farm Aid staff, and the Coordinator of the Farm Aid Hotline and Resource Network. I’m the one who responds to the hundreds of farmers who call 1-800-FARM AID or who e-mail us at farmhelp.

I look forward to talking to farmers directly. My basic job is, initially, to listen to what the farmer has to say, take notes, ask questions, and understand the problem. Farmers are a fairly tight-lipped bunch -- after all, they don’t make their living by talking. Calling for help is not something farmers are “supposed” to do -- in fact, we often hear from farm wives because their husbands are too proud to ask outsiders for help. Yet once they’ve taken the often last-ditch step of calling Farm Aid for help, sometimes they just need to speak about the history of the farm, the love, care, and hard work that the family (sometimes several generations) has put into the farm.

Over the last 20 years, Farm Aid has built up a wide-ranging resource network of local, state, regional, and national farm support organizations, which work directly with farmers and farm families to address financial, legal, technical problems, as well as issues of mental health, weather-related disaster, factory farm incursion, and other emergencies. On the hotline, once we understand their situation, what we do is refer them to our partner organizations that are most relevant to the particular issues they are facing. Callers are sometimes surprised to learn that we cannot simply give out money to individuals for running the farm operations -- as a non-profit organization, we are not allowed to do that. Instead, we offer practical, direct help from farm advocates, experts, and allies in your area.

So if you know a farmer who is in trouble, give him (or her!) our number: 1-800-FARM AID.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wendy posts a concert location hint

Well...its almost that time. You probably guessed that the announcement would be coming soon. This time of year is so hard for us staff in the office. We know the concert date and place. You want to know it. Many of you call and ask us where and when. We can’t tell you but we REALLLY want to be able to.

The news is coming-- very very soon. Maybe as early as July 6th maybe as late at July 14th but it’s going to be public news any time now.

A few years ago we gave away clues in the members only portion of the Farm Aid website, the FarmYard. So, I thought it might be fun to do it again. The only good thing to know is that I won’t confirm or deny any guesses in the comments!

So...

The state where we are going has 3 top crops- sweet corn, peaches and blueberries.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mark and Ted visit the 2006 concert site


Every year between the time when we pick the concert location and when we announce it to the public several trips are made to the area to check out the ampitheatre, the local scene and the farm groups working in the area.

Yesterday, Ted and I got back from our trip to the site of this year’s concert. We met the venue staff and walked through the compound in order to begin planning for the many different activities that will happen on the day of the concert. Where to place the press tent? How many press can we fit in? How are we going to get artists and farm groups in and out of press briefings? We got a good jump on most of these questions – but just as many as got answered, more popped up. Such is the nature of planning a large live event.

We also had the opportunity to meet a number of people in and around the city where the venue is located to hear about challenges and efforts already underway to boost local, family farm food production. We were excited to hear that a lot of positive things are going on. Farmers are connecting to chefs and restaurants—there is an expanding number of farmers markets, and increasing awareness about the benefits of local and sustainable agriculture.

We also heard many folks speak about the obstacles to getting farm fresh food into low-income neighborhoods and of poor nutrition and high obesity levels among inner-city children. Food and farm activists in every urban area struggle with these glaring disparities: upscale restaurants serving locally sourced organic food for those who can pay juxtaposed to urban neighborhoods with very little access to fresh, whole food.

Ted and I shared ideas about how the Farm Aid concert might act as a springboard to advance the work in the area. We know food is the great connector, linking rural to urban, producer to eater, tradition to innovation, availability to access. It’s exciting to think of this year’s Farm Aid concert as a vehicle to strengthen these links and to highlight the efforts of those who strive to make family farm food available and accessible to all.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wendy blogs about a blog title


Here in the Somerville office we fall somewhere between consensus decision making and a true hierarchy. When big decisions have to be made the buck stops with Carolyn, our executive director and the board of directors. But for day to day decisions, we try to involve as many staff as want to be involved.

For example, naming this blog has been a group project. Like anyone starting a blog we aimed for a name that was funny, clever, not too cute and definitely relevant. We started brainstorming title ideas through email. Everyone was given the opportunity to present the ideas they liked. We spent at least a week thinking, joking, dreaming of titles. It was even the subject of one of our Friday Happy Hour discussions. Here are some of the titles we came up with. It was hard to choose but in the end, we think we found the right one!

Farm Aid Chews their Cud
Farm Aid Folk Tales
Farm Aid: Real Dirt
Farm Aid: Behind the Barn doors
Farms 364 Days a year: Celebrities 1 day a year
As the soil turns
Food for Thought
Making Hay in the City
Beneficial Pests
The Big Till
Fertilize your inbox
Farm Aid Front Porch
Gabbin’ ‘bout Grub
Fresh from the Farm Aid Family
What’s new on the Farm

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jen takes a farmer call

Farmers call our farmer hotline every day. Most of the hotline calls are difficult and you do your best with each one; but some stay with you.

I recently took a call from a farmer who’s doing everything right. She grows organically; she direct markets at an on-farm stand and at local farmers markets. She operates a CSA so her customers share the risk of putting seeds in the ground. Her farm operation is diversified; she sells raw product, processed product, and the farm “experience” for people looking to escape their city lives. But for all her innovation she’s in trouble.

Her husband had just had a major medical emergency and, being farmers, they didn’t have good health insurance coverage. So not only was this farmer out her best farm manager, she had to find a way to pay for hospital bills, prescriptions, and all the therapy her husband would need to get his health back. No matter how good you are at farming, you’re just one disaster away from everything you’ve worked for falling to pieces.

I pulled up all the resources I could for this farmer. Had she been in any other business, there would have been health insurance, disability insurance, any number of other coverages that might have helped. But when you’re a farmer and disaster strikes, you pull through sometimes by the skin of your teeth and some help from friends, family, your community. Farming is an amazing leap of faith… from the tiniest seed you plant in the ground to your year end balance sheet.

It seems to me that we should place more value in the people who sustain us through their work. Sure, all the professions that do good work are undervalued and underpaid; that seems to be a fact of life. But for farmers more than anyone else, business is a gamble and fringe benefits are hard to come by.

Although I wanted to, I couldn’t just magically make this farmer’s problems go away. I was able to provide her with some emergency Farm Aid funds to cover household expenses, like the cost of her husband’s prescriptions. Additionally, using our Farm Resource Network I connected her with some local groups that work with farmers.

I recently checked up on her and she’s doing all she can to make her business thrive as best possible, like she always has. In the back of my head, I’m still thinking of ways to solve her problem. But that’s a whole other entry...

Glenda and Joel visit a farmers market



It’s finally almost summertime in New England.

The white tents of the farmers market in Central Square Cambridge shaded a half dozen farmers eager to launch the season. Joel and I visited each vendor, checking out the plants and vegetables, enjoying the late morning sunshine. It’s so fun to be back to my summer Mondays routine, visiting the farmers market. It makes Monday a good day!

One of our favorite farmers there is Marie, of Kimball Fruit Farm, who actually came to the Farm Aid concert last year to volunteer! She’s a really hard worker with a warm, positive energy. She said it’s going to be a great year for peaches, since she has more trees than ever. Now that’s something to look forward to! However, after two intense rainy spells, the growing season will be a bit delayed. Marie’s few boxes of strawberries sold out immediately.

I picked up a nice variety of greens, and came back to the office to sauté the fresh mustard, rabe, spinach, and arugula. Add a few crunchy radishes on the side, and that’s a quick delicious lunch. Now—back to work!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mark helps start an urban farm


Working at Farm Aid has opened my eyes to some innovative examples of people and communities reconnecting to the land and growing good food. Now, I’m fortunate to be involved in one right in my own community.

Last year, a friend of mine came to me with the crazy idea to create a new community farm in Metropolitan Boston that would increase access to locally grown, organic produce and involve urban and suburban residents all aspects of farming. To make a long story short in May 2006 Brookwood Community Farm was born.

The land we’re using is part of an old historic farm that was farmed from the mid-1600s up to the early 1970s. The last farmer who worked the land willed the land to the state of Massachusetts and the farm’s fields have laid fallow since his death in 1972.

Working the soil where sod has grown for 30 years is a challenge! You easily break a sweat, not to mention reach for some advil, turning seedbeds that are 250 feet long.

This past Sunday we hosted our first community workday. Despite rainy weather and cool temps, nineteen brave souls, including seven kids ranging in age from 2 to 12, helped to transplant hundreds of heirloom plants. By the end of the day we had planted over 300 tomato seedlings and the kids counted even more worms – they gave up after reaching 100!

Having a hands-on farming experience adds depth and meaning to my work at Farm Aid. Putting my hands in the black dirt every week connects me not only to the land, but to the farmers who have dirt under their nails everyday.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

the mission of this blog


Farm Aid has thought about having a blog for awhile and recently we realized that blogging could be a fun way for us staff to share what goes on behind the barn doors of our office.

We are a staff of eleven--almost all of us are in the 2005 concert photo above taken by Tony Buechler of JohnMellencamp.com. Staff member Joel Morton is missing from the photo.

As you can see from the photo we get the double joy of not only working for a meaningful non-profit, but once a year, we become a concert production company and we get to spend some time on the edges of the music world. In the photo we are with our board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews.

All staff members will write from time to time. We’ll write about the farm meetings we attend, the concert planning we are engaging in and our own attempts to live lives and choose food that supports family farming. Over time, we hope you’ll feel like you’re part of the Farm Aid family!

We are hoping that this blog will become the place where we share breaking news, interesting trivia, and the backstory behind what we do and why we do it. Many people have ideas about Farm Aid that may be far from the truth- we’re ready to set the record straight and tell the real dirt.

The thing we are most looking forward to is feedback from you. Use the comments section with wild abandon- ask questions- tell us what you want to know and we will do our best to respond. Who knows? Maybe we’ll blog all about you.