Friday, October 20, 2006

Laura thanks the volunteers

This is a big shout out to the 2006 concert volunteers!! This year’s show was my smoothest yet and it was completely thanks to the most amazing volunteer staff we have ever collected. People were on time, taking on more than they anticipated, stepping in when help was needed – all the while smiling and thanking Farm Aid for the opportunity to help out. Frankly, it was every volunteer coordinator’s dream event.

I love the volley of emails that come after the show. Sadly, I am not able to talk with everyone during the concert because it is such a busy day. So, most of what I learn happens afterwards in a virtual debrief. Check out these comments from my hard working staff:

“I just wanted to let you know that we had a great time helping out this year. We started out helping out at the hotel counting merch and then went on to the venue to deliver the merch to all. Helped Katie out at the party on Friday night. (she is just adorable) and was thrilled at the turnout! She was like "There are famous people at my party--there are famous people at my party!"-she is just so cute. Checked in on Saturday morning at catering and connected with the catering staff. The caterer put us to work no problem and she loved my husband! He is a work horse, like her. We told her “Just tell us what you want and we will get it done.” Made the bread pudding, served folks, etc… until about 2pm. After that I wound up helping out escorting artist, radio people etc.... Everyone seemed at ease and really happy with the flow of the day. Hope all went well for you!”

Some are just a simple thank you:

“Had a great time! Thanks a million! Sign me up for next year!”

“Thank you so much for your wonderful organizing. I had a great volunteer experience and a wonderful time at the show.”

“I wanted to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to volunteer at this year's concert. It was such an amazing experience and I was so proud to be part of the event.”

My thanks to all of you. It was a real pleasure to work with such dedicated and caring volunteers. See you next year!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mark says behind the bad spinach…is a bad farm policy

The first thing I do once I arrive to the Farm Aid office on Monday mornings is scan the papers for articles on food and farming that ran over the weekend. We try our best to stay up on all the issues and developments related to farming and use them to inform our work to strengthen family farm agriculture. And there it was…

Once again, Michael Pollan (author of Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) hits the problem of our incredibly centralized food system on the head. In last Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, Pollan writes in an article titled, The Vegetable-Industrial Complex, that “the way we farm and the way we process our food, both of which have been industrialized and centralized over the last few decades, are endangering our health.

The immediate issue endangering our health that Pollan was referring to was the recent outbreak of E. coli in packaged spinach – an outbreak that sickened nearly 200 people and killed three. When one packaging plant processes 26 million servings of salad each week and distributes it nationally, it’s easy to see how disease can spread through our food system like wildfire.

Adding to the list of problems associated with how we grow and process our food is the threat of obesity. Less sensationalistic than an outbreak of E. coli perhaps, but much, more dangerous, obesity is a public health crisis of unfathomable dimensions and repercussions. The Center for Disease Control now estimates that between 30 and 40% of kids born today will develop diabetes, which is closely associated with rates of obesity. Think about that for a second...and then imagine our health care industry trying to cope with (and pay for) a third of the US population suffering the effects of diabetes.

In an essay titled “The (Agri) Cultural Causes of Obesity,” which is included in Farm Aid’s 20th Anniversary book Farm Aid: A Song for America, Pollan connects the problem of obesity to an agricultural policy that promotes and subsidizes the over production of cheap calories – mainly in the form of corn and soybeans. Cheap corn gets processed into high fructose corn syrup and cheap soybeans get processed into hydrogenated soybean oil, both of which in turn sweeten and fatten the ever-growing supply of processed food products.

At the core of the E. coli outbreaks, whether in spinach or ground beef, and the growing obesity epidemic is a failed farm policy. The recent farm bills, passed every five to seven years by Congress, have aided and abetted the corporate consolidation and control of our food system at the expense of family farmers, food safety, public health and the environment. Soon, Congress will once again debate the next farm bill. Already lining up outside the doors of our elected officials, the lobbyists of the giant food companies are polishing their sales pitches to win yet another farm bill for Big Food.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Can you imagine what a new farm bill could do to strengthen, rather than endanger, the public health if its goals promoted sustainable family farm agriculture and healthful food for all? Can you imagine a farm bill that valued decentralized and diversified food production, processing and distribution over a global food system controlled by a handful of multinational corporations?

We invite you to imagine with us a new farm and food agenda that serves our interests – family farmers, consumers, and local communities – and ensures food from family farms for all. We also invite you to pick up the phone and call your senator and representative in Washington to ask, “Isn’t it time we made a fair and just farm bill a national priority? Isn’t it time for a farm bill that actually helps keep family farmers on their land to grow the good food we all need? Isn’t it time we had a farm bill that valued economic fairness, people’s health and environmental stewardship over corporate greed?”

Let us know what you think, and what they say!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wendy accepts a donation from the Mellencamp Fan Club

Around the time of the concert many people think of fun and creative ways to raise money for Farm Aid. One of the most dedicated teams is the Mellencamp Fan Club. Every year in July I get an email from a fan club member letting me know of their fundraising event for the year. This year, I heard from Sharon Carone. She wrote “Once again I am organizing a charity auction through the John Mellencamp Fan Club and wanted you to be aware of it. John has autographed some rare items for us again this year and hopefully we will raise more money than last year!“

They raised $2,100. for Farm Aid through their auction and from donations. Sharon presented the check to me backstage at the Farm Aid show. I was happy to meet her and hear about the fan club. We are always grateful when the fans of the Farm Aid artists support Farm Aid too!

If you have an idea about how you can raise funds check our our guidelines at the bottom of the page here. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jen hangs out with the Farm Aid Board

Oh no! I’m getting used to dealing with celebrities! Have I been here too long?

On the night before the concert, some of the artists come by the venue for sound checks. Neil always makes an appearance and so does Dave and sometimes John; Willie usually pulls his bus in around 2 am and when you’re on the road as much as he is, I think the sound check is pretty unnecessary! Carolyn, our Executive Director, tries to welcome each of the artists personally at sound check. But this year, just before Dave was due to arrive for his sound check, Carolyn had to leave for a party we were throwing to welcome our sponsors, VIPS, and farmers (well, the VIPS are farmers!) in Philly so she asked me to welcome Dave personally. Sure, I said, no problem.

Now my job at concert time is to handle the logistics so that it all flows smoothly. I’m the contact for all the tour managers, making sure the artists have the equipment they need, hotel rooms, transportation, dressing rooms or spots in the backstage lot for their bus… all that good stuff. I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of girl, and I like it that way. So being asked to greet Dave Matthews personally should have thrown me into a tizzy. Alas, no tizzy… not even sweaty palms and that got me to worrying… have I been at Farm Aid long enough to no longer be dazzled by the stars that make up this organization? Oh no – it couldn’t be. But there I was, politely saying, “Hi Neil… good to see you again,” to Neil Young as we stood in line together for dinner that night as if he and I were old friends. Later it was a big hug for Paul English, the drummer of Willie Nelson and Family. But face to face with Dave Matthews after an amazing solo sound check and not a stammer, stutter, or complete tongue-tie? Even thinking back on it I should have been nervous. I’ve been listening to Dave since my freshman year of college back in 1994 when he started to hit it big.

But I did it. And it wasn’t until later that I realized I wasn’t completely cool… As Dave and I stood backstage, he gestured to me to have a seat on the boxes his gear comes in. Before I even thought about the words forming on my tongue I asked “It’s ok for me to sit on your equipment?” Man, am I lucky that Dave didn’t notice that slip-up! He would have had a field day with that one – he loves to catch people off guard (as anyone who watched our webcast knows!). But on we went to talk about the plan for the press conference that would take place the next day and Dave’s fantastic interview in the Philadelphia Inquirer (If you haven’t read it yet you’ve got to – click here. And in the end, my inclination was right… there’s no need to be star struck by these guys… yeah, they’re amazing and talented and famous… but they’re just like you and me: They just want to do some good in the world. And after four concerts, they’re starting to be just a bit like family to me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ted's bus tour gets stuck in the mud

I’ve written this before: Visiting family farms is one of the coolest parts of my job. So, of course, I found a way to visit a slew of farms the day before this year’s show. Only on this trip, I loaded 50 of my family farm friends on a tour bus and took them with me. It was a good thing too because it’d been raining heavily the night before our trip, and that got us into a sticky jam at our first stop on the tour: Pheasant Hill Farm just outside Emaus (pronounced: ee MAY us) where George and Melanie Devault operate a gorgeous 25-acre organic produce and flower farm.

By the time we arrived at the farm, the weather had cleared, everybody was smiling and folks on the tour were held spellbound by George’s stories about the challenges of earning a living on small acreage. They were enthralled by the technical innovations George and Melanie employ to ensure a long and steady supply of farm fresh produce for the folks who rely on them for sustenance.

Everything was moving right on schedule as we loaded up the bus and prepared to say “So long!” to the Devaults. Then disaster struck. Because of the rain, the ground was saturated. When the big bus tried to turn around in the gravel drive even the expert maneuvering of our bus driver couldn’t save us. We ended up edging off the gravel with the bus fully loaded and sank in the muck. After spinning the wheels and sinking nearly to the axles, we decided it was time to add a bit of family farmer ingenuity to the equation. After all, no farmer anywhere has farmed for long without having to pull a piece of heavy machinery out of a mud hole.

We unloaded the bus, George Devault chained his tractor to the rear bumper, and farmers from Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Iowa, and New Jersey pitched in with advice, shovels, planks, keen eyes and no small measure of muscle. While George pulled, the farmers pushed and in less than a minute, the bus was freed and back on the gravel.

Successfully and expertly extricated from the mire, we rolled on, visiting the Rodale Institute where research into sustainable and organic farming practices has helped inspire several generations of aspiring family farmers. Our final stop was an extraordinary farming experiment being conducted in the city of Philadelphia by Steve and Nicole Shelly on the Somerton Tanks Farm, a half-acre tract that feeds hundreds of local residents.

Thinking back on the trip and the unexpected challenge, I feel great admiration for the farmers on the tour who pitched in, worked together and got the problem solved. It’s the story of farmers everywhere and it is one of the reasons Farm Aid is so pleased to work with and for them in their determination to make sure the family farm remains an essential part of the American landscape.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Wendy Answers the Last Question of the Night

For all of you who asked about re-runs of the Webcast so you could see the interview with Dave Matthews...our plan is to have the Webcast live inside the FarmYard (Farm Aid's member section of the website) by some time next week.

It has been archived and now we just have to get the new pages and player (maybe!) up and ready.

Also, for those of you who worried about the earlier bands not being shown in the Webcast because it started later than the live show- we were able to include a few songs by Danielle Evin, Pauline Reese and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band during set changes.

We also hope to have all the Moments and interviews available in the FarmYard as well. We'll be sure to send out an email to everyone on our e-newsletter list so make sure you are on it.

Thank you for spending time with us this evening and we hope you come back and visit a lot.

Ryan Reaches The End of Another Concert

We always hate it when Willie comes on because we know the end has arrived. But that means I can finally get to the computer to retell what has happened over the last hour or so. I was blocked off during Dave’s. The backstage was cleared out and only a select few were allowed in. I didn't make the cut so I couldn't post.

John likes to have the least amount of people on the stage while getting ready for his performance. That is so smart, he must have seen the chaos during Jerry Lee Lewis’s performance….

During Neil’s set the house stood still, waiting for his arrival on stage. The backstage was hushed and he came through and stood with a warm cup of coffee and then popped on stage with coffee in hadn't still. I took a picture with my cell phone but alas- it didn't make it.

During his performance, Willie and John huddled right where I had been during the Webcast, just soaking up Neil’s songs. The Willie went on stage to duet with Neil.

As the night progressed the stage became less and less clustered in wheeled boxes. By the time Dave came on stage, we had the whole stage-right.

Catering is closed. I am hungry. I have been filling myself with organic goodies, and I am sad that it will be much more difficult to find such treats. But that is our reason for being here. We are here to give more people the opportunity to have family farm fresh goodies available more of the time.

We have talked shop, seen stars, and dished the dirt. It really was fun, interviewing and meeting everyone from the peach queen to Mr Mikey to Govt Mule to Dave himself. Thanks for tuning in and see you next year.