Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Glenda explains Farm Aid’s concert sponsorship philosophy

GlendaAs we prepare for our annual concert, we often get questions about how and why we work with our sponsors. I'm eager to hear people's questions and opinions about sponsors because it means that people are passionately engaged in the Good Food Movement, and that enthusiasm and interest in engaging in conversation is key to long-term system change.

First, thanks to the sponsors our concert costs are underwritten so that we can put more money directly towards our work with family farmers. We are pleased to give sponsors recognition in exchange for the support they give to the cause.

The mission of Farm Aid is to support family farmers. One of the ways we work toward that mission is by promoting food from family farmers. We know that when more and more consumers purchase local, organic, or humanely-raised food, farmers are more likely to receive the financial rewards they deserve. That mission drives our general sponsorship philosophy.

Many of our sponsors are food-related, although not all of them. Our food sponsors have given us the added opportunity to inform people about organics, family farmers and growing methods, and to have farmers who grow for those companies attend the concert.

Family farmers need markets and companies to buy their sustainably raised food. And it's crucial that sustainable farmers have ways to get their food to the broadest possible public. Companies like Horizon Organic, SILK, Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley Family of Farms, and other food sponsors who have been long-time supporters of Farm Aid, are making a contribution to the Good Food Movement. These are brands that can help us find family-farmed foods where we shop. We are proud to receive support from companies like these.

Farm Aid associates with food sponsors who pay family farmers a fair price, have an ecological standard for farming practices and make their commitment to sustainable and family farming known to their customers. The chemical-intensive, industrial food system has been—and continues to be—challenged and changed thanks in part to companies like these.

It's a challenge to exactly identify family farm food unless you buy 100% direct, and of course that's not practical for most. But through labels (certified organic being the best defined) and brands, consumers can begin to find food from family farmers who grow in sustainable ways. The marketplace is full of labels, and they convey different values and growing practices. There isn't any one perfect label or brand, but we think that many of them help us move our food system forward, because they increase transparency about our food—who grew it, and how it was grown.

That being said, all organizations and companies must strive to be better. Our food system is only at the beginning of a profound change, and Farm Aid is all about helping it move forward. The change does not happen evenly or perfectly across all sectors for all farmers, of course. We must support rigorous organic enforcement and increased transparency across the board. When assessing potential sponsors, we look for a solid contribution to family farm agriculture—are these companies opening markets to family farmers and working to put more family farmers on the land?

This philosophy also guides our initial acceptance and constant monitoring of our sponsor relationships. Farm Aid has rejected many offers from potential sponsors that did not fit with our mission. We have also ended relationships with previous sponsors who no longer matched our philosophy. We want sponsors who will help us further our mission of promoting family farmers and the Good Food Movement.

If you have any suggestions of sponsors you'd like to see supporting Farm Aid, or if you have any questions, please contact me.


  1. Anonymous12:55 AM

    What do you think of the Cornucopia Institute's Reports and Scorecards on Organic Dairies and Soy Product producers? Both Horizon and SILK got very low ratings. According to the reports, SILK has begun sourcing soybeans from China because they are cheaper. They are also now using non-organic soybeans, which are even cheaper still. They have not changed their pricing to reflect the lower cost, nor have they changed their packaging or UPC codes. They did this without notifying their customers or distributors. Then, they realeased a new organic product with a new UPC code at a higher price. Horizon "Organic" Dairy may be using organic feed and no growth hormones, but they are still running CAFO's and undercutting the family farmers prices. How is this sponsorship consistent with Farm Aid's mission?

  2. Thanks for your further questions. We sincerely welcome your thoughts!

    Regarding SILK: The purchase of both Brazilian and Chinese organic beans happened a few years ago, in order to supplement a lack of supply in US organic beans. Currently their conventional (non-gmo) beans come from the US and their organic beans come from the US.

    Regarding Horizon Organic: 90% of the milk comes from contracts with 485 family farmers. I can't really give an opinion about how that 10/90 split translates to price issues, but their organic farmers are offered a long-term stable contract for their milk. Horizon Organic joined the consensus on organic pasturing and lobbied for the pasture rule (120 days, etc.). We trust that they are in compliance, and if so they are not a CAFO by definition.

    The difficult economy is creating a terrible dilemma for all of the organic companies who for so long had to ramp up production as much as possible to meet ever-increasing demand and now have to do the opposite, adjusting their supply to the decrease in demand as people struggle with their bills and the demand for organic foods decreases.

    This downturn is forcing many companies to scale back production, which hits their farmer producers hard—but companies are trying to meet the changing market conditions while doing as little harm to their farmers as possible. Especially at this time we need to do our very best to support family farmers and to purchase from the many companies that use their products. For those who are able, we've got to keep up the demand for organic foods, and therefore, the incentive for companies to sell organic food and farmers to grow it.

    In terms of the big picture, Farm Aid works for the day when organic food has the same economic playing field as food raised through chemical-intensive industrial methods, shipped from far away and subsidized with public money. This is a matter of policy and political will, and the job of the Good Food Movement. When we have a system that protects the farmers, the land, the soil, the water, the workers (everything we need for a future of food!) then we will have the best food at the best price so that we all have access to healthy food from sustainable family farms.

    A floor price for conventional dairies who are truly in full-blown crisis will help organic dairy farmers by leveling the prices a bit. Farm Aid is working diligently on increasing a floor price for milk.

  3. Horizon is owned by Dean Foods, which is about to get slammed in an anti-trust suit that was shelved under Bush administration. Their sponsorship of Farm Aid is pure hypocrisy. I respect this organization for its support of family farms, but you all really need to be more careful about who you get in bed with.

  4. Anonymous1:11 PM

    Milk prices paid to farmers is horrific but the price on the shelf hasn't dropped. Is Dean taking a hit? No, there profits are at all time highs. Dean wants to put the local guys out of business and buy from themselves. Hopefully Obama can dig up what Bush covered up and enact some anti-trust violations. Dean only wants to make more money, period. They could give a shit about anything else.