Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What We're Hearing From Farmers

JoelAfter the dust settles on concert season, you’d think Farm Aid might pause in order to take a breath, close the shutters and kick back for a little while. But that’s not how things go, of course. The annual concert generates a huge volume of post-concert calls and emails, and each staff member does his or her best to deal with the overflow during the post-concert after-glow. The 1-800-FARMAID hotline and farmhelp@farmaid.org email is no exception, with calls and emails from struggling family farmers reaching a peak every year before, during and immediately after the concert itself.

Ironically, perhaps, given that some reports are telling us that the farm economy is in good shape and possibly even immune to the recession—oh, really?—this month the hotline has received more calls and emails than any other single month since I began answering it back in 2006. As always, the majority of hotline contacts are family farmers seeking financial help just to stay afloat, as formerly dependable local banks say no to extending formerly routine operating loans, and as the federal Farm Service Agency—the “lender of last resort” for farmers turned away from private lending institutions—struggles to appropriate funds needed to keep up with a flood of farmer inquiries, loan applications and loan rejection appeals.

But hotline calls and emails about financing and credit are really only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a sample of some of the other information folks are seeking from Farm Aid: a group of conventional farmers down South seeks organic conversion assistance in order to supply local schools with high quality food; a Northwest apple grower wants to supplement her income with on-farm educational programming; a Nebraska farmer’s son seeks medical help for his ailing dad; a Kentucky couple fresh out of college asks about new farmer training programs; a ranch widow in Montana seeks dependable hired help; an upstate New York community fights to fend off factory farms; a retiring Midwest corn and soy farmer with no children to inherit the farm seeks a sustainably-minded farmer to take over his farm so it won’t be gobbled up by encroaching suburban development.

With so many calls and emails coming in this month, it is inevitable that some have downright tragic stories to tell. Three contacts this month reported deaths of young people in terrible farm or rural highway accidents. I dedicate this blog posting to the grieving families. On a happier note, this month’s most inspirational hotline story concerns a farm whose silo collapsed—luckily no one was hurt—and the surrounding community came together as one to help (literally) pick up the pieces and restore a measure of order and calm to the farm.

Please, keep those calls and emails coming. We know what’s happening in the fields and urban farms of the country because we hear from you! We do our best to lend a hand to anyone who contacts the hotline. Remember also that our online Farmer Resource Network (FRN) can be readily accessed online. The FRN provides direct contact and services info to over 500 farm support organizations in every state in the union. Please, send us your feedback, suggest new organizations to add to the FRN, or just give us the latest news in your neck of the woods!

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