Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In the Thick of Concert Season at Farm Aid!

LaurenWith the Kansas City concert less than a month away, you might expect the Farm Aid staff to be a bunch of heavily caffeinated, sleep-deprived zombies wielding forkfuls of organic arugula. And while there have been conversations that suggest heightened stress levels (“I had my first concert nightmare last night!”), details are slowly falling into place—no doubt with the help of ice cream breaks and laps around the office on either of the two resident Razor scooters.

So what exactly is everyone up to at the Farm Aid office? In short, A LOT. When anybody here mentions “the concert,” what they’re really referring to is five days jam-packed with events that culminate in the music portion featuring our four board members: Willie, John, Neil and Dave, and all the additional artists donating their time and talent for family farmers. The concert isn’t just about raising money, it’s also about informing people about good food and good farming. And every year the Farm Aid staff is adapting more and more of the concert experience into opportunities to keep the public in the know about this range of issues and to mobilize them to find solutions.

Our hotline operator, Joel Morton, is working with the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA to host a Farm Advocates meeting on the Thursday and Friday before the concert. The gathering will allow attendees to share their experiences as farm advocates—folks who work on behalf of farmers to ensure they grow and thrive—and discuss new developments in agricultural credit and finance. The goal of the meeting is to synchronize a network of Farm Advocates nationwide and lay the groundwork for future support, training and coordination of activists.

We’ve also been working on a way for everyone to be an activist. On top of posting all of the latest concert updates, our web marketing manager, Matt Glidden, has made it possible for you to visit our website and contact your senator about helping protect farmers and ranchers from corporate control. He’s also setting up a text-to-donate campaign so Farm Aid supporters can donate $10 to Farm Aid just by hitting “send.”

Several members of the Farm Aid staff have been working out the details for this year’s HOMEGROWN Village, which will be humming with activity on Friday night as well as on Saturday during the concert. About 40 organizations will have activity booths where you can test your luck playing the Game of Farm Life or try out corn grinding. Our HOMEGROWN.org team will also have demonstrations on beekeeping, canning, composting and seed saving. Friday night will also include some local flair with a farmers market and live bands!

On both Friday and Saturday, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park will feature HOMEGROWN® Concessions, delicious food sourced from family farms. Glenda Yoder and our culinary director, Sonya Dagovitz, have been working with the chefs at LIVESTRONG to reimagine their regular menu sourced from local, organic, sustainable and family farm-identified sources. As you might imagine, it takes an enormous amount of planning to orchestrate the collection and preparation of enough local food to feed a whole Farm Aid crowd! Tent rentals, electricity, waterline connections, deliveries, banners— so many details without even throwing the concert into the mix!

On Saturday before the concert begins, there’s also the press event where the Farm Aid board members and local farmers and farm and food activists will speak out about the issues family farmers face today, what needs to change, and how to make those changes happen. Then we arrive at the concert, the biggest logistical maze of all. The Farm Aid Office has been a constant flurry of meetings, phone calls and emails to work out all those nitty-gritty details. Everyone here seems to have the shrewd ability to disappear, resolve a crisis, stir-fry some zucchini and return to their office before you even notice they’re gone. Like superheroes. Farm superheroes.

With all of the staff’s hard work, there’s a lot to be excited about regarding this year’s concert. There’s a great lineup, we’ll be auctioning off opportunities to get right up close to the stage, there will be a video backdrop for the first time, and we’ve got great new Farm Aid merchandise (including shirts made with Texas cotton produced by farmers transitioning to organic farming!). Essentially everything you see, hear, touch or eat at the concert will be part of what it is to be a part of Farm Aid! And we’re so glad you’ll be a part of all of it.

I’ve only been at Farm Aid for a few weeks so far, and I have been in almost constant disbelief at how much work it is to coordinate an event like this. As I was asking everyone in the office what they’ve been working on, my guilt for taking up their time grew exponentially as they spouted off tasks from their to-do lists: flights, housing, media, production, volunteers, artists, consultants, sponsorship, van rentals, tickets, merchandise, trash removal, catering, dressing rooms, sound equipment, credentials, advertising, lighting—just to name a few. And with all of this going on, there’s already talk about where we’ll be holding the concert next year!

It will be remarkable to see all of the activity in the Farm Aid office translate into one amazing concert weekend, and I have no doubt that it will happen. At a recent staff meeting our communications director, Jennifer Fahy, sported a pink tool belt that apparently most of the staff use to lug around anything and everything they might need on concert day (radio, pad of paper, pen, cell phone, bottle of water to counteract the heat, etc., etc.!). And I can’t help but think that it would be an essential component of a farm superhero’s costume.

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