Saturday, August 13, 2011

Out on the Plaza & Homegrown Village Fun!

Lauren“My name is Neil Young and I want a Fair Farm Bill because real money should go to real farmers.” Neil Young struck a pose with the message he wrote for Food and Water Watch’s photo petition in the HOMEGROWN Village today, creating quite a stir on the plaza. The village has been bustling all day with organizations presenting interactive games and activities on food and farm issues.

Susan Marshall of the Harvesters Community Food Network based in Kansas City, Mo. said, “This is the most impressive food-related display I’ve ever seen, and I work at a lot of non-profit events. There’s so much great information here.”

The Harvesters is a network of food banks that collects food and related household products and distributes them to more than 66,000 individuals nationwide each week. In their activity, “The Hunger Game,” each participant was given a profile of a real person living in a state of food insecurity. They then received cards outlining events that further jeopardize their food security such as not making it to the food bank in time or having to pay an unexpected bill in place of groceries.

The Kansas Farmer’s Union focused their activity on the financial difficulties of a different sector of the food chain: the farmers. They displayed the retail prices of common food items like a loaf of bread or a dozen eggs and asked participants to guess how much profit the farmer makes from each of the items. People were shocked to find out that of the $3.89 they pay for a loaf of bread, the farmer only receives $0.19. As the game shows, farmers are really struggling to turn a profit because large corporations control the prices.

The HOMEGROWN tent was another hopping place to be today, with demonstrations on how to make your own baby food, composting and canning. When I walked by there was purple cabbage flying through the air as Nate Poell showed off his expert sauerkraut-making skills. Rebecca Pidgeon and Jason Mraz also stopped by to talk about their take on good farming, good food, and good music.

One woman lounging on some hay bales in the shade told me she was having a blast at her first Farm Aid concert and she hadn’t even heard any music yet. She said, “I’m so impressed at how well-organized everything is out here (in the Homegrown Village). I love how laid-back everything is.”

While exploring the village, I saw a bunch of concertgoers strolling around while gnawing on roasted corn and munching on apples. Naturally I followed the trail of people to the source: the Farm Aid Youthmarket Farm Stand! Teens from GrowNYC were selling the snacks and the line was keeping them busy all afternoon.

My attention was also drawn to some photos hung around the New Roots for Refugees booth, and I stopped in to find out more. The beautiful photographs were of refugees who have been permanently relocated to the United States after fleeing conflict in their home country. They work on a training farm as part of a 4-year program involving weekly workshops on farming and English classes. As time goes on, the refugees must become more and more self-sufficient, buying their own seeds and funding their own transportation to the farm. At the end of the program New Root helps them find their own land to farm, sending them off with confidence to start a new and successful life.

I also ran into Jerry Vogler, an organic cotton farmer who grows for Anvil, the maker of this year’s Farm Aid t-shirts! He has a 750-acre operation in Texas and has been certified organic for 19 years. Forty percent of his cotton goes to Anvil, and he says they just can’t get enough. Anvil’s goal is to double cotton production in the United States, but Jerry says it’s been tough trying to find new farmers to take on the challenge. For a lot of farmers, going through the process to become certified organic is just too daunting—especially in today’s unpredictable farming industry.

Talking to Jerry about the troubles of cotton farmers prompted me to check out the progress of Farm Aid’s “Turnip the Heat” booth. Tons of people signed on to notify the government that family farmers and concerned consumers won’t be ignored. Great job Farm Aid-ers!

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