In regard to the struggle of American family farmers, Willie Nelson has always said, “If you eat, you’re involved.” Similarly, the Agricultural Hall of Fame finds its foundation in the idea that “Agriculture touches the lives of every living person.” So it came as little surprise when the institution announced on July 21st that Willie would be inducted as the latest outstanding contributor to the success of American agriculture.
The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame was issued a rare federal charter by the act of the 86th Congress to serve as the national museum of agriculture and to honor the American farmer. Given Willie’s commitment to family farmers, it makes perfect sense that Willie is part of that legacy! His induction ceremony will be held on August 13th in Kansas City, Kansas, before the start of Farm Aid 2011, the annual Farm Aid concert and the centerpiece of Willie’s approach to saving small American farms.
Willie grew up in Abbott, Texas, where he picked cotton and corn, baled hay, and gained respect and admiration for family farmers and the value of hard work. Willie founded Farm Aid on those principles in 1985, pledging to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farmers on their land. Over the past 26 years, Farm Aid has raised more than $39 million to promote family farm agriculture. Beyond raising money, Willie has also put the family farmer center stage, raising awareness about the crucial need to have family farmers on the land, for good food, our health and a strong economy. By strengthening the voices of family farmers, Willie and Farm Aid ensure that they will continue to thrive and nourish our country for years to come.
Upon being inducted into the Agricultural Hall of Fame, Willie will join the ranks of several household names in addition to a number of understated agricultural pioneers. George Washington was inducted for his innovations in fertilization and soil erosion prevention on his 12,000-acre plantation, Mount Vernon. Abraham Lincoln enacted legislation that allocated land for the establishment of agricultural colleges and homesteading communities that would help to settle the nation. John Deere was inducted for his role in developing a durable steel plow that could turn the tough soils of the Midwest, and Eli Whitney for his invention of the cotton gin. Squanto was another inductee, honored for helping the starving Pilgrims to survive by teaching them to fish and plant corn using fish as fertilizer.
Perhaps less familiar figures, Arthur Capper and Andrew Volstead were both inducted in 1984 for their sponsorship of the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922. The Act guaranteed the rights of farmers to organize and operate cooperatives without fear of governmental anti-trust backlash. Luther Burbank is another highly influential inductee, as he developed over 800 plant hybrids and crossbreeds, giving us delicious varieties of peaches, plums, and blackberries.
All of us staff here at Farm Aid are so happy that Willie has been recognized with this award. It couldn’t have happened to a more vocal, committed supporter of family farmers (though, of course we’d love to see John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews inducted next!).