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.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris

MattFarm Aid has seen countless amazing collaborations by musicians over the last 26 years. Today's Farm Aid Music Monday post features another one, this time from Farm Aid's 20th anniversary concert at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. Here, Farm Aid co-founder and board member Neil Young is joined by fellow co-founder Willie Nelson along with Emmylou Harris for "This Old Guitar" from his 2005 album Prairie Wind:

Also from 2005, is this video looking back at 20 years of Farm Aid:

You can get more of this performance and others from the 2005 concert on DVD: click here. And check out more videos on Farm Aid's YouTube channel.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Farmer Hero Friday: Jeremy Freymoyer of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania

MattToday's Farmer Hero Friday comes to you on the hottest day we've had all summer here in Massachusetts. Extreme heat is affecting much of the rest of the country too, so I've turned my thoughts to dreams of cold, snowy relief. I wanted to look at our profile of fourth-generation farmer Jeremy Freymoyer and the Freymoyer Christmas Tree Farm.

Jereymy Freymoyer

While primarily a farm devoted to growing Christmas trees, Jeremy and his family have diversified the farm far beyond spruces and firs. Currently, there are twelve acres of trees, twenty acres of hay, and some space devoted to small grain production. The hay and grains act as a steady source of income throughout the year, since Christmas trees are the quintessential seasonal crop.

Jeremy also has used some creative solutions toward making the family farm more sustainable. Most recently, using a grant from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), he has started using sheep and goats to graze the weeds and keep the grass trimmed right around the trees.

“It was really a marriage of utility,” Jeremy said. “My neighbor down the road has sheep and goats so we came up with trying to pasture the sheep in the Christmas trees.” When asked if there are any drawbacks, Jeremy laughed; “When they eat the trees!”
Click here to read the rest of our profile of Jeremy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday Starring Willie Nelson & Lukas Nelson

MattToday's Farm Aid Music Monday post features another couple of artists we're excited to see perform again this year at Farm Aid 2011 in Kansas City: Willie Nelson and Lukas Nelson. Willie, of course, has been with Farm Aid since the very beginning 26 years ago. His son Lukas and his band "Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real" has played the last two years. Here you can see Willie and Lukas play a cover version of "Texas Flood" last year in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at Farm Aid 25: Growing Hope for America:

Update: Initially, this post said "Texas Flood" was originally by Stevie Ray Vaughan, but @Trevor_Adams on Twitter corrected me, pointing out that it was originally written and performed by blues musicians Larry Davis and Fenton Robinson. Stevie Ray Vaughan also recorded a version for his debut album with Double Trouble in 1983.

You can see more performances by Willie and Lukas on Farm Aid's YouTube channel.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Join the Farm Aid Team to Raise a Ruckus in KC!

KariRuckus Sports is an obstacle race series, encouraging participants to get down in the dirt and up over walls to challenge themselves, all in the name of fun. Ruckus has named Farm Aid as their official charity partner in Kansas City for their August 6, 2011 race. Ruckus Kansas City will be held at the Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Registrants are encouraged to consider raising funds for Farm Aid with their Ruckus team. The top three fundraising teams will win a pair of VIP tickets to the Farm Aid concert on August 13 at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park!

After completing the challenge, participants are invited to stay and “Raise a Ruckus” – celebrating their success and sharing stories about the obstacles amongst fellow participants or cheering on the top athletes in the Champions Heat while enjoying food, beverages and music. Kids can also compete in the mini-Ruckus, an obstacle course designed for the next generation of Ruckus athletes.

As Farm Aid’s official team captain, I am on the hunt for teammates! I encourage you to submit your ideas on Farm Aid's Facebook page for who you think would make a great team member for us in Kansas City. We are limited to 20 participants for the official 'Farm Aid team', but I hope to see many more of you crawling through the mud with me.

Registration is now open. For a complete breakout of pricing, to see the obstacles and to register for Ruckus Kansas City, click here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Jamey Johnson

MattThis Farm Aid Music Monday highlights Grammy-nominated artist Jamey Johnson. He's played at Farm Aid three times before (2008 in Mansfield, MA, 2009 in St. Louis, MO and 2010 in Milwaukee, WI) and it was announced last week that he'll be joining us in Kansas City for Farm Aid 2011! Here are two performances from Farm Aid 25 last year at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. First up is his cover version of "I Saw the Light" originally by Hank Williams:

And here's "Can't Cash My Checks":

You can see all seven songs Jamey performed last year on Farm Aid's YouTube channel. Farm Aid Members can watch his 2008 and 2009 performances in the FarmYard on our site — click here for more information on becoming a member.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Farmer Hero Friday: Will Allen of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

MattThis Farmer Hero Friday highlights Will Allen, who we interviewed last year. Before farming, Will played professional basketball in Europe. Later, he retired to found Growing Power, which provides education and hands on experience to those who wish to learn about urban farming and also makes farm fresh vegetables and meats available to all Milwaukee residents, regardless of race, income, or address.

Will Allen

At age 28, Will decided to retire from basketball in favor of farming. He returned to the US, and began growing on a small Wisconsin farm owned by his wife’s family. While searching for an urban location to sell his produce in 1993, he came upon a two-acre property in northwest Milwaukee that was owned by the city. “I wanted the land, and I told the city I would use it to teach kids about farming,” he said. He was granted permission to purchase the plot, and he set to work farming in the city.

"Long ago I came to the conclusion that you couldn’t grow food in the soil in the cities, it was too contaminated," so Will came up with an idea that he built his urban farm around: always grow food in new soil. Inspired by what he saw in Europe, Will began experimenting with vermicomposting, using worms to break down vegetable waste in order to create fertile organic soil. He spent five years experimenting with his compost before he was happy with the growing system he created. He is confident in his knowledge and his methods, "If you gave me a handful of worms, and dropped me off anywhere in the world, I could build you a plot as big as you wanted."
Click here to read more about Will.