Tuesday, July 09, 2013

My Departure from Farm Aid (sort of)

ToniAs I began my co-op search, my advisor didn't give me much choice in the matter. Though I had never heard of Farm Aid at the time, she drilled it into my mind that it was where I belonged as a farm girl and music junkie at heart. It took but one glance at Farm Aid's website before I knew she was right, but I didn't anticipate what the experience would come to mean to me.

I've always held a deep and unwavering appreciation for the beauty behind farming. I grew up like any other farm kid: running around the cows in the fields, playing hide-and-go-seek in the hay mills surrounded by my family, trouncing through creeks encouraged to harness my imagination in the muddy woods, riding the tractor to hunt for the perfect Christmas tree to chop from our land, and climbing to the top of the hill consumed by golden fields to watch the sun setting over the sea of red barns and green crops below.

Growing up and moving to Boston to pursue my dream of becoming a music journalist, I was trapped in that childhood innocence. I became so far removed from the rural community that I never took a step back to see the challenges that family farmers face everyday. At least, that is, until I was swept up into the whirlwind that is Farm Aid.

I came in on my first day thinking more about the glamorous board of directors I work under, the scooters sprinkled around the office and the occasional dog or two I'd get to play with. I thought I would focus mostly on my writing and indifferently take on the other projects my coworkers gave to me. Six months later, I've tasted the Kool Aid, and I could not possibly have fathomed how much I would discover about Farm Aid, farming and even myself.

The staff at Farm Aid is like no other, led by the most fearlessly frazzled executive director who both motivates and pushes every single person in the office to do anything we can to further our cause. It is her selflessness and drive that changed this experience for me from a job to something I am excited about every morning I come to work. Each person in the office was warm and welcoming, but I was mostly struck by the fierce work ethic and true resolve to transform the world of agriculture. Soon this opened my eyes to the facts: farming encompasses and impacts everyone, farmers and eaters alike.

The first thing I learned when I came to the office was how to retrieve messages from the phones—basic enough task, right? There was one message on the phone from our farmer hotline, and I don't think I'll ever shake the voice from my head. The call was from Loretta Tonoian, an 83-year-old Alaskan hog farmer just 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. She said the temperature was 40-below for two weeks and, with little concern for her own well being, her hogs were nearly about to run out of feed and die. The complete panic and need to feed her animals hit me with intense intimidation, but I seemed to be the only one.

Our farmer advocate, Joel, swiftly took action and before long Loretta was delivered 20 bags of ground barley and 10 bales of straw by Yukon John, a longtime Farm Aid concert attendee and supporter. Well, needless to say that same day my intimidation melted to inspiration as I realized for the first time that this organization is so much more than just a concert. This is a cause worth fighting for, and I get this chance to be a part of that fight.

As I continued my work here, my desire to help only grew. Through various projects I watched countless interviews from Willie, Neil, John and Dave only to be struck by the selfless determination they have for Farm Aid's mission. It's nearly ingrained into their DNA, a vision that comes naturally as an opportunity, not a burden. It's that vision that we all chase everyday in the office, enticing us all through pressing deadlines and hectic schedules.

And so I continued my work, no longer inhabited with indifference, but instead with a fury to learn, to work and to help. Whether it was converting concert footage to upload to our YouTube page or interviewing Farmer Heroes making tremendous and innovative strides in the field, I knew everyday I wanted to commit myself to adding any piece to the puzzle I could, any little tidbit that might make a difference to someone out there.

As co-ops are only six months long, my full-time days here are over and the next co-op student has taken over my role. I hear my friends discussing their excitement at the prospect of ending our full time work life, and I can't help but not understand. I've cherished every day here, and cannot be more excited to move into a part-time role here (while I go back to classes) in the coming months, leading up to the concert, which happens to be near where I grew up!

When I came here, I thought I would work through the months building a portfolio, finish my classes and begin my career as a music journalist working for some magazine or website. Now, I can honestly say I have no idea what I want to do. Maybe I'll revert back to my high school dream of moving to Argentina to teach sustainable farming practices. Maybe I'll join an environmental news source like Grist. Maybe I will find myself somewhere in the music industry after all. My future is a mystery, but the only thing I know for certain is I find myself gearing up to transition into the next part of both my job and my life with newfound inspiration to change the world in my own little way. Thank you Farm Aid.

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