The 31st Farm Aid benefit concert opened with a press conference made up of individuals from a number of different areas. Notably, the performers – Willie Nelson, Sturgill Simpson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Lukas Nelson, Jamey Johnson, John Mellencamp – joined farmers, activists, and Farm Aid representatives on stage to tell their stories and announce why the concert was being held and the types of projects and results the organization has seen in the past and hopes to see in the future.
The press conference began with words from Dorothy McAuliffe, the first lady of Virginia. When Willie Nelson was asked about the 31st hallmark of what should never have been necessary in the first place, Nelson characteristically responded with a short and chill line: “We’re glad to be anywhere thirty one times.”
John Mellencamp took the mic as well and stated that he is constantly surprised when he tells people he is off to go do the Farm Aid concert and is asked “You guys still doin’ that?” He says he always responds with a question: “You guys still eatin’?”
But it was Neil Young who stole the show at the conference. Young did not simply make a few comments and pass the mic, he addressed the corporate control over food and the recent merger between Bayer and Monsanto. He also sharply criticized Barack Obama.
We have just begun. This is a revolution. And we will look back on this one way or the other in ten or fifteen years and see what folks like this are doing. We recently have seen giant corporations that are selling for billions and billions of dollars that are joining together and we heard just a few minutes ago about how somebody was eating bad food and got sick and had to take a lot of drugs and now they are eating good food and are starting to not take so many drugs. And you have to notice that one of the biggest drug companies on the planet and one of the largest pesticide providers on the planet, Monsanto and Bayer, have just joined together. And if our government lets them do this and we can’t stop it with the regulatory laws then we’re going to have them working together. And this is what you’re up against. This is a huge thing. That’s why you really are heroes. Because these are huge corporations and they don’t want you to give your food to the people. They want to give you their seeds and they want to control you. And they want to sell the food that has been degraded. And they want to sell it – and drugs – at the prices that allow these giant corporations to support each other. It’s so big that you can hardly see it. People don’t really believe that this is really happening. But it is happening and our politicians and our government, especially our president, is behind it. And it is something that needs to be addressed at our level where people can do things for themselves, where people take back their own rights. You have a right to the land. You can grow your own food.
There’s another video coming up with someone in it who is so happy just to be growing food in their neighborhood. And it’s a beautiful thing. These people are empowered because they’ve made it possible to feed their own families with food that they grew like their grandma’s did. And we can’t lose that. This is the critical part. These are revolutionaries, these people. This is a huge thing. It’s just starting to take hold. So, you know, try to make sure when you buy your food you’re supporting these kind of people, that you’re not buying from the corporations, that you’re not buying these huge loads of food that come in from God knows where in giant metal boxes and everything. Do not do that if you can figure out how to stop it. Support your friends and support the land and support the people that want to care for the land. The revolution starts with us. It starts with you and it starts with people like this.
Later, when on stage toward the end of the concert, Young reiterated similar sentiment stating that we are witnessing a revolution brewing. Before beginning “Harvest Moon,” Young pointed out a shirt in the audience, saying “I like that shirt. That shirt says ‘Fuck Monsanto! Fuck it.”
The press conference also heard from a number of farmers, co-op owners and food facilitators. Robin Robbins, Roger Garrett, and Cindy Laws of Appalachian Food spoke about the challenges rural Appalachia and the ways they are revolutionizing not only the food supply but the economy by cooperation and growing their own food.
Dr. Miranda Trent and Jackie Martin spoke about the epidemic of health problems such as obesity (as well as many others) in minority communities and how many of these health issues were related to eating habits. Dr. Trent has used diet to control, reverse, or cure many of these health issues. One patient, Ronnette Hill, is a perfect example. Ronnette came to Dr. Trent in ill health and taking nine different medications. After a short time of changing her diet, she was down to six medications. Today, she is on zero medications. Another one of Dr. Trent’s patients lost 138 lbs. while another was cured of diabetes. All these changes were related to dietary changes.
One grower was known by the name of Ms. Mary, (Ms. Mary Morgan) of the Washington, D.C. inner city. Ms. Mary is using her small yard as a de facto community garden not only for the benefit of the health of herself and her community but also as the epicenter of community pride and a beacon of cooperation. Together with Summayah Muhammad, Bo Morgan, Mushin Boeluther Umar and Xavier Brown, Ms. Mary is providing an oasis in the middle of the urban D.C. wasteland. Ms. Mary is confined to a wheel chair but she still tends to her garden every day by way of a special path constructed for her. They plan to soon make her garden more accessible by chair so that others who are wheelchair bound can help tend to the garden as well. During this segment of the conference, Brown pointed out that, in urban areas, it is extremely difficult to produce local food yourself and that difficulty is compounded by the fact that developer who want to see a condo built on every corner and who view every green space as wasted space.
John Mellencamp discussed the gradual decline of American agriculture and how gradual changes are so dangerous since people don’t tend to recognize them as they are happening. He told the story of how, in his twenties, he began to notice the disappearance of family farms, business, and towns but didn’t know why it was happening. After talking with Willie Nelson, Willie told him to follow the family farms and he would find out where everything else went.
Jamey Johnson pointed out another more insidious feature of the recent Bayer/Monsanto merger when he said that the better his quality of food, the less he has to rely on Bayer for drugs to counter the illnesses he contracts after a poor diet. Dave Matthews said something similar when he said that Monsanto wanted to poison the food supply and the environment because the bottom line is all that matters to these corporations. They will make more money by doing this, Matthews said, and, when sickness becomes a way of life, they stand to gain even more money.
Sturgill Simpson, when he was asked why he chose to take part in Farm Aid, stated “I’m not going to sit up here and pretend to be an expert on farming but I do know what it’s like to be part of a community where families are wondering how they are going to make ends meet.”
While the event was a mixture of optimism for a growing revolution and a recognition of just how big this attack on the American food supply is, the Executive Director of Farm Aid announced that the organization has witnessed a 106% increase in distress calls by farmers over this past summer. She then went on to read Farm Aid’s official statement calling for farmers to be given a fair price for their products.
Aside from a number of organizations, demonstrations, educational talks, and vendors outside the actual amphitheater that ranged from anti-GMO groups, environmental organizations, and farming institutions, the event contained hours of eclectic and powerful performances from the likes of Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Sturgill Simpson, Dave Matthews, Neil Young with Promise of the Real, and Willie Nelson.