Farm Aid: Jamming for Sustainable Farming.

Photo by Dena Flows |

Many have us have heard of Live Aid, a benefit concert that has raised millions of dollars for relief efforts abroad. But I bet fewer have heard of Farm Aid, a similar concert that raises funds for family farmers.

In 1985, at a Live Aid concert, Bob Dylan made a remark about how perhaps some of the funds meant to be used abroad raised could be used to help family farmers in America. This provided all the incentive the rockstars needed to hold the first Farm Aid concert that same year on September 22nd. Legendary musicians Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and our own Canadian Neil Young were the first to organize the concert, with Dave Matthews joining the Board of Directors in 2001. Farm Aid has raised over $37 million USD to promote, protect, and advocate for a strong family farming system in America.

Farming, at the heart of our agriculture sector, should be of interest to anyone is concerned about the environment. Who better to be at the forefront of environmental decision-making than those who turn the soil and plant crops over thousands of acres every day? Farm Aid funds help to promote good family farming, and advocate for family farmers facing crises such as losing their land. These funds are also used to ease any economic burdens on farmers during the transition to more sustainable farming practices. Farm Aid also works alongside family farmers to speak out against factory farms, which pose a serious threat to natural resources through the overproduction of livestock.

Similar to this, they also help advocate against the use of antibiotics in agriculture, which many of us know is making livestock sick and is thought to be contributing to the spread of dangerous antibiotic resistant bacterial strains. As well, Farm Aid works with family farmers to inform them and keep them up to date on issues such as genetically modified foods and growth hormones. This year, funds were granted to assist beginning and transitioning organic farmers. 

If we as consumers want sustainable farming practices to be implemented, we have to financially assist family farmers who use these techniques. If we want farmers to be educated about antibiotic resistance and genetically modified foods, we can help by providing the funds to support education programs. Last year’s concert took place on October 2nd, 2010 in Milwaukee, and included performances from artsists such as Neil Young, Norah Jones, Jason Mraz, Robert Francis and Jeff Tweedy. Farm Aid partnered with White Oak Farm to help concertgoers understand the difference between trash, plastics, recycleables, and compostables, and to turn all compostable waste from the concert into Purple Cow Organics Activated Compost with Micro Life. 

As I head off to a Neil Yound tribute concert this Saturday, I will be thanking him not only for his amazing contribution to quality Canadian music, but also his dedicated work towards helping family farmers transition to more environmentally friendly policies. I hope that we can expand Farm Aid into the size of its sibling concert, Live Aid, in order to help farmers transition to sustainable policies around the world.