Many know, at least vaguely, that there’s a connection between the annual Farm Aid benefit concert — launched in Champaign, Ill., in 1985 by Willie Nelson and friends — and helping America’s family farmers. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that Farm Aid connects the dots year-round, locally and nationally, between farmers, groups working to build a healthy and resilient food system and people who eat food.
The annual shindig, this year held Sept. 24 at the Coastal Credit Union Music Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, serves as a launchpad for such connections, with examples and learning opportunities demonstrating what a sustainable food system looks like spread throughout the venue. We caught up with Farm Aid Communications Director Jen Fahy to shine the spotlight on nine of this year’s milestones.
33 Local and National Organizations in the Spotlight
“Bringing in the local organizations is really important, because then festivalgoers have the touchpoint in their own community going forward,” Fahy said. “They may meet an organization that they’ve never known of before, and they can have that relationship in an ongoing way. And it’s great to mix in the national groups that come each year as well, because they’re working in their own communities or nationally on the same issues. And making those connections among the organizations only makes their movement stronger.”
6 Homegrown Skill Demonstrations
“The intent there is to introduce festivalgoers to activities that they can bring home with them. So … the seed-saving people go home with a pocketful of seeds, and hopefully they’re going to plant those and think about their day in a way where the Farm Aid experience lives with them and, hopefully, maybe they’ll continue on in planting seeds and saving seeds,” Fahy said. “It’s really about getting folks in touch with the roots of their food and giving them an experience to make that connection real for them.”
2 On-Site Youthmarkets
“The Youthmarket is a partnership that we have long had with the New York City Green Market,” Fahy said. “They were the ones who developed this concept of bringing youth in to run farmers markets, to teach them the tools of: How do you purchase food from farmers? And then how do you price it fairly? And then how do you sell it at the market?”
Countless Snuggles With Heritage Breed Farm Animals
“We have long been wanting to get animals in the Homegrown Village (an area where festivalgoers learn about agriculture) because it really connects people. Every time I walked through the village, I would look over and see all the crowds around the animals enjoying their presence,” Fahy said. “That was really fun and a big hit for all the festivalgoers.”
7,601 Pounds of Food Donated to Local Food Rescue Organizations
“We worked with a North Carolina group called the Inter-faith Food Shuttle, which was founded by two women of different religious faiths who had lunch together and noticed that the restaurant staff were tossing out food,” Fahy explained. and liberated the food there and then figured out, ‘How can we do this?’ So, they’re dedicated to ending food waste and feeding hungry people.”
“When you are feeding massive amounts of people like we do, it’s really hard to get that number right,” she added. But then we want to make sure that any food that remains after the last set is played on stage goes to a good place where people can appreciate and enjoy it and have good food access.”
60 Menu Items in Homegrown Concessions Sourced From Family Farms Using Sustainable Practices
“We have an incredible team, and they start in the spring each year, and it’s a lot of work,” Fahy said. “We also have been really lucky to have good partners in that work. The concessionaire Legends (Hospitality) is really just committed to doing this, and it’s different than all the other events that they’re working on, and they get really passionate. Now, at each of our Farm Aid festivals, they’re bringing staff from all across the country to be part of it and to see what is possible. So, that’s really what our mission is, to show that this kind of food can be served at all kinds of events. It doesn’t just have to happen at a farm-to-table restaurant, it can happen at your local music festival, too.”
9,842 Pounds of Food Waste and Compostable Products Collected and Composted by Green Team Volunteers
“Having a local partner on the ground who has the facilities and the trucks, and can help us with all that, is absolutely essential,” Fahy said. “Obviously, that changes year to year, who we’re working with.”
Farm Aid worked locally this year with CompostNow, which has been composting for Coastal Credit Union Music Park year-round since the benefit for family farmers last came to town in 2014.
360 Farm Aid Volunteers
“Interestingly, a lot of the volunteers this year came from Raleigh and North Carolina,” Fahy said. “Oftentimes, we have people who are coming from all over the country and want to come to the show. And this is a way for them to both give back to Farm Aid and also enjoy the show. We just had this tremendous turnout from the local community, which was really cool.”
13 Stellar Musical Performances and Surprise Collaborations Enjoyed by 18,349 Festivalgoers
“I think the collaborations that happen are just so much fun for the audience and the artists, because they happen very spontaneously on-site at Farm Aid,” Fahy said. “Artists don’t have rehearsals for Farm Aid, so a lot of the collaborations happen as a result of the artists being backstage together, and they say, ‘Hey, would you want to come on and do this one with me?” And then they do a quick little run through, maybe in the dressing rooms or backstage, and then they go on stage and it happens.
“This year… Margo Price and her keyboard player paid tribute to Bobbie Nelson (Willie Nelson’s older passed sister and keyboardist, who away in March) beautifully by playing the gospel tune she always played when she was touring with Willie.
“And then there was the amazing collaboration of all the women of Farm Aid, which was really special and, really, curated by Allison Russell. Those are the really unique moments that make Farm Aid unique and special year to year.”
Learn more at farmaid.org.