Annual Report

Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and Margo Price host an annual festival to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose food from family farms. Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised more than $64 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

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Farm Aid Activities for 2021

The following Farm Aid programs accomplished our mission in 2021:

Promoting Food from Family Farms

The heart of Farm Aid’s work to promote food from family farms is our annual Farm Aid festival, which returned live and in-person following a virtual event in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. Farm Aid 2021 was held at XFINITY Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, on September 25. A crowd of 15,000 (with ticket buyers representing all 50 states and three Canadian provinces) enjoyed performances by Farm Aid Board members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds, and Margo Price. Additional artists included Tyler Childers, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Bettye LaVette, Jamey Johnson, Allison Russell, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Particle Kid, Ian Mellencamp, the Horse Hill Singers and the Wisdom Indian Dancers. All the artists generously donated their time and travel expenses.

On September 25 at Farm Aid 2021:

  • In Farm Aid’s HOMEGROWN Village, 22 farm and food groups engaged festivalgoers in hands-on, interactive activities about family farmers, soil, water and food In the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent, festivalgoers took part in workshops about mushroom and plant foraging, making natural dyes, and lacto-fermentation. On the Farmyard Stage, farmers, activists and artists came together in conversation about the state of American agriculture, the challenges and opportunities of Black, Indigenous and People of Color farmers, and agriculture’s connection to climate. Engaging people in a hands-on way in the HOMEGROWN Village and on the Farmyard Stage fosters deep awareness of key food and farm issues.
  • Farm Aidpartnered with Legends Hospitality to serve HOMEGROWN Concessions®: family farm-sourced food grown and raised with ecological standards and a fair price paid to HOMEGROWN Concessions® builds a strong relationship with farmers, food companies, ethnically diverse food vendors and sponsors. Menu items featured many local vegetable items, including roasted Brussels sprouts and corn on the cob. Hot dogs and sausages came from locally raised livestock, processed at a nearby plant. An abundance of cheeses and ice cream were sourced from local dairies. Fish and oysters were fresh from New England waters.
  • Many food companies and sponsors donated food for HOMEGROWN Catering backstage and in VIP Chefs volunteered to serve their specialties for guests.
  • The HOMEGROWN Youthmarket, a farm fresh stand operated by young people from the Grange, 4-H and New Britain Roots, sold a variety of apples and fruit juices to festivalgoers.
  • 8,400 pounds of food and serviceware waste was collected by Blue Earth Compost to build soil for future Volunteers helped festivalgoers differentiate between landfill-bound trash, recyclables and compostables. Farm Aid sold our reusable water bottles to reduce waste and aluminum water bottles were sold at stands as well, with free water for refills. Festival t-shirts, made with certified organic cotton were sold, and overall merchandise sales broke previous Farm Aid per-head records.
  • Farm Aid partnered with Connecticut Food Bank and other local food rescue organizations for donation of grocery items and usable food remaining after the event.
  • Corporate sponsors included DISH Network, Butcher Box, Tractor Supply Foundation, Porter-Cable, Lundberg Family Farms, Spindrift, WhistlePig Whiskey and McManis Family Vineyards.
  • Farm Aid 2021 generated several major donations as well as individual gifts.

Farm Aid 2021 emphasized the diversity of farmers and ranchers in New England and across the nation. Over the summer, Farm Aid staff visited farmers on farms across New England to film video spots that bring farmer voices to the Farm Aid stage, TV and web broadcasts, our website and social media. Farm Aid intentionally shared only stories of farmers of color in 2021, as these voices and faces are often ignored or not seen in national media. These included an organic dairy farmer in Vermont; community organizers and youth growing food in urban Springfield, Massachusetts; a young farmer couple who moved from New York City to Connecticut to follow their farm dreams; a Cambodian refugee farming organically in Connecticut raising crops native to Asia and the Caribbean; Somali immigrant farmers taking care of the land and feeding their communities in Maine; an Indigenous Mexican farmer growing food for her central Massachusetts community and teaching other farmers how to grow; and an African immigrant farmer in New York State who transitioned his own farm to a community farm that grows new farmers as well as new local markets.

Farm Aid 2021 received significant local and regional media coverage, as well as national attention, including from the Hartford Courant, Rolling Stone and Billboard. Coverage resulted in 781 print, online and broadcast media hits and more than 2 million media impressions. Feature stories promoted the entertainment value of the festival, as well as the diversity of farmers and importance of family farm agriculture for all of us.

Farm Aid 2021 was broadcast live on Circle TV, a new music-centric network, for the first time with Farm Aid’s farmer stories and a call-to-action for donations and merchandise sales. Sirius XM satellite radio broadcast the entire concert live, with artists, family farmers and advocates interviewed between music sets. The festival was webcast live on farmaid.org and Farm Aid’s YouTube channel, with 60,000 views and an average of 35 minutes watch time, and additionally on DISH Network and on Circle’s Facebook page with more than 180,000 views.

The Farm Aid 2021 app for iPhone and Android provided details including the music lineup, stories about featured farmers, information about exhibits in the HOMEGROWN Village and the organizations presenting them, and the menu for HOMEGROWN Concessions®. The Farm Aid 2021 app was downloaded by 12,207 people who logged 80,844 sessions totaling 740,000 screen views.

Farm Aid’s social media presence allowed people to share how they support family farmers and Farm Aid, reaching more than 16 million people on Twitter, and millions more on Facebook and Instagram, during the period between announcement and festival day.

Our Online Community

Farm Aid’s website informs and inspires the public through storytelling about America’s innovative family farmers, the challenges they face and the solutions they hold. In addition, it offers resources directly to farmers and shows readers how they can support family farmers every day in their own lives. FarmAid.org offers timely news and opportunities to engage in food and farm issues. In 2021, there were 1,276,220 pages viewed on www.farmaid.org in 669,585 visits by 482,666 visitors.

Farm Aid communicated with its audience of more than 83,609 email subscribers and reached millions of people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. The number of followers on these networks grew by thousands this year to more than 148,000 followers on Facebook, 37,000 on Twitter, 38,000 on Instagram, and 523,000 on YouTube. Farm Aid’s YouTube channel features more than 2,580 videos, with nearly 396,395,800 lifetime views.

Growing the Good Food Movement

In 2021, Farm Aid and our partners continued to implement strategies that bolster the Good Food Movement—the growing number of eaters demanding family farm-identified, local, organic or humanely raised food. Farm Aid awarded grants in the amount of $122,000 to organizations that strengthen infrastructure for local and regional food systems and raise awareness of their value. These grants support work to create new markets for farmers and enhance access to good food for everyone, regardless of race, color, national origin or zip code.

Helping Farmers Thrive

In 2021, farmers continued to struggle with the impact of the COVID pandemic, in addition to the traditional challenges that family farmers face including competing in an ever-consolidating market that favors corporations; weather, including extreme weather and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change; rising input costs; market changes and the difficulty in earning a fair price. The strain in the farm economy is no accident; it’s the result of policies designed to enrich corporations at the expense of farmers and ranchers. In response, Farm Aid continued to expand our direct farmer response and increased our advocacy of solutions to farm policy that needs a massive shift in direction – one that is equitable to all farmers and delivers fair prices and competitive markets that allow them to make a living.

Through the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and farmhelp@farmaid.org email service, Farm Aid’s hotline operators listen to farmers and refer them to an extensive network of family farm and rural support organizations across the country. Referrals provide immediate support to farm families in crisis and farmers seeking to transition to more sustainable farming practices, as well as for individuals looking to become farmers. In 2021, Farm Aid received 589 contacts to the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and farmhelp@farmaid.org email service. Farm Aid issued 52 emergency grants to farm families in crisis, totaling $26,000.

2021 was a year of unprecedented expansion for the Farm Aid Hotline Team. With funding from the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), via the West (WRASAP) and Northeast (FRSAN-NE) regions of the FRSAN, Farm Aid was able to hire two part-time and two full-time hotline operators, in addition to the Hotline Program Manager and the Farmer Services Network Manager. These new hires brought the size of the Hotline Team to six staff. Historically the position of Hotline Operator has been held by a single person, with the occasional addition of one or two part-time operators over the years. With more staff on the Hotline Team, Farm Aid saw increased capacity to serve farmers who contact Farm Aid through our hotline and email; the opportunity to explore existing farmer resources and to locate and develop new ones; and a broader reach to a larger farm audience.

farmer services team photo

Farm Aid’s Farmer Services Team

The Hotline Team is geographically diverse and spread across the Pacific, Central and Eastern time zones, which allowed the Hotline hours to expand in 2021 to better serve farmers in the West and across the United States. The current Hotline hours are 6am to 7pm PT / 9am to 10pm ET.

Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network offers an interactive website and database of more than 700 organizations that provide guidance for new farmers, direct assistance to farmers in crisis, and support for farmers looking to transition to more sustainable production methods and markets. Through the Farmer Resource Network, Farm Aid makes connections between individuals, farm service organizations, and businesses to address challenges and create opportunities for farmers. Farm Aid points farmers and advocates to our most trusted resources, new offerings and timely opportunities via our curated Resource Guides.

Farm Aid supported and participated in the development of The Farmers’ Guide to COVID-19 Relief along with Farmers Legal Action Group, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Intertribal Agriculture Council and the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. The Farmers’ Guide offers information about the various programs introduced to assist farmers in the wake of COVID-19.

With ninety percent of the West designated in 2021 as “in drought,” half of which is classified as “severe” to “exceptional,” Farm Aid’s hotline team heard from many impacted farmers and created a directory of drought-specific resources for farmers. Farm Aid granted $113,000 to assist farm and ranch families who were impacted by immediate and long-term climate disasters, including historic winter storms in Texas and Oklahoma, and record drought and wildfires across the West.

In May, Farm Aid President Willie Nelson and Pennsylvania Farmers Union Vice President and farmer Michael Kovach met with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a webinar broadcast on USDA’s website. They spoke about the Administration’s plans to strengthen family farmers and invest in America’s rural communities. The discussion brought up many points about how farmers and ranchers will be impacted by the American Rescue Plan and additional support proposed in other legislation. The webinar also offered an opportunity to encourage farmers and rural residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Farm Aid awarded $318,500 in grants to organizations that help farmers secure the resources they need to begin farming, access new markets, grow sustainably, and build resilience in the face of financial and natural disasters.

Taking Action to Change the System

Farm Aid works with local, regional and national organizations to promote fair farm policies and grassroots organizing efforts. Farm Aid granted $394,500 to family farm organizations working to ensure competitive markets for family farmers, address antitrust and contract violations, fight factory farms, strengthen the grassroots around a unified vision for our farm and food system, and amplify an effective farmer voice to reform the food system.

The day before the annual Farm Aid festival, Farm Aid hosted a virtual Farmer Town Hall, with more than 200 participants taking part. With pressing issues like corporate concentration and consolidation, debt relief, racial equity and climate change dominating headlines and the countryside alike, the Farmer Town Hall was an opportunity to engage in a productive and thoughtful dialogue between farmers, partners, and policymakers, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Tina Smith, and top US Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials. Farmers and ranchers from across the country shared their stories, challenges and opportunities, as well as their questions for USDA and Congress. They asked critical questions and raised crucial points about the ways our food system is failing to best honor farmers, ranchers, eaters and our climate, soil and water. They proposed solutions for how to tackle some of the most pressing and complex issues our country faces. Following the Town Hall, Farm Aid continued to follow up with members of Congress and USDA appointees and staff to hold them accountable.

Farm Aid formed a working group made up of people directly serving farmers through one-on-one advocacy in addition to experts in farm credit and agricultural law to offer and press for reforms that could be made administratively at USDA. The working group meets weekly and has had numerous meetings with top USDA officials to push for changes that make USDA programs and credit more accessible to farmers, especially underserved farmers, with better outcomes for family farmers.

Throughout the year, Farm Aid lent our voice and other support to efforts including advocating for emergency relief for Black, Indigenous and People of Color farmers, who have historically been underserved and faced discrimination by USDA; increased conservation and climate friendly agriculture funding; a moratorium on factory farms; increased funding to expand local livestock processing; workplace protections for meatpacking workers; an equitable clean energy transition for rural communities; and regulations to ensure a fair marketplace for America’s family farmers and ranchers. Additionally, Farm Aid joined 86 other farmer and allied food and racial justice groups to express solidarity with Indian farmers’ fighting India’s new unjust farm laws, which will increase agribusiness’ stranglehold over their food system. Farm Aid offered support to a documentary film team seeking to interview farmers and farm organizations in the U.S. to share the outcome of our own country’s industrialization and corporatization of agriculture.

Farm Aid continues to serve as a leader and contributing member of various collaborative efforts to change our farm and food system and advance the power and participation of farmers in these efforts. These have included efforts to address economic and social injustices across animal agriculture, efforts to elevate on-the-ground solutions to climate change, to build the supply of non-GMO food ingredients and animal feed in the U.S., and to promote regenerative agriculture.

Farm Aid also continues its leadership in the philanthropic community to bring attention to the varied challenges faced by family farmers and to encourage collaboration and collective problem solving.

Other Granting and Total Granting

Farm Aid’s Agricultural Scholarship Fund granted $21,000 in agricultural-related scholarships to students at three universities.

In total, Farm Aid made grants in the amount of $995,000 during 2021.

Management & Development

Farm Aid is fortunate to be in a stable financial position, due to several years of incredible support from our Board and festival artists, donors and Farm Aid fans. Our annual festival continues to be our primary source of revenue. Farm Aid benefits from generous foundation and corporate support, particularly for our farmer services work and FRSAN engagement, for which we have received USDA funding that has enables us to expand our capacity for outreach, advocacy and direct services for farmers and farm service providers. Additional funding through a second PPP loan from the Small Business Association supported several months of personnel costs. Earned and contributed revenue for our activities through 2021 exceeded our expenses and further increased a strong operating reserves fund. Establishing and maintaining the operating reserve is a fiscal imperative that enables Farm Aid to weather inconsistent annual revenues, and especially during uncertain times. Significantly, Farm Aid was honored and surprised to be named as a beneficiary of a trust, for which we are in a fortunate position to lay groundwork for the impact we will make in the next several years.

Farm Aid invested in increasing our organizational capacity through workforce development and added several positions in 2021. Through USDA’s FRSAN funding, we have been able to fully staff our hotline and network development programming. At the end of 2021, Farm Aid’s staff comprised 12 full time employees, 3 part-time employees and additional outsourced accounting and technology support. Farm Aid continues to evolve to meet the needs of a remote and hybrid work environment, including developing and refining administrative systems to improve efficiency and effectiveness in our organizational operations.

Farm Aid’s approach to fundraising continues to center around nurturing donor relationships and reflects the spirit of the organization (and our founder and president). We deeply value the support of thousands of people around the country who stand up for family farmers and ranchers every day. Authentic engagement with our donors, both at our events and online, allows Farm Aid to identify, understand and creatively adapt our campaign strategies, methods and messaging in ways that resonate with our supporters. In turn, we’ve continued to realize substantial growth of contributed revenue year over year.

Our 2021 fundraising plan kicked off with a spring campaign in the second quarter, followed by our festival announce campaign in the summer leading up to our September festival, and culminating with an end-of-year series that began on Giving Tuesday in November. These campaigns were augmented in other successful ways to engage donors beyond our traditional fundraising appeals.

One of these initiatives was a partnership with Soundwaves Art Foundation. Willie, Margo, Micah Nelson, Jamey Johnson and Jason Mraz all generously donated their time to sign a series of original art prints that have been sold as part of a collection with proceeds benefiting the organization. We plan to continue building out this collection with other musical artists from the Farm Aid family over time.

Willie Nelson soundwaves art prints

In addition to engaging with artists for the Soundwaves Art Foundation campaign, Farm Aid was also selected by former President Jimmy Carter to be one of two benefactors of proceeds from the auction of a collection of one-of-a-kind instruments. These guitars, mandolins and ukuleles were produced by master luthiers using sustainably sourced paulownia wood from trees grown on the Carters’ Georgia property. Similarly, our annual Farm Aid memorabilia and experience auction also generated significant revenue thanks to the many artists that take a few brief moments of their time at the festival to graciously sign items for this important purpose.

The VIP Experience program at each Farm Aid festival generates substantial revenue and the demand for a return to live performances reflected that in 2021. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced some significant changes for our festival attendees, but, fortunately, between sales and generous donations of tickets from VIPs who could not attend, we were ultimately able to realize the full revenue potential of the program.

Finally, thanks to the generous support of our dedicated family of donors, including a group that “matched” donations, we raised yet another record amount on Giving Tuesday as we’ve done each year. That momentum continued through the close of the end-of-year campaign cycle. We saw an incredible 65% increase over our typical fundraising for this period.

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