Farm Aid’s role always has been to serve as the public defender of America’s family farms. Willie Nelson, with colleagues Neil Young and John Mellencamp, founded Farm Aid to use their voices and the support of the American people to raise awareness and funds to strengthen family farm agriculture.
Charity Watchdog Ratings
Charity watchdogs have established standards to measure the efficiency of how non-profits perform.
- Farm Aid has earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator
- Farm Aid also earned an ‘A’ rating from American Institute of Philanthropy’s charitywatch.org.
- View Farm Aid’s 2015 IRS Form 990 here.
- View Farm Aid’s independent audited financial report for 2015.
- View Farm Aid’s IRS Letter of Determination and Form 1023 Exempt Status Application.
- Farm Aid is 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization as defined by the IRS. The IRS requires that the organization benefit the general public for the purpose for which it was established.
Overall Farm Aid performance 1985 to 2014
- Total expenditures: $45,502,461
- Program expenditures: $35,962,766 — or 79% of total expenditures
- Fundraising & Management expenditures: $9,539,695 — or 21% of total expenditures
Farm Aid performance for 2014
- Total expenditures: $2,034,766
- Program expenditures: $1,656,497 — or 81% of total expenditures
- Fundraising expenditures: $183,685
- Administration expenditures: $194,584
- Farm Aid maintains a surplus of both restricted and unrestricted assets. In 2014, temporarily restricted net assets consisted of $493,892 at year-end, which represents a fund for agriculture scholarships established by the Younkers Department store in 1985.
- Farm Aid’s 2014 unrestricted assets were $1,723,290 at year-end.
- Total 2014 year-end Net Assets were $2,217,182.
Farm Aid Activities for 2015
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, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert 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 $48 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. The following Farm Aid programs accomplished our mission in 2015:
Promoting Food from Family Farms
The heart of Farm Aid’s work to promote food from family farms is our annual concert event. Farm Aid 30 new—our 30th anniversary—was held at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, in Chicago, Illinois, on September 19. A crowd of more than 27,000 enjoyed performances by Farm Aid Board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds. Additional artists included Imagine Dragons, Jack Johnson, Kacey Musgraves, Mavis Staples, Old Crow Medicine Show, Jamey Johnson, Holly Williams, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Insects vs Robots, Ian Mellencamp, and the Blackwood Quartet. The artists generously donated their time and travel expenses.
On September 19 at Farm Aid 30:
- Farm Aid served local, organic, family farm food throughout the venue with Farm Aid’s HOMEGROWN Concessions®, which brings family farm food to the concessions stands at every concert venue where Farm Aid plays. HOMEGROWN Concessions® builds a strong relationship between farmers, food companies, our concessionaire and concertgoers. Food companies and sponsors donated family farm food for HOMEGROWN Catering backstage and in VIP areas.
- The HOMEGROWN Youthmarket sold local produce from family farmers to concertgoers. The Youthmarket was staffed by local youth from Chicago’s High School for Agricultural Sciences, Windy City and Growing Power.
- In Farm Aid’s HOMEGROWN Village, 35 farm and food groups engaged concertgoers in hands-on interactive activities about family farmers, soil, water, food production, and renewable energy. On the FarmYard Stage, agricultural journalist Alan Guebert hosted conversations with farmers, activists and artists that inspired concertgoers to action. In the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent, concertgoers learned how to forage for urban edibles, make butter and cheese, and more.
- Food and serviceware waste was collected to be turned into compost to sustain future crops. Farm Aid sold reusable water bottles to reduce plastic use. Concert t-shirts were made with certified organic cotton, with support from sponsors.
- The concert generated several major donations as well as individual gifts. Corporate sponsors included Amy’s Kitchen, Horizon Organic, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Applegate, Canidae® Natural Pet Food Company, Greener Fields Together, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Organic Valley, FirstMerit Bank, Whole Foods Market, Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Econscious and Time Out Chicago. Hundreds of volunteers donated their time to make the concert a success.
Farm Aid hosted a number of pre-concert events and activities in Chicago to bring farmers together, engage the public and invite the media to highlight issues of concern to family farmers and eaters. These events included:
- Farm Aid 30: Strength From Our Roots, which gathered nearly 200 farmers, activists, farm advocates and civic leaders from across the country to engage in inspired storytelling, intergenerational exchange, meaningful reflection and strategic analysis.
- Film2FarmAid, our first film festival! Film2FarmAid ran over three days in Chicago, featuring short and feature films about food and farming. The last night of the festival featured Country, a 1984 film about the 1980’s Farm Crisis. Jessica Lange joined us by phone for a conversation about what drew her to the film and a panel of farm advocates and farmers spoke about their experiences during the Farm Crisis.
- An urban farm tour, which brought 50 people to three farms in Chicago city limits to see how community and rooftop gardens, public orchards and commercial farms nourish the city.
- The takeover of Modern Farmer‘s Instagram account. Farm Aid shared photos during the week of Farm Aid 30, reaching a new audience of farmers and concerned eaters who learned about all of the things a Farm Aid concert encompasses aside from the incredible music.
- And Farm Aid Eve, a celebration of family farmers and good food that brought together more than 400 donors, farmers, activists, volunteers and other members of Farm Aid’s core community the night before the concert.
Before doors opened at Farm Aid 30, Farm Aid held a press event attended by hundreds of members of the media. The event featured Farm Aid’s board artists and farmers, advocates and activists representing Farm Aid’s roots and Farm Aid’s future. The diversity of voices on stage was an inspiration to all. Farmer/activist David Senter said, “The bringing together of so many young farm leaders gave me hope that the work over the years has paved the way for our new leaders of the future. I believe there is a bright future for family farmers producing healthy food thanks to Farm Aid’s efforts.”
Farm Aid 30 received significant local and regional media coverage, including Chicago Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, as well as national attention, including stories in Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazine, and on CNN and The Late Show. The total number of media hits earned by Farm Aid were significantly higher in 2015 than in recent years, with 2,800 print, online and broadcast media hits. Feature stories promoted the entertainment value of the concert, as well as Farm Aid’s message about connecting people everywhere with fresh, healthful food from family farms. Each story included information about HOMEGROWN Concessions®, the HOMEGROWN Village and the family farmers in attendance.
“The bringing together of so many young farm leaders gave me hope that the work over the years has paved the way for our new leaders of the future. I believe there is a bright future for family farmers producing healthy food thanks to Farm Aid’s efforts.” — David Senter, Farmer/Activist
Farm Aid 30 was broadcast live on Sirius XM satellite radio across the country, with interviews of artists, family farmers and advocates featured between music sets. The concert was webcast live on www.farmaid.org and Farm Aid’s YouTube channel. AXS TV recorded the concert to create a 90-minute special that aired multiple times in January 2016.
Farm Aid launched its third event app for Farm Aid 30. The app provided details for the event, including the music lineup, stories about featured farmers, information about the work of the organizations taking part in the HOMEGROWN Village, and details about the farmers who provided food for HOMEGROWN Concessions ®.
Farm Aid continued the success of our #Road2FarmAid social media campaign, relaunching in early July to build excitement for Farm Aid 30 and allow everyone to share how they are part of strengthening family farm agriculture. The campaign greatly expanded exposure for Farm Aid and our mission. More than 500 people submitted their stories of how they’re changing the farm and food system at road2.farmaid.org. The #Road2FarmAid campaign reached an audience of 16 million on social media!
Growing Our Online Community
In spring 2015, Farm Aid unveiled our redesigned website, which gives us new ways to connect with our audience of family farmers, music fans and family farm allies in the Good Food Movement. The new site is mobile-friendly and designed to make it easier to find information about Farm Aid’s work, the challenges of family farmers and the concert.
Farm Aid’s website was a primary tool for communicating with our audience, collecting donations, selling concert tickets and merchandise, engaging users in online advocacy with petitions and letter-writing campaigns, and organizing events.
In November, we launched a new web feature spotlighting our grantees. In our interactive grant “quilt” we collected stories to show how Farm Aid’s grant program has been “threading together” a vibrant network of family farm organizations over the past 30 years. These organizations are critical on-the-ground partners in the work to change the farm and food system.
Farm Aid’s email newsletter kept the Farm Aid community informed and inspired with monthly columns that profile America’s family farmers, address readers’ questions and concerns about food and farming, and give opportunities for readers to take action. Special features on farmaid.org included “Farm Aid: Thirty Years of Action for Family Farmers,” with an interactive timeline to explore Farm Aid’s work.
Farm Aid continued its social media endeavors by engaging with fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. We added more videos to Farm Aid’s YouTube channel, bringing the total to 1,876 videos, with more than 65 million lifetime views.
HOMEGROWN.org is Farm Aid’s online community dedicated to enhancing the relationship between family farmers and eaters. Nearly 8,000 members engage in sharing their experiences, skills and excitement about do-it-yourself farm and food projects. By participating firsthand in the culture of agriculture, HOMEGROWN participants develop a deeper appreciation of family farmers and good food. HOMEGROWN.org celebrates the culture of agriculture with fans on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
The ever-expanding HOMEGROWN 101 library of how-tos on gardening, cooking, baking, crafting and more continues to be a major traffic driver to the website. The Young and Green bloggers from the GrowNYC Youthmarket added lively commentary on the site in 2015. Four contributing authors from around the country updated the HOMEGROWN Life blog, sharing their own stories, struggles and advice.
Growing the Good Food Movement
In 2015, Farm Aid and its partners continued to implement strategies that bolster the Good Food Movement—the growing number of Americans demanding family farm-identified, local, organic or humanely raised food. Farm Aid awarded grants in the amount of $78,000 to organizations that build connections between farmers and consumers and create new markets for family farm food.
In October, Farm Aid partnered with the National Farm to School Network to celebrate National Farm to School Month, highlighting resources available for family farmers to participate in farm to school programs, as well as tools for schools interested in building relationships with local farms. Farm Aid led an advocacy campaign to gather support for increased funding for Farm to School programs.
Through the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and email@example.com email service, Farm Aid’s Farm Advocate refers farmers 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. There were 425 calls and emails to the Farm Aid hotline in 2015 and 145 additional farmers who received disaster referrals in South Carolina following Hurricane Joaquin.
Farm Aid’s Resource Network offers an interactive website and database of more than 750 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 Network, Farm Aid builds relationships 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 the Resource Network Guides and the Resource Spotlight blog.
In January, Farm Aid hosted a Texas Drought Disaster Summit. Drawing from the expertise of Texas farm-based organizations, as well as national advocates and disaster response experts, the Summit brought nearly 100 Texas farmers, ranchers and service providers together to focus on immediate needs as well as building long-term resilience. As a result of the summit, participating organizations have been inspired to develop and deepen their own farm advocate services, and new collaborations have been formed, improving farmer service offerings at the state level and beyond.
During 2015, Farm Aid partnered with Dr. Charles Thompson of the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies to document the work of the farm advocates we’ve collaborated with since the Farm Crisis of the ‘80s. Charlie and his documentary team traveled the country to meet, film and photograph farm advocates like Mona Lee Brock and Benny Bunting, who work one-on-one with farmers to help them navigate tough times and keep their farms in the face of crisis. The film, Homeplace Under Fire, was screened at Farm Aid 30 to rave reviews. It will be released to a broader audience in 2016.
Farm Aid awarded $259,000 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. An additional $39,000 was granted to farmers in the form of emergency grants and through the Family Farm Disaster Fund to support farmers affected by weather disasters across the country, including tornadoes in the Midwest and historic flooding in South Carolina. More than $20,000 supported scholarships for college students studying agriculture.
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 $262,000 to family farm organizations working to keep family farmers on the land and strengthen local and sustainable agriculture.
Farm Aid’s Farmer Leadership Fund granted nearly $15,000 to defray expenses for farmer leadership training programs, strategy meetings and other opportunities to elevate the voice of family farmers. The leadership fund helped cover expenses for farmers and farm advocates to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, for the Southeastern Sustainable Livestock Conference; to Chicago, Illinois, to participate in Strength From Our Roots, the pre-concert gathering; and to Billing, MT, to participate in Principles of Community Organizing workshops.
In March, while presidential hopefuls gathered to participate in the first Iowa Ag Summit, Willie Nelson penned an op-ed in Politico to call for food and farm policy that is guided by family farmers and supported by policies that promote access to land, credit and fair markets. Farm Aid partnered with groups on the ground to offer a national voice to support Iowa organizing efforts working to combat the corporate agriculture agenda put forth by the summit.
For years, Farm Aid has fought for antitrust enforcement and protections for farmers facing corporate abuse in the livestock sector. Following our work in 2014 to bring awareness to abuses endured by farmers in the contract poultry system, the issue was picked up by HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in a May 2015 segment featuring several Farm Aid partners and hearings Farm Aid has taken part in over the years. Following the broadcast, Farm Aid attended a Congressional briefing in June on the role of Congress in protecting growers, while Willie Nelson sent a letter to House committee leadership urging them to protect poultry growers. In July, Willie Nelson and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur co-wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, calling for reform of the poultry industry. A critical House vote in July proved victorious when for the first time in years, Congress removed restrictions on the USDA from protecting poultry growers.
In September, Farm Aid partnered with StoryCorps to record the stories of farmers, advocates and activists who are leaders in the farm movement. The stories are touching and powerful, and one of them, featuring Corky Jones and David Senter, aired on Chicago Public Radio.
Throughout the year, Farm Aid brought forward opportunities for farmers and eaters to influence public policy, including GMO labeling, farm to school programs, global trade agreements, antitrust enforcement in the livestock industry, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and a bill to forgive student loan debt for college students who become farmers. Farm Aid continued its support of mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. In December, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews penned a letter to President Obama to call on him to use his authority to thwart any efforts by Congress to insert a rider into the appropriations bill that would deny Americans the right to labeling of GMO food. Farm Aid also lent a hand to farm organizations working on critical state policy issues, including Missouri farmers fighting corporate efforts to institute a new beef check off tax on ranchers, to remove local control protections and to allow foreign corporations to own Missouri farmland. In Nebraska, we supported efforts to combat a bill that would allow multinational corporations to own and control hogs in contract hog operations.
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, as well as efforts to rebuild the supply of non-GMO food ingredients and animal feed in the United States.
Farm Aid also continues to increase 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. Farm Aid served on the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders (SAFSF) Policy Briefing Planning Committee for its second annual gathering in Des Moines, Iowa, this December. Farm Aid also hosted a workshop at the annual SAFSF forum in Chicago this past June, highlighting the role of the food and farm movement in restoring democratic and participatory engagement in our food system.
Management and Fundraising
Our organizational planning efforts at the end of 2014 identified several strategic goals for our 30th year and beyond. These
include: rallying, mobilizing and engaging Farm Aid’s full community; delivering tangible impact that supports family farmers and communities; increasing awareness and relevance of Farm Aid as a critical player in the good food movement in order to attract increased support and future viability; and stabilizing, growing and sustaining Farm Aid and our resources.
To achieve our strategic goals, we recognized the need to invest in personnel and organization development. To that end, we hired a program manager and farm advocate; redefined our program director role and created an advocacy and issues director role to increase focus and expertise in those areas; and added a development manager and an online communications specialist position. We changed our accounting system and hired a full-time office manager and a part-time bookkeeper. We have increased investment in information technology, to ensure the safety and security of Farm Aid’s intellectual and digital assets. In 2016, we will continue to invest in revenue generating areas to achieve objectives of increasing and diversifying financial support of our work.
In addition to the organization’s primary fundraising activity–the annual Farm Aid concert–Farm Aid held three fundraising events: An Evening with Farm Aid in New York City, NY, featuring family farm food and a performance by Norah Jones; An Evening with Farm Aid in Sonoma County, CA, featuring family farm food and lively sets by John Mellencamp and HoneyHoney; An Evening with Farm Aid in McKinney, TX, featuring family farm food and music from The Secret Sisters and Jamestown Revival. All of the local farmers who raised the food served attended as honored guests. These events are an important way to celebrate and strengthen investment in Farm Aid’s work.
Business partnerships continue to strengthen Farm Aid’s ability to reach broader audiences, and financially support its mission. Farm Aid partnered again with the ALEX AND ANI | CHARITY BY DESIGN® jewelry line. The Farm Aid Cowboy Boot Bangle bracelet, sold online and in stores around the world, informs about the work of Farm Aid and results in a donation to Farm Aid of 20% of all sales revenue.
Farm Aid was recognized by the GRAMMY Foundation with a preservation grant to kick off the digitization and cataloguing of our vast audio and video collection of Farm Aid performances over 30 years. With the preservation grant, Farm Aid has digitized the video footage of the first three Farm Aid concerts. Farm Aid and Berklee College of Music will partner in this multi-year project to preserve and catalogue its audio archive. As a recipient of the award, Farm Aid was honored at Lean On Me: A Celebration Of Music And Philanthropy, the 17th Annual GRAMMY Foundation Legacy Concert in February. Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp performed at the event.
Most Recently Audited Financials (2014)
Net Assets, Beginning of Year: $2,422,790
- Program Expenses: $1,656,497
- Promoting Food from Family Farms: $453,543
- Growing the Good Food Movement $224,955
- Helping Farmers Thrive $538,523
- Taking Action to Change the System $439,476
- Fundraising: $183,685
- Administration: $194,584
- Total Expenses: $2,034,766
Change in Net Assets: ($205,608)
Net Assets, End of Year: $2,217,182
Audited Expenditures 1985 through 2014
Program Services: $35,962,766
Fundraising & Management: $9,539,695
Total Expenditures: $45,502,461
Farm Aid Board of Directors
Willie Nelson, President
Paul English, Treasurer
Lana Nelson, Secretary
Jess Rosen, Greenberg Traurig, Atlanta, GA
Cambridge Trust Company, Cambridge, MA
Bankers Trust, Des Moines, IA
Raffa, PC, Washington, DC
The Han Group, Washington, DC
2015 Farm Aid Staff
Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director
Glenda Yoder, Associate Director
Hilde Steffey, Program Director
Jennifer Fahy, Communications Director
Caroline Campbell McCormick, Operations Director
Matt Glidden, Online Marketing Director
Kari Williams, Development Director
Alicia Harvie, Advocacy & Issues Director
Joel Morton, Farm Advocate (through February)
Jennie Msall, Farm Advocate (since July)
Caroline Malcolm, Development Manager
Jennifer Wehunt, HOMEGROWN Manager (through March)
Jessica Kurn, Online Communications Specialist
Kassia Perpich, Program Manager (since July)
Emily Eagan, Spring Co-op & Special Projects
Kara Thibault, Fall Co-op