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, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews 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 $60 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 2020

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 and Dave Matthews 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 $60 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.

Helping Farmers Adapt to the Pandemic

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020 became a year like no other. Already endangered by five years of low prices, trade disruptions, frequent natural disasters and climate change, farmers faced myriad impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. These include loss of direct markets from the closure of restaurants, schools and other institutions; increased infrastructure and labor costs associated with adapting to create new markets; supply chain and labor disruptions; and even greater declines in prices for their products.

Quickly seeing and understanding the impact of COVID-19 and its related shutdowns of markets that family farmers depend on, Farm Aid leapt into action. On April 11, At Home with Farm Aid raised more than $500,000 in funds that were quickly distributed to farmers impacted by COVID-19. The one-hour live-streamed online concert featured Farm Aid board artists Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and Willie Nelson with his sons Lukas and Micah Nelson.

As a result of At Home with Farm Aid, Farm Aid launched the national COVID-19 Farmer Resilience Initiative, working with more than 130 local, state and regional organizations in all 50 states and the US Virgin Islands to deliver immediate farmer relief efforts and longer-term resilience strategies. Grants, distributed in $500 increments, helped nearly 1,000 farmers meet household expenses and were paired with resources published in multiple languages and developed by Farm Aid’s national partners, including Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, Intertribal Agriculture Council, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Online, Farm Aid showcased the stories of family farmers and ranchers adapting to the circumstances of COVID to keep feeding their communities. We shined a spotlight on farmers creating online marketplaces that aggregated and marketed products from many farms with contact-less home delivery, including ensuring that those families utilizing federal nutrition programs could access and afford quality local food. We highlighted farm organizations that organized feeding programs that ensured farmers had markets for their products when the supply chain collapsed and that food-insecure families could access healthy food; and organizations that created virtual training programs to ensure farmers and farmworkers could safely work during COVID, as well as one-on-one business consulting. To assist eaters looking to support local farms, Farm Aid created an online resource to find family farm food during the pandemic.

Julia Coffey, owner and operator of MycoTerra Farm, helped create Mass Food Delivery, a food hub that now works with 28 New England farms and local food businesses. Photo: Dominic Perri, Edible Pioneer Valley

Throughout 2020, Farm Aid worked to ensure equitable pandemic relief for the people who grow our food and the workers who bring it to our tables. Through public calls to action, meetings with members of Congress, and our work in broad coalitions, we pressured Congress to include policies in federal relief packages that support farmers in financial crisis, invest in local and regional food systems that galvanized to feed communities in the wake of massive food supply disruptions, protect workers at the frontlines of the pandemic, and ensure food security for millions of low-income Americans. Farm Aid worked with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in drafting the Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act, which provides debt relief for the small farmers and ranchers who continue to feed us, steward our land, and bolster our local economies. These are the very farmers who are working hard and coming up with creative solutions to bring fresh, healthy food to communities in need during the pandemic. In each consecutive COVID relief package, Farm Aid’s voice was loud and clear, calling for equitable support of farmers and ranchers.

Racial Justice in Society and Our Food System

In May, when George Floyd was murdered and a national movement for racial justice was galvanized, Farm Aid affirmed our solidarity with Black communities working for justice in the face of systemic racism and violence, and our opposition to all racist acts of violence, and the institutions that perpetuate white supremacy. In a statement issued on June 4, Farm Aid committed to listening, learning and deepening our work to advance racial equity and justice.

In the fall, Farm Aid engaged with Senator Cory Booker’s office to help shape The Justice for Black Farmers Act, a landmark bill co-sponsored by Senators Booker, Warren and Gillibrand, aimed at addressing historic discrimination in USDA programs that caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland and robbed them and their families of hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth.

Throughout 2020, Farm Aid continued work to take initiative and educate ourselves in promoting racial justice and inclusivity. We continued our work to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers in our communications, form deeper collaborations and networks with organizations working to promote a diverse and equitable food system, engage in a broad range of policy promotion and advocacy, prioritize grantmaking to impact Indigenous and Black farmers, and feature BIPOC artists and farmers as part of Farm Aid 2020.

Internally, Farm Aid made a renewed commitment to understanding more about discrimination and racism, listening to and taking cues from BIPOC thought leaders, and making space to process relevant current events in real time. We engaged an outside consultant for an all-staff workshop focused on race and white privilege, established an internal racial justice communication, and participated in the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. Farm Aid maintains a bi-weekly discussion group to continue focused exploration and learning, as well as to examine organizational practices through a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lens. Our 2020 learnings led to updating our Employee Handbook with an expanded Equal Employee Opportunity statement and the addition of guidelines around the use of personal pronouns, broadening recruitment efforts to attract a larger number of diverse candidates for open positions, and beginning to articulate frameworks for decision-making around our business vendors and how to create increased opportunities for promoting and supporting BIPOC- and women-owned businesses.

In addition to engaging with Native-led organizations in the COVID-19 Farmer Resilience Initiative, Farm Aid understood the need for a more focused response dedicated to Native farmers, which led to the Food 4 Families initiative, led by Intertribal Agriculture Council, with partnership from Farm Aid, Indian Land Tenure Foundation and First Nations Development Institute.

The Food 4 Families initiative is dedicated to 4-H, FFA groups and independent youth across Indian Country who show livestock by participating in annual market animal auction sales. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures needed to protect Tribal communities made live animal auction sales impossible in 2020. The Food 4 Families initiative provides coupons that cover the processing fees for animals raised for livestock show and market sale by tribal youth in order to help youth market their animals online or by otherwise supporting their local food economies, where meat shortages were an immediate consequence of the pandemic. Farm Aid committed $75,000 to this initiative from funds received from The Native American Agriculture Fund through the settlement of Keepseagle v. Vilsack (a civil rights lawsuit against the USDA which found that USDA systematically discriminated against Native American farmers and ranchers).

Farm Aid’s Farmer Services

Since 2013, America’s farmers and ranchers have weathered a 50 percent drop in net farm income. The strain in today’s farm economy is no accident; it’s the result of policies designed to enrich corporations at the expense of farmers and ranchers. In 2020, COVID-19 sparked further losses and challenges for farmers. 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 delivers fair prices to farmers that allow them to make a living. 

Through the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and farmhelp@farmaid.org email service, Farm Aid’s hotline manager and our team of hotline operators refer 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 to prospective and beginning farmers. More than 900 contacts were made to the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and farmhelp@farmaid.org email service in 2020, representing a 20% increase over 2019. Farm Aid issued 70 emergency grants to farm families in crisis, totaling $40,500, a 15% increase over 2019. Recognizing the increasing need for a team approach to the hotline, Farm Aid hired two part-time Hotline Operators at the end of 2020 and will further increase hotline staffing in 2021.

Farm Aid’s Farmer Services Team

Farm Aid’s Resource Network (FRN) 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 FRN, 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. In 2020, Farm Aid worked to revamp the FRN to better serve the needs of farmers and ranchers across the United States.

Since 2017, Farm Aid has helped bring awareness and action to the issue of farmer mental health via advocacy on the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), which was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill calls for $10 million in annual federal funding to support organizations providing mental health resources to farmers and agricultural workers. In 2020, Farm Aid continued our work as part of a coalition of organizations that won a FRSAN grant to build a farmer support network in the Northeast. “Building an Inclusive and Comprehensive Network for Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance in the Northeast” convenes a network of farmer service providers to build connections and collaboration. In 2020, the Northeast Region group premiered an updated farmer resource clearinghouse, hosted on Farm Aid’s website, held three network-wide meetings, and hosted multiple network trainings.

In March, Farm Aid engaged with USA Today for an in-depth investigation into rising suicide rates in farm country and the underlying stressors of farm debt, trade wars and the climate crisis. The frontpage story unlocked additional coverage of the issue, including in The American Independent, which noted the resources Farm Aid provides for farmers in stress. Farm Aid also spoke to these issues on NPR’s nationally syndicated Science Friday.

Farm Aid worked with Senator Tester (D-MT) on a bill to address stress, depression and suicide in farm country. In October, Farm Aid endorsed the Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which would implement a stress management training program at USDA; provide USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services with $3 million for a farmer stress PSA campaign; and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to determine best practices for farm stress response.

In response to natural disasters in Puerto Rico (earthquake), Iowa (derecho) and in California (wildfires), Farm Aid made grants to farm organizations supporting on-the-ground relief efforts in the amount of $61,500.

Fighting Factory Farms, Strengthening Family Farmers and Building for a Brighter Future

Farm Aid joined Iowa Farmers Union in an amicus brief to support a case brought by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement before the Iowa Supreme Court to require that the State of Iowa protect Iowa’s waterways from factory farm pollution. In December, Farm Aid co-authored an op-ed, Family Farmers Depend on Clean Water, with the Iowa Farmers Union, which was published in The Gazette (Cedar Falls, IA).

In December, Farm Aid joined a broad coalition of farmers, food chain workers, frontline and rural communities, as well as 72 environmental, animal welfare, and public health organizations in writing Animal Agriculture Reform Policy Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration. This comprehensive document includes recommendations that cut across multiple agencies, executive actions and laws to reform our highly industrialized and corporate-controlled animal food system. The recommendations urge stronger regulation of factory farms and swift action to build a just, regenerative, regional, high-welfare animal agriculture system.

Throughout 2020, Farm Aid was a member of the Campaign to Reform Contract Agriculture (CCAR), and was part of developing CCAR’s policy recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration. Farm Aid also collaborated with 16 food, farm and rural organizations on Family Farm Action’s Build Back Better, a comprehensive plan that details recommendations for the administration to successfully revitalize rural communities.

In December, Farm Aid Board Artists stated Farm Aid’s vision for fixing the farm and food system, by placing independent farmers and rural Americans at the USDA; putting our farm and food system back in the hands of the people; ending systemic racism in agriculture and creating opportunity for all; combating climate change; revitalizing infrastructure and strengthening rural communities; and creating accessible and affordable health care.

In December, Farm Aid made strategic grants to long-term partners in the amount of $155,000. Farm Aid’s agricultural scholarship fund granted $20,770.54 to agricultural students at three universities in 2020.

Farm Aid 2020 Goes Virtual

Our annual Farm Aid festival is at the heart of Farm Aid, bringing people together to celebrate family farmers and good food. It was a major blow to the Farm Aid audience that we could not have an in-person festival, but we were heartened by the incredible response to Farm Aid 2020 On the Road. Farm Aid 2020 was a three-and-a-half-hour, virtual at-home festival featuring 22 artists who helped showcase the critical need for family farmers, the food they produce and their care for soil and water amid a time of unprecedented upheaval in our country, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and necessary calls for racial justice.

Viewers online and on AXS TV and listeners on Sirius XM enjoyed performances by Farm Aid Board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. Additional artists included Black Pumas, Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Edie Brickell with Charlie Sexton, Jack Johnson, Jamey Johnson, Jon Batiste, Kelsey Waldon, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff, Norah Jones, Particle Kid, The Record Company, Valerie June and The War And Treaty. Online, Farm Aid supporters viewed behind-the-scenes interviews with Farm Aid 2020 artists, including tours of their gardens and chicken coops, and learned about their strong personal connections to food and agriculture.

The virtual festival showcased the diversity and strength of family farmers, demonstrating that a thriving movement — especially of young farmers; Black, brown and Indigenous farmers; and women farmers — is leading the way for conversations, strategies and change to create a more democratic farm and food system. Louisiana farmers Angie and June Provost discussed their experience with racial discrimination in farm lending that ultimately resulted in the loss of their farm. Indigenous farmers from across many sovereign nations stated loud and clear that they are here, protecting the land and growing a strong future for their communities. Many other farmers from across the country were featured in video montages that showcased the reasons farmers do the work they do, the challenges they face, and their hopes for the future of agriculture. Rhonda Perry and Roger Allison, farmers and founders of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a vulnerable dominant food system that works intentionally to maximize corporate power and profits, while putting the health of soil and water, farmers and workers, communities and people at risk.

Farm Aid created a virtual viewing kit to give the at-home stream a festival feel. The downloadable kit included recipes from our HOMEGROWN chefs, a Farm Aid Bingo game, coloring pages, exclusive Zoom backgrounds, and a Farm Aid playlist. Farm Aid 2020 produced a robust merchandise operation comparable to our in-person festivals through a strategic focus on e-commerce. All Farm Aid merchandise proudly reflects our mission through the use of organic cotton and utilizing U.S.-grown cotton as much as possible. Sponsors of Farm Aid 2020 included ButcherBox, The 11th Hour Project, Farmer Focus, Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, Horizon Organic, Lundberg Family Farms, Patagonia Workwear, American Psychological Association and Niman Ranch. Farm Aid 2020 included farmer stories from various food product sponsors. While in-person interaction and experiences at a live festival offer great value to sponsors, the online opportunity offered a broader reach.

Farm Aid 2020 received significant national attention, thanks to a live on-air announcement of the festival on Good Morning America on ABC on September 1, featuring an interview with Dave Matthews and Margo Price; a follow up segment on Good Morning America on September 24 featuring a performance and interview by Farm Aid 2020 artists Jack Johnson and Black Pumas, as well as three stories of family farmers adapting during COVID; a performance by Farm Aid 2020 artist Norah Jones on GMA3; a feature on The Late Show featuring Farm Aid 2020 artist and host Jon Batiste; and a segment about Farm Aid’s 35th anniversary on The Today Show featuring an interview with Willie Nelson and Missouri farmers Rhonda Perry and Roger Allison. Additional coverage included Rolling Stone, Billboard Magazine, Forbes, Yahoo and USA Today. Stories resulted in 1,319 print, online and broadcast media hits and more than 1.5 billion media impressions. Feature stories showcased Farm Aid’s creativity and flexibility in moving the festival online, as well as the current farm economy and COVID crises that put our family farmers and our food system at risk.

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 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic making connecting with the Farm Aid audience online more crucial than ever, there were more than 1.1 million visits to www.farmaid.org by more than 816,000 visitors.

In 2020, Farm Aid’s online audience continued to grow, with more than 98,000 email subscribers and a reach of millions on social media. The number of followers on these networks grew by thousands of users (143,000 on Facebook, 36,000 on Twitter, 35,000 on Instagram, and 402,000 on YouTube). Farm Aid’s YouTube channel features more than 2,300 videos, with more than 308 million lifetime views.

Management and Fundraising

Farm Aid’s financial position has been stable over the last several years due to several years of successful annual festivals as well as having operating and capital reserve funds—all of which were crucial to the organization’s stability in 2020.

Farm Aid’s staff comprises 11 full time employees, 1 part-time employee and additional outsourced accounting support, which is a lean team that we anticipate adding to in 2021 to strategically address programmatic and administrative functions. Among our personnel accomplishments in 2020 are having hired two part-time Hotline Operators at the end of 2020 to begin in 2021 to increase Farm Aid’s capacity to respond to farmer needs. Farm Aid continues to improve efficiency and effectiveness with the operational foundation of the organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on the organization’s fundraising. Not only was the organization’s primary source of both contributed and earned revenue—the annual Farm Aid festival—cancelled as an in-person event, so too was another major event just days before it was to occur—the  Luck PotLuck and Reunion on Willie’s ranch in March. With earned revenue from ticket sales for 2020 eliminated, contributed revenue through fundraising efforts needed to increase dramatically.

Willie Nelson performs in concert during The Luck Banquet on March 13, 2019 in Luck, Texas.

Fortunately, the organization’s stable financial position, nimble nature, and a series of well-timed initiatives left Farm Aid poised to endure this unexpected crisis. First, Farm Aid began the year with a successful fundraising campaign in the form of an online sweepstakes through Omaze. This first-for-Farm Aid, grassroots campaign was highly successful, encouraging low-cost ($10 or free) “entries” to win a trip to the next Luck Reunion to have Willie sign an acoustic guitar donated by Gibson.

As noted already, At Home with Farm Aid aired April 11, raising more than $500,000 from generous donors and sponsors. These funds, along with those raised through a celebrity chef Raise Your Fork for Family Farmers campaign with purveyor D’Artagnan, a broadcast NASCAR series race named for Farm Aid (for which Jamey Johnson kindly sang the national anthem), and our second year as non-profit partner for the Outlaw Country Cruise, were immediately disbursed through the Farm Aid COVID-10 Resilience Initiative.

The success of these campaigns in the first half of the year created an influx of new donors. Additionally, Farm Aid’s data-driven, strategic approach that leveraged recent investments in fundraising platforms and technologies refined our appeals and messaging to specific audience groups across different channels. The result—enhanced by the incredible support of donors during a challenging year for all non-profit organizations—has been a significant increase in contributed revenue. In fact, each of our industry-leading platform partners have recently featured Farm Aid as a case study in successful fundraising strategies, citing Farm Aid’s >+1,000% overall increase in online fundraising over the last five years, and >+1,900% on festival day giving specifically.

In August, we launched our first peer-to-peer challenge campaign, “The Bandwagon,” which exceeded our $35,000 goal in honor of our 35th year. September donations related to Farm Aid 2020 On the Road were impressive. Finally, we closed the year with our best end-of-year giving cycle to date. The season began with Giving Tuesday, where we nearly doubled our 2019 raise. Our year-end fundraising campaign saw a 22% increase over the previous year with support from generous donors, many of whom had been in our subscriber base but became first-time donors in 2020. While 2020 was a challenging year in so many respects and for so many people, Farm Aid has cultivated a family of committed donors, and we are so grateful for their support.

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