Ask Farm Aid | October 31, 2013

What does Farm Aid do with the money that it raises at the annual concert?

October 2013

Dear Farm Aid,

I had such a blast at Farm Aid 2013—I loved seeing farmers in my area celebrated and it felt good to support such an important cause while listening to amazing music! I’m curious though—where does all the money you raise at the concert go?

Natalie C.
Saratoga Springs

We’re so glad that you had as good of a time as we did at this year’s Farm Aid concert! There is nothing like 25,000 people coming together to celebrate our family farmers. The energy and excitement from concert day fuels our spirits and drives our year-round work. Money raised through the Farm Aid concert funds our year-round programming to support family farmers and grow the Good Food Movement. Those programs include the Farmer Resource Network and our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and email service; Farm Aid’s grassroots work to influence local, state and federal policy;, a thriving community that celebrates the culture of agriculture and empowers farmers and eaters to become more engaged in their food; and more.

The success of concert day also directly bolsters the family farm movement that Farm Aid has supported through our national grant program since the first Farm Aid concert in 1985.

Planting the Seeds of the Family Farm Movement

Farm Aid’s first grants, issued immediately following the 1985 concert, helped plant the seeds of a robust family farm movement that continues to this day. For the past 28 years, we have pushed for deep systemic change that rebuilds our food system from the soil up—reconnecting farmers and eaters and shaking our land free of corporate power and destructive practices that damage our communities, economies and ecologies. It’s a big task, one that cannot be accomplished alone but must happen in collaboration, together with people like you and partners across the country dedicated to family farmers.

Each fall, once the stage lights dim and the crowd goes home, we transition away from concert production to focus on our grant program, where we invest in work that helps farm families stay on the land, builds local markets, advocates for fair farm policies, confronts corporate power in agriculture, trains new farmers and provides the technical assistance and support needed to adopt more sustainable farm practices.

After the galvanizing work of the concert event, it is a welcome shift for our staff. While we accept and cultivate grant proposals from groups across the country in the spring and summer, autumn is our time to consider in more depth the amazing efforts happening across the nation to support family farm agriculture. All Farm Aid staff members take part in the grant review process. Individual reviewers take several weeks to sift through piles of proposals and make funding recommendations. Then we all come together for a week to discuss what we’ve learned and how to best put our funds to work. We make our funding recommendations to Farm Aid founder and president Willie Nelson, who approves the grants and signs the checks for each award.

By moving our annual concert around the country, we have the opportunity to meet organizations that are integral to the local food and farm movement .We welcome their proposals and many of our long-time grantees have become our partners in this way. In New York, we had the pleasure of working with long-term partners like GrowNYC, a trailblazer in forging rural-urban partnerships that bring farmers and eaters together in the most miraculous ways, and newer groups like the National Young Farmers Coalition, who work hard to bring the voices of new and beginning farmers to national policy debates in order to shape forward-looking farm policy that supports family farmers and eaters into the future.

In 2012, Farm Aid granted $527,800 to 66 family farm organizations across the country doing good work to grow family farm agriculture, including individual grants to farm families facing financial crisis or natural disaster. Proposals that received funding in 2012 include:

  • connecting farmers and eaters with healthy food access in low-income neighborhoods;
  • new farmer training programs;
  • programs to transition farms to the next generation;
  • work to increase market opportunities farmers;
  • financial counseling and business planning services;
  • legal services;
  • farmer hotlines and mental health counseling;
  • farmer to farmer education programs;
  • policy work on issues like GMOs, conservation, organic farming, climate change and more;
  • farm to school programs;
  • grassroots organizing
  • campaigns to fight factory farms;
  • and so much more.

We look forward to announcing this year’s crop of grantees as soon as we’ve combed through all of the proposals that inspire us—there is so much good work happening out there!

Shutdown and Shut Out

This year, the government shutdown and a series of natural disasters spurred us to use another facet of our grantmaking: activating our Family Farm Disaster Fund to help farmers and ranchers in crisis.

With no federal government support available, hundreds of farmers were left reeling when natural disasters struck at the worst possible time and no federal agencies were open to help in the recovery process. In response, Farm Aid has so far issued $10,000 to support Colorado farmers affected by epic flooding and another $10,000 to support ranchers in South Dakota who were devastated by a blizzard that killed tens of thousands of cattle and left their homes and farms without power for weeks.

While the shutdown has ended, farmers and ranchers are still without a Farm Bill, which expired on Sept. 30 for the second year in a row. That means the status of nearly every program governing the country’s food and farm policy hangs in limbo, presenting a dire threat to family farmers and our food system. While Congress is proceeding with Farm Bill negotiations this week, the path forward is completely unclear in the shadow of looming budget challenges, and substantial cuts to farm programs are anticipated.

Of course, that touches on another way Farm Aid works for family farmers – by raising the voices of family farmers and eaters to call for change in our farm and food system. Farm Aid joined more than 400 organizations urging Congress to pass a full and fair farm bill to respond to critical needs across the country. While the Farm Bill is by no means a perfect piece of legislation, it is the only source of funding for most of the essential programs that support farmers (and eaters!) and it must be prioritized, rather than thrown together with a haphazard selection of programs, as has happened the last two years. It is crucial that we preserve government funding programs that support family farm agriculture, build local and regional food systems and put new farmers on the land. Many of the grants we’ll make this year fuel this kind of work because we need national policy that serves family farmers and eaters if we are to create a stable and prosperous food and farm system for all. The voices of farmers and eaters are critical to making this happen, so stay posted for upcoming opportunities to weigh in on Congress’ “conference committee” process for finalizing a farm bill.

Farm Aid and You

Raising money is an important part of the annual Farm Aid concert, but equally important is how it raises awareness and galvanizes all of us to work together for a better food system. Like many of you who attended Farm Aid 2013 or watched the live webcast, we were moved when our surprise guest, the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, led the crowd in a sing-along of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” It was a moment that clearly demonstrated the power of music to unite people of all kinds around a common mission, and illuminated our shared stake in a good food system with family farmers at its center. It is up to all of us to carry the Farm Aid mission forward in our daily lives. Read on for opportunities to make a difference and take action with Farm Aid.

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