Blog | May 23, 2012

Farm Aid, D.H.L.

JenOn Sunday, May 20, Framingham State University in Framingham, Massachusetts, bestowed upon Farm Aid the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters at their 2012 commencement. The Doctor of Humane Letters is given as an honorary degree to those who have distinguished themselves in areas other than science, government, literature or religion. Farm Aid’s executive director Carolyn Mugar accepted the degree on Farm Aid’s behalf.

Carolyn and Framingham State University president Timothy Flanagan

Of course all of us here at Farm Aid are honored by this recognition. But it took on even more meaning when we learned that it was the graduating class who called for it. As Framingham State University President Tim Flanagan told us, the students said they wanted this year’s commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients to reflect their commitment to social justice and activism. They also wanted the commencement to have a theme that unified the entire ceremony.

The students choose the theme of food and nutrition and nominated Farm Aid among those receiving honorary degrees. The food and nutrition theme reflected the University’s majors in Nutrition and Food Science, and two new classes that the University offered this year – one on philanthropy, which engaged students in the process of making grants to local organizations, and a class on sustainability, which brought together students from all majors to explore the major themes of sustainable and resulted in the creation of an on-campus community garden.

The recognition of the work of Farm Aid by young people–the leaders of tomorrow–is inspiring! It gives us great hope that this generation of farm and food leaders is ready to take up the yoke.

The text of Carolyn’s remarks to the graduating class are below.

Good afternoon, and congratulations to the graduates of the class of 2012. I am honored to celebrate your achievement today. And I’m honored to stand where my mother stood in 1922 when she graduated from Framingham Normal School, receiving a degree in Household Arts. She loved this college.

I’m also very proud to accept the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters on behalf of Farm Aid, and all of the people that make up Farm Aid, including Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews. Thank you—we are truly honored.

When Willie, John and Neil started Farm Aid in 1985, they didn’t intend for it to keep going, and yet they’ve stayed committed to the effort to keep family farmers on the land for the very reason that the job’s not done yet—family farm agriculture is still at risk, perhaps today more than ever with increasing corporate concentration in our food system. I call these guys junkyard dogs (and I mean that in the best possible way) because they have remained tenacious and determined, even in the face of some of the most trying times for our nation’s family farmers.

More and more, we see why it’s so important that we have family farmers on the land, growing good food for all of us. We need a sustainable farm and food system that nourishes our planet–not one that extracts and exploits our soil and water. We need a food system that creates healthy bodies and minds–not one that causes public health epidemics. We need a labor system that pays our farmers and workers a fair price—not one that is singly focused on corporate profit. We need good food for everyone–not just those who can afford it. We need family farmers on the land to accomplish these goals. Food needs to be produced by many, not a few. Growing food is too important to be left to just a few corporate giants.

During your years at Framingham State, you have seen the collapse of our banking system—the one deemed too big to fail, and yet it did, taking the economy along with it. You’ve seen the bailout of Wall Street and the rise of unemployment for the rest of us. And you’ve seen the growth of the Occupy movement, the people’s response to the reality that too many of our systems are too big and benefit too few, our food system among them.

You graduates now have the skills and experience to bring about the changes that will transform our food system, and in doing so, our future. This change is not just being brought about by farmers, though I hope that many of you will be farmers. But also by healthcare administrators, nurses, dieticians, communicators and artists, economists, policy makers, entrepreneurs and others—we ALL have a role to play in the Good Food Movement; as Willie says, “We all eat.”

As you graduate with the hope and idealism that these occasions invoke in all of us, I offer Farm Aid’s artists Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews as inspiration. They say now they were naïve, that they thought they would hold a concert, call attention to a problem, and America would step up and solve that problem. 27 years later, they’re still dedicated to what they started. It was not naiveté, it was simply a deep belief that something was wrong with America when our family farmers were being forced off the land. So they jumped in headfirst, offering what they do best–a concert to raise funds to save family farmers and to raise awareness–inspiring others to do everything they could do.

Willie, John and Neil never expected that they would have such a cultural impact on farming and food.

Today, as you sit here, you never know what direction your new skills can take you in. I hope you will always be open to new forms of change. And I hope that you will be receptive to the possibilities and opportunities that come to you as you go down the road.

Farm Aid has no degrees (until today! By the way, we’ve looked into whether an organization has received an honorary degree, and we think we’re the first, so thank you, FSU, for thinking outside of the box already!). We don’t have a formal education, but we’ve learned a lot. A real lot. And it’s been through practice. Through seeing what was needed, by trying to figure out the best thing to do, and by doing it. Through perseverance, and through commitment to something bigger than ourselves–but crucially important to all of us–we are keeping family farmers on the land, growing new farmers and changing our food system.
So, graduates, your education and experience at Framingham State University give you the tools that empower you to tackle what’s ahead. You’re ready.

Thank you, for recognizing Farm Aid and our mission. I wish you strength, integrity and faith as you pursue your own mission.

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