Celebrants at Iowa CCI party for Willie Nelson's birthday
Farm Aid program director Shorlette Ammons (second from left) joined Hugh Espey (right) and staff and members of Iowa CCI and the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment to celebrate Willie Nelson last weekend.

Blog | May 3, 2023

Farm and Rural Activists Honor Willie Nelson on His Birthday

by Farm Aid Guest Blogger

There was a huge party to celebrate Willie’s 90th birthday last week in Los Angeles, which you’ve most certainly heard about. We wanted to be sure you know there was an important birthday party in Iowa too! Below is an article from our friends at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, who hosted the shindig that focused on thanking Willie for his work to save family farms and fight factory farms in the Midwest.


On his 90th birthday, Iowa CCI honors Willie Nelson

Family farmers and rural advocates thank Willie Nelson for his work to save family farms and fight factory farms in the Midwest

By Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement

Family farm organizations from Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, April 29, to celebrate the 90th birthday of our friend, country music legend Willie Nelson. We honored Willie for his long history and deep commitment to economic justice for farmers, opposition to factory farms, and support for grassroots democracy and a clean environment in rural America.

Willie is serious about his role in the family farm movement. As co-founder and President of Farm Aid for almost four decades, Willie has done more to elevate family farm issues and oppose industrial livestock factories than almost anyone. He has shown up many times for us here at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), as well as for other rural groups from all across the country.

I think back to 1997 when Willie came to Clive and helped lead a large protest against the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the factory farms they represent.

Iowa CCI and other members of the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment organized the protest to expose NPPC’s close ties corporate meatpackers and political agenda driving family farmers out of the hog business. Willie showed up for us in Clive after receiving an invitation letter from Iowa CCI member Alice Ginter. I can still see Willie firing up the crowd, chanting “Family Farms, Yes! Factory Farms, No!”

Alice Ginter and Willie Nelson

Alice Ginter invited Willie Nelson to the protest and stood by him as he addressed the crowd.

Willie stayed in that fight, meeting with family farmers to check in and hear about our organizing over the next few years while he was on tour. Willie and Farm Aid helped to fund our campaign to terminate the mandatory pork checkoff and end the NPPC’s gravy train. Though the pork checkoff continues to operate due to a court decision, we did successfully win a national vote of hog farmers calling for an end to the pork checkoff with Willie’s help.

Willie Nelson speaks at the NPPC protest

Willie Nelson speaks at the NPPC protest, helping to generate media interest and passing the microphone to farmers and rural community members most impacted by factory farms.

Unlike many celebrities, Willie is both a leader and participant in the organizing efforts he supports. He knows that showing up is a necessary first step, and when all eyes are on him, he knows when to pass the mic and listen. By hearing directly from farmers struggling against the corporate takeover of agriculture, Willie and Farm Aid are able to take those stories and deliver desperately needed assistance. Willie shows up, rallies the people, and makes space for local grassroots leaders making change happen in their communities.

At our party, we honored Willie with a family farm meal, showed video clips of Willie in action, and played dozens of Willie’s hits. But we really threw this party to thank Willie and Farm Aid for all that they’ve done to support those of us fighting for progressive change in Farm Country. We raise our glasses of Whiskey River to you, Willie. Thanks for having our backs, and we’ll see you On the Road Again.

Farm Aid program director Shorlette Ammons and members of Iowa CCI and the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment to celebrate Willie Nelson last weekend

Farm Aid program director Shorlette Ammons (second from left) joined Hugh Espey (right) and staff and members of Iowa CCI and the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment to celebrate Willie Nelson last weekend.

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