Last weekend was a weekend of “firsts” for me: my first visit to Kansas, my first farm advocates meeting, my first Farm Aid press event and my first time at a Farm Aid concert as both a spectator and Farm Aid intern. It was incredible to see all of the projects and ideas that have been brewing in the office in the past months converge into such a fluid series of events.
The Farm Advocates meeting at the National Agricultural Hall of Fame was the perfect precursor to the concert: those who have been defending farmers’ rights for years gathered under the watchful eye (at least in portrait form) of the institution’s most recent inductee—Willie Nelson himself. Although I didn’t get to attend the workshops, the advocates and Farm Aid staff who did seemed to come away from them energized. I think it must be invigorating for advocates to know that they are not alone in their fight for family farmers, and that their cause is more relevant than ever.
In what seemed like no time at all, the weekend flipped from the quieter, more thoughtful advocates meeting to the frenzy of concert set-up. I watched the empty plaza outside of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park transform into a lively HOMEGROWN Village—even through the downpours everyone was happily hustling around in preparation, hauling banners and boxes up and down the stadium stairs all afternoon. We were all tired after the Friday night kickoff party, but the day ended on a high note, as most of the Farm Aid staff took the opportunity to watch Neil Young’s sound check. Hearing him sing “Heart of Gold” to a nearly empty 20,000- seat stadium was so powerful.
The next morning at the press event that kicks off concert day, each member of the panel spoke briefly but urgently about the importance of family farms to our nation’s economy, health and community. Being in that room was a two-sided experience. I felt the weight that the four Farm Aid founders’ words carried as a result of their fame, and simultaneously saw them as real people, just a group of old friends. When all the speakers, including Kansas farmers, had their say, it was suddenly concert time.
Concert day was the best kind of insanity. People from all over the country poured into LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and were overwhelmingly impressed with the HOMEGROWN Village, the food, the music, and most importantly, the cause behind it all. The participation in our “Turnip the Heat” booth (at which concertgoers could contact their representatives about fair farm policies) was phenomenal, and seeing Neil Young signing a petition while he was touring the HOMEGROWN Village really struck a chord with everyone working to save family farmers not just on concert day, but every day.
With so many amazing goings-on at this year’s concert, I feel only slightly odd that I’ve made no mention of the music yet! Although I spent a lot of the day camping out in the makeshift Farm Aid office to blog, I had possibly the coolest live workday soundtrack of all time. Well, assuming that you can call a Farm Aid concert a work day—I’m not quite convinced that you can.
**All photos by Cathy McDermott-Tingle.