willie nelson smiling
Photo © Marc Hauser

Blog | December 7, 2016

Meet Some of Willie Nelson’s Farmer Heroes

by Willie Nelson

You and I have depended on family farmers all our lives. They fill our plate three times each day, they strengthen our local economy, and they are the backbone of our communities.

For 31 years, the annual Farm Aid concert has been a way for us to honor family farmers and the role they play in a strong America. Farm Aid 2016, in Bristow, Virginia, celebrated family farmers in the region and across the country. Our crowd of 20,000 was inspired by farmers and their ingenuity. By the end of the day, people understood better that each of us has an important role to play to strengthen family farm agriculture.

On the Farm Aid stage, farmers from Virginia and Washington, D.C., told their stories of struggle and success. We heard from Robin Robbins and Roger Garrett. They are farmers in Appalachia, which has lost its two main industries: tobacco and coal. But local food is bringing hope to the region, improving farmers’ livelihoods, creating jobs and bringing healthy, fresh food to people who need it.

We heard from Miranda Trent, a nurse practitioner who partners with Local Food Hub to provide fresh, local foods to her patients who struggle to eat healthy. And we met Ms. Mary Morgan and Boe Umar, who with the help of activist Chris Bradshaw, who have transformed an empty lot in D.C. into a community garden that feeds their neighborhood — physically and emotionally.

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Dave Matthews and Chris Bradshaw take a selfie and discuss urban farming.

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John Mellencamp with farmers Robin Robbins and Roger Garrett.

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Willie meets urban farmers and activists Ms Mary Morgan and Boe Umar.

Listening to those farmers and activists on stage, my friend John Mellencamp said that he’s never felt so inspired in all our years of doing this work. I felt that way, too. That’s why I wanted to share these stories with you.

One of the simplest things you and I can do for family farmers is to let them know how much we value them. I want to share another story to show how Farm Aid values farmers and makes a difference in their lives…

This spring, we met Rona Sullivan of Sullivan’s Pond Farm in Virginia. She wrote an article about the need for people to not just say they support local farmers, but to actually support them. Rona is a farmer who speaks her mind, and Farm Aid staff reached out to see if she’d be willing to be one of our Farmer Heroes.
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Rona and the Sullivan family of Sullivan’s Pond Farm.

Our monthly “Farmer Hero” story highlights farmers who make a difference across the country. Farm Aid’s communications director, Jennifer, talked with Rona and her family for nearly two hours. The connection was immediate, and in the conversation, it became clear that Farm Aid might be able to help Sullivan’s Pond Farm as they worked to strengthen and grow their farm. Jennie, our in-house farm advocate, connected Rona with one of our most qualified experts to do just that.

Farm Aid’s associate director, Glenda, saw another way Farm Aid could support the farm. She purchased Sullivan’s Pond Farm cheeses to sell at Farm Aid 2016 in our HOMEGROWN Concessions®. The cheeses were a big hit with concertgoers and the Sullivan family was there at Farm Aid 2016 to see for themselves.

After the concert they wrote to us, “All of us here at Sullivan’s Pond Farm have had our spirits buoyed at a time when, to be quite honest we were feeling a bit down. We had a great time at Farm Aid 2016, and came back feeling loved and appreciated. It’s not often that you get stopped by strangers and thanked for what you do!”

This year, with your generous support, we offered resources to thousands of family farmers. When farmers called 1-800-FARM-AID, we were there, and we will continue to be there for every farmer. But calls to our hotline are increasing as farm prices decrease and as drought, floods and hurricanes strike farmers in regions across the country. Farm Aid needs your support to answer the call for every family farmer.

All of us gain when we create a strong, family-farm centered system of agriculture. Family farmers offer us health by bringing us good food, and they protect our future by caring for our soil and water. If we want good food from family farms, we need to support them every step along the way.

I started Farm Aid because I wanted to give everyone a way to be part of the solution to problems created by unfair farm policies and corporate power. I wanted family farmers to make a decent and fair living. I wanted them to know they are not alone—we are all in this together.

I know how hard family farmers work, because I grew up in a farm community. I’m guessing you can trace your roots back to a farmer or two as well. Family farmers are our friends and neighbors, and pillars of our communities. When they are able to succeed on the land, our towns are stronger and our families benefit from the hard work they do every single day.

Farm Aid works every day to keep every family farmer on the land. We provide resources so farmers can gain access to land, credit and markets–the support they need to thrive. Farm Aid tells the stories of family farmers, like Rona, Ms. Mary and Boe so they are valued and celebrated.

Please make a gift today to support Farm Aid and family farmers. Join me and let’s show our farmers that we value their hard work.

Stay Strong & Positive,

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Willie Nelson
President, Farm Aid

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