Willie Nelson backstage at Farm Aid 2017
Photo © Scott Streble

Blog | December 7, 2018

Resilience: Having the courage to persevere

by Willie Nelson

Farmers across much of the country have put their fields to rest for the winter under wheat and rye and cover crops that protect their soil. This is the time of year when I think about family farmers the most. It’s when we gather with family to give thanks for the hardworking women and men who farm the land to bring us good food. But I know our thanks won’t be enough. That is why I write this now.

The farm economy is earning farmers half of what they earned just five years ago. Trade wars have disrupted their markets. Natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires have destroyed fields and barns and caused billions of dollars in damage. That’s why your support of the families, friends and neighbors who sustain us with wholesome food and take care of our soil and water is as important as ever. Throughout the year, Farm Aid has been there for farmers when they call our hotline. And we all need to be there for farmers now, because we need them to be there for us.

With all the challenges family farmers face, I’m inspired by how strong they must be to keep going. They rise before dawn and work past dusk day in and day out, unsure what Mother Nature and man-made forces will send their way. I grew up in a farm community. I used to pick cotton and pull corn. Long ago I learned first-hand what it is that keeps family farmers going.

It’s called resilience – having the courage to persevere – and we heard a lot about it in Hartford this September at Farm Aid 2018. Farmers reminded us how they love tending the earth and its plants and animals, in spite of the struggles. That love and their resolve inspires me. And I hope it inspires you, too.

I’m proud of the work we do here at Farm Aid. For 33 years, we’ve been a beacon of hope for family farmers.

I’m proud of the work we do here at Farm Aid. For 33 years, we’ve been a beacon of hope for family farmers – whenever they need us. We’ve done far more than that, though. Every day, we connect family farmers around the country with the resources they need to gain access to land, credit and markets so that they remain resilient.

When they call the Farmer Hotline, we’re there to take the call. This year, the calls have been non-stop. And all signs point to another tough year ahead, with falling incomes and rising production costs.

As if the farm economy wasn’t enough of a disaster, farmers were also hit by terrible hurricanes this year. Just as we did last year in times of natural disaster, Farm Aid activated our Family Farm Disaster Fund to support boots-on-the-ground efforts to help farmers pick up the pieces after hurricanes Florence and Michael tore through their farms.

Joe Greenbacker and daughter Melissa by Jennifer Fahy

Joe Greenbacker and his daughter Melissa talked to us about how it felt to close their tenth generation dairy farm. Photo © Jennifer Fahy

In Connecticut this year we met Joe Greenbacker and his daughter Melissa Greenbacker Dziurgot of Brookfield Farm. Their dairy used to have more than 300 cows but recently they made the difficult decision to close down because of low prices. Even though Melissa wanted to take over her family’s tenth-generation farm, it just didn’t make sense to continue. “I wanted to take over the farming legacy,” said Melissa. As her voice cracked with emotion she explained, “Sometimes it feels like a failure because I wasn’t able to continue.” Melissa and her dad are not alone. Since 1973, our country has lost 93% of our dairy farms. Still, she says, “I am definitely hopeful. I think there are opportunities out there for me.” She’s right and reinventing her farm future will take all of her resilience.

In the Northeastern corner of the state, we met Kies Orr of Fort Hill Farms. “My father would get groups of farmers together and go to the legislative building and we’d all fight for agriculture,” she said, remembering her father Peter, a force for Connecticut agriculture. Sadly, her dad made the decision to take his own life rather than burden the farm with his mounting medical bills. Kies returned home from college to join her mom Kristen and, by diversifying their dairy operation, they’re determined to keep their family farm – and Peter’s legacy – going. Kies says, “The plan is for my boyfriend Jared and I to take over and for our kids to be the next generation.” That takes resilience, too.

Kies Orr and her boyfriend Jared

Kies Orr and her boyfriend Jared of Fort Hill Farms are working with Kies’’ mom Kristen to diversify their family farm in Connecticut. Photo © Jennifer Fahy

We hear from farmers in crisis every week. When they turn to Farm Aid, we’re here to listen and to connect them with resources that can make a difference. As Kies told us when thinking about her dad, “If I can mention anything, seek help. Seek help, seek help, seek help.” That’s what Farm Aid is there for… for family farmers seeking help. These days, we’re overwhelmed by the number of farmers calling, so we’ve increased the number of folks at Farm Aid to be sure that when they call, we can answer.

Your gift of $75 is a gift of hope for family farmers. I’m asking you to give now so that Farm Aid can keep answering their calls.

When my friend and Farm Aid co-founder Neil Young took to the stage this year, he rallied people to stop at farmer’s markets on their way home from Farm Aid 2018. And do you know what happened the next day? People stopped. Family farmers across New England told us that people stopped at farmer’s markets and farm stands and purchased their food because Neil asked them to support local farmers. Now it’s your turn.

Family farmers across New England told us that people stopped at farmer’s markets and farm stands and purchased their food because Neil asked them to support local farmers. Photo © Scott Streble

We all depend on family farmers to survive. Farmers put food on our table. They are the stewards of our soil and water. Farmers strengthen our local economies. They are the backbone of our communities. Supporting Farm Aid is one of the ways you can be part of the solution – to help make family farms more resilient. Just like stopping at your local farmers market, it’s an action you can take that has a positive impact on the lives of family farmers.

Every small action we take can make big things happen. Please take this step and join me by making a gift to Farm Aid now.

Stay Strong and Positive,




Willie Nelson
President, Farm Aid

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