Fear and concern about the economic crisis plaguing farmers all over the country shows no signs of ending. Unfortunately, it makes some of us in the Farm Aid office feel like we’re reliving history. Our organization started in response to the farm crisis of the 1980s, when plummeting farm product prices and land values, rising interest rates and unfair lending practices pushed tens of thousands of farms out of business. It was in this context that Willie Nelson, joined by John Mellencamp and Neil Young, organized a groundbreaking concert in 1985 to raise awareness and funds to strengthen America’s family farmers.
The farm crisis didn’t end in 1985, and Farm Aid’s actions for family farmers didn’t stop then either. We recently came across this May 8, 1986, copy of USA Today reporting on a rally in Missouri where John Mellencamp performed and spoke with farmers to protest the government’s response to the farm crisis.
Read the text of the article below:
Mellencamp Sings to Help the Farmers
by Mary Marymont
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. – It wasn’t really a concert, but thousands of people showed up Wednesday in this farm town of 10,000 near Kansas City to hear John Cougar Mellencamp sing and farmers speak. The crowd was a mix of teen fans and farmers fighting to keep their farms.
Mellencamp was drawn here by a protest that has had demonstrators ringing the Livingston County Farmer’s Home Administration for the past 52 days. Farmers say the agency has been insensitive to their credit needs, and that its director, David Stollings, hasn’t approved loans on time.
“This isn’t new for me to be worried about farmers,” said Mellencamp before the two-hour program of speeches and singing. “I grew up in a farm community of 15,000 (Seymour, Ind.). My friends are all farmers.”
Mellencamp said he chose to sing Scarecrow, Pink Houses and Small Town because they all deal with the rural USA. “I believe we need to change the face of America. These people, farmers, are your people… We’ve got to help each other. I want to help and make the media and people in this country aware of farmers’ problems.”
Mellencamp said he plans to attend Farm Aid 2, scheduled for July 4 at Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Farm Aid 1, last Sept. 22 in Champaign, Ill., was only an introduction, he said.
Mellencamp’s performance with two other members of his band, violin player Lisa Germano and mandolin player Larry Crane, was preceded by speeches from several leaders of the agricultural movement, including Bobbi Polzine, 50, founder of the Groundswell Organization, Wayne Cryts, a southeast Missouri soybean farmer, and Roger Allison, director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which is organizing the protest.
There are a lot of Chillicothes across the USA, Mellencamp said. “Hopefully, these people here can be the voice of people all over America…”
“I don’t want to do Hands Across America, and I didn’t do Live Aid for my own reasons,” Mellencamp said. “I’m really into this grass-roots thing for protests like this one. I feel that I understand the problems of the farmers, and maybe I can help them.”
We don’t have video footage from this rally in Missouri, but we do have John Mellencamp’s performance from Farm Aid II held two months later. Given today’s farm economy, it might be time for farmers to protest once again. As for Farm Aid, we’re still at it – answering our farmer hotline and providing resources to farmers, encouraging everyone to get involved because we all depend on farmers for good food, and bringing together artists, farmers and eaters for change each year at the annual Farm Aid festival.
- Check out our timeline to learn more about Farm Aid’s efforts to help family farmers and the Good Food Movement.
- Farm Aid is still working for family farmers, but so is Roger Allison of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, who helped organized this rally back in 1986. Learn why Roger Allison and Rhonda Perry (who are Executive Director and Program Director, respectively) are two of our Farmer Heroes.