Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp announced plans Monday for Farm Aid No. 20, with an emphasis on saving family farms by creating demands for organic food and alternative energy sources.
The latest edition of what organizers call the longest-running benefit concert in America will take place Sept. 18 at a concert venue in Tinley Park near Chicago.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Do you guys think you’ve made a difference?”’ Mellencamp said. “I always say the same thing — in an individual person’s life, Farm Aid has made a great difference. In the big scope of things with the government, probably not so much. With the individuals, we’ve helped a lot,” he said.
“We know we’re making some sort of impact, that’s why we’re still here,” Nelson told reporters, a cap shading his head under a blazing sun on Chicago’s lakefront.
The Indiana-based rocker and the Texas troubadour, along with Neil Young and others, organized the first Farm Aid concert 20 years ago in Champaign, Illinois. While family farms are not going under at the rate they were then, 300 farmers still quit the business every week, the Farm Aid organization said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are 2.1 million farms across the country. Citing a University of Iowa estimate, Farm Aid said 560,000 are family farms, which get their income principally from the land.
We’re “trying to get a good farm bill that will help farmers stay on the land and try to figure out ways ... where the farmer can make more money for his family,” Nelson said.
“One of the ways we’ve found in the last few months is biodiesel,” Nelson said of the cleaner burning fuel made from renewable sources such as vegetable oil.
Mellencamp said Farm Aid has “always been about a dream of equality for the little guy,” but the focus is always changing because “when you think you’ve helped individuals over here ... you look around and the government’s done this and you have to go (over) there.”
Glenda Yoder, associate director for Farm Aid, the group formed after the first concert, said the events have raised $27 million. Over 80 percent has been spent on programs to promote family farming, while the rest has been devoted to operating costs.
“Over the years we’ve funded a very wide range of programs, everything from direct emergency assistance when people need groceries and medical help” to campaigns against factory farms, she said in an interview.
There is a growing consumer interest in buying organically grown foods, she said, one that has the potential to return more farmers to the land and make more money for family farmers.