I’m six different kinds of sweaty, mud-splattered, jet-lagged and sore from hauling around a good 35 lbs. of equipment. I am also having an outrageously good time.
Farm Aid 2014, in the humid glory of Raleigh, NC, is in full swing. The smell of grilled meat fills the air, competing with the full-scale rhythm and blues emanating from the state. The crowd is a lively mix of farmers, advocates, locals, and fans- and as I write, a man walks by in a t-shirt that reads, “the dude abides,” brightening the cloud-heavy sky with a moment of pop culture levity.
Spirits are high, and the music has us all moving; and yet, there’s much more happening here. As the morning’s press conference made clear- the music is not what this is about. The family farmers, the food, their stories. Overcoming inequality. Fair and ethical treatment of workers. Safe working conditions and land stewardship. Human dignity. Community. The nation’s health. (While discussing the connection between the food we eat and our health, Farm Aid Co-Founder Willie Nelson said, “We used to say we are trying to save the family farmer; now the family farmer is trying to save us.”)
The event’s founders share a commitment to furthering the cause, and celebrate the strides made; at the same time, they are honest about their frustrations in facing the same issues 29 years in. A selection of short family-farmer profiles highlight the difficulties these salt-of-the-earth men and women face, from unfair contracts in the conventional poultry sector to the difficulty in finding organic certified methods for animal deworming. Staggering debt, punitive reactions to speaking out, there is bravery in telling these stories- these folks risk their livelihood in speaking truth to power.
Even so- The Homegrown tents feature local farmers and local cuisine, farm fresh produce and an impressive offering of educational seminars- from pest control to how to make a flower crown, soil health to seed saving, recipes and tips. There are children drawing chalk murals on the concrete, despite the intermittent rain. Against the backdrop of Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, the sun slips behind the hills and leaves us with a glorious sunset. Eat, drink and be merry wins the day.