Farm Aid 2012 is Saturday, Sept. 22, at Hersheypark Stadium. This is Year 27 of the event begun in 1985 by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp – Dave Matthews joined the team in 2001 – to draw attention to the plight of family farms in their competition with land developers and huge factory farms.
“Well, I honestly couldn’t find a reason why anybody would be on the fence, unless they’re short on cash – maybe they’re farmers.” Lukas Nelson, Willie’s son and head of Promise of the Real band, chuckled. “Family farms are the way we get healthy food … that’s quality, not quantity in terms of production.”
He went on to note, “It saves you money in the long-run to get quality food. Then you’re not paying for the medical bills that you’ll almost certainly have later on in life because of the bad choices you made with what you put into your body.”
To which I’ll add an Amen.
I was raised on a farm, of sorts. There was Mom, Dad and four of us youngsters, and a 50-foot by 100-foot patch that kept us in veggies. We grew corn, asparagus, beets, carrots, and several other crops. And we picked crab apples from the Bates’ tree, bought raw milk from the Ellises.
A few miles down the road, strawberries were Pick Your Own. That was fun. The field’s owners threatened every year to weigh me on the way in, and on the way out, to account for the berries I’d eaten whilst picking.
I pitched hay, when that meant using a three-tined “pitch fork” to heave the dried grass and alfalfa into a high-sided wagon. The wagon was towed to the barn, where a special fork lifted the cargo into the hay mow – the upper part of the barn which, in addition to winter food storage, was a great place for children to play, climbing up into the rafters and jumping off into the loose fodder. It was a little like jumping off a tree branch into a creek, except the hay was itchier.
After 20 years in the Navy, I returned home, went to college and became friends with a dairy farmer. It was fun going to the farm (there are farms nearly everywhere that will let you try it) to help tend about 50 head of Holstein milk making machines. His 12-year-old daughter, of course, considered me a college kid, and one day told me there was one cow had an injured teat.
“You milk the three good ones with the machine,” she said. “Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll finish by hand.”
A half hour later, she asked when I was going to tend the injured cow.
“I’ve already done it,” said I.
That was another life, in another state, and I don’t hang around farms much anymore. But I still like what they do. Or how they help me do what I like to do.
I love to eat. I especially love sitting down with good friends and good food. And I know where the stuff comes from.
I got in the habit of eating heartily when I was a teenager, building houses and listening to Mom say the sincerest form of flattery was to have a second helping, and always remember the starving kids in Armenia, which then I didn’t know where it was but I was willing to do my part.
There are, of course, some problems farmers face that the rest of us don’t. In spring, I love to “smell the corn growing,” which is good because Farmer Brown (really, that’s his name!) is only a few hundred yards from my front door. But as a journalist, I’ve written many stories of people who purchased the home of their dreams in a new development, only to discover the cattle operation on the other side of the fence has its own distinctive, uh, aroma.
Bussy York, a farmer where I once lived, and who cuts firewood and performs a few other tasks for people who pay – because milking and growing corn doesn’t pay enough – experienced the Department of Environmental Protection mandating he keep his cows out of a stream that bisected the pasture.
Keeping the cows out of the waterway was a good idea, but the fence cost him use of the half of the pasture his cows had once waded the stream to get to.
And there was Ken Bailey, who, noting the electric company CEO who had mentioned that farmers did what they did out of love instead of desire for monetary wealth, asked why the electric company couldn’t find a CEO who loved his work so much he’d stop charging for electricity.
For years, I wrote about family farms, the tribulations they endured to survive, and the offspring who, noticing the effort-to-profit ratio, left the farm to become engineers, truck drivers and – anything but farmers.
Then, a few years ago, they started coming back. They use computers, and they fill trucks with fresh produce to sell in big cities, such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Restaurants have begun to boast of their fresh, in-season, menus.
But providing the nation’s food still isn’t easy, and for those not fortunate enough to have several generations of expansion, it’s still not a great way to pay for a new pickup.
Family farms, as we like to envision them, still exist, and still deserve our support, which is a great reason to support Farm Aid 2012. Go early and taste the farm-grown goodies. Watch, and maybe help, churn butter and ice cream the way some of us older folks remember it being done.
And stay late, to be entertained by Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Kenny Chesney and others.
Your mind, and your stomach, will be happy you did.
For a look at what Farm Aid does for farmers, and the schedule or performances, visit http://www.farmaid.org/
Photo by brad2021hk
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