“God bless Willie Nelson; when he made a commitment, he stuck to it.”

photo by Natkin

by Rick Cohen

Wow, it’s been a quarter century since the Farm Aid concert of 1985 meant to provide help to family farmers, but Farm Aid is going to gin up another concert again for its 25th anniversary. 

Originally it was Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp who joined up to raise awareness of the plight of family farms.  Later Dave Matthews joined them as one of the leading musicians weighing in on family farms.  Farm Aid’s Web site [http://www.farmaid.org/site/c.qlI5IhNVJsE/b.2723609/k.C8F1/About_Us.htm] claims that the musicians have raised $36 million for family farmers and created the Farmer Resource Network to provide information and support for family-owned farms around the nation.  Truth be told, this author first really began to appreciate Willie Nelson through his Farm Aid performances. 

We count nearly two dozen Farm Aid concerts as of late 2009.  How has Farm Aid actually done?  A quick peek at Farm Aid’s 990s on Guidestar.org suggests that it runs a pretty decent operation, the 990s are very clear and informative. 

Raising money through concerts is not necessarily the most efficient fundraising mechanism, but the fact that top flight performers and bands donate their time for Farm Aid concerts helps – include in this Arlo Guthrie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hootie and the Blowfish, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Lyle Lovett, the late Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, Garth Brooks, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and the late Roy Orbison, just to name only a few of the hundreds who have performed at Farm Aid. 

It’s hard to imagine that $36 million toward family farms has made much of a dent in the ubiquitous corporate farming behemoths, but it has kept the issue of family farmers alive for many Americans and advocated for family farmers through the Homegrown.org Good Food Movement. 

Nelson and Mellencamp testified in front of Congress in support of the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, aimed at saving family farms from foreclosure.  There’s a lot of celebrity charity that is basically hype and little more.  That isn’t the case with Farm Aid.  But as John Mellencamp told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and St. Paul about Willie Nelson’s “tao,” “Where is Live Aid [now]?…There are still kids starving in Africa, just as there are still American farmers who need help. God bless Willie. When he made a commitment, he stuck to it.”

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