The 31st annual Farm Aid concert will be held this weekend in Bristow, Virginia. The concert – which is America’s “longest running concert for a cause” – always provides a stellar and diverse line-up of musicians. You can learn more about the concert by reading this piece written by Andrew Amelinckx; it appears in Modern Farmer.

Most of us know about the genesis of the Farm Aid organization. In response to the farm crisis in the early 1980s, musicians Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985, hoping to raise awareness about the loss of family farms. The concert and their work raised funds to keep farm families on the land. Musician Dave Matthews joined the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001. Since its inception, the Farm Aid organization has raised a whopping $48 million for family farmers. More importantly, perhaps, it has educated and connected a broad range of consumers to family farm issues. And not just Americans: people come from all over the world to celebrate small producers.

But FarmAid has also become a vital convening place for the “good food” movement: for those who seek to advance the work of family farmers. The organization’s work is helping to reshape America’s food system so that it reflects values including justice, diversity, democracy and sustainability. It encourages stronger connections between farmers and producers and supports local and regional food systems. You can read more about the issues Farm Aid engages in by visiting this page on the organization’s website.

Per co-founder John Mellencamp:

“We all see what’s happening with agriculture, what’s happening to our small towns. They are going out of business. That’s a direct result of the farm problem. We’re still doing Farm Aid because it is contributing. It’s doing a job.

Musician Dave Matthews had this to say:

“What represents America? Certainly, I think that the family farm is a main ingredient of what made America.”


On Saturday September 17, the Farm Aid concert will live stream from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m. EDT. You can also watch the webcast on Farm Aid’s YouTube channel. This year the Farm Aid organization will also be streaming the concert on Facebook Live.


Editor’s Note: To learn more about the 1980s farm crisis, read our Q&A with Ricardo Salvador from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Also, you may wish to view this 2013 documentary produced by Iowa Public Television. The documentary is – in part – based on the 1990 book The Farm Debt Crisis of the 1980s, written by Iowa State University economist Neil Harl.

Last year I attended Farm Aid’s 30th anniversary concert in Chicago. Prior to the event I read a book that provided some context for the Farm Crisis. In “Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town,” author Nick Reding links the failure of small farms and the rise of “Big Ag” and “Big Pharma” with the methamphetamine drug crisis. Not a new book, but I had forgotten how many pages Reding devotes to analyzing and critiquing the consolidation of the food system and its impact on family farmers. #goodread


Related Reading:

Q&A with Shirley Sherrod

Notes from #FarmAid30

Picture Perfect: Audra Mulkern and the Female Farmer Project