Welcoming an Old Friend Home: Farm Aid 2014

We would like to welcome Farm Aid to North Carolina, as we would welcome an old friend into our home. Farm Aid was created 29 years ago to respond to the needs of farm families facing the pain of losing their farms. Some of our staff members were there at that first concert, and ever since, we and other organizations like us have worked closely with Farm Aid to serve farmers in need. When a farmer calls the Farm Aid hotline from North Carolina and parts of the south, they get our phone number, and we send one of our staff members out to sit at the kitchen table and figure out a way to save the farm. We have the privilege of sitting with farm families to provide comfort in their darkest times.

There are issues that you often hear about in general. How do we save the family farm? How do we help farm families transition the farm to the next generation? How do we make farms and agriculture more sustainable? Farm advocates like us deal with those questions in the specific. How do we save THIS family farm? How do we help THIS family farm transition to the next generation and become more sustainable.

You are going to hear a lot today about good food from family farms. And just like everyone else, we like to eat well and have a clean environment and all those good things. But please know that this conversation and the work of all of the organizations who work with Farm Aid, is still rooted in stopping the pain of a farm family, sitting at the kitchen table, facing the loss of all they’ve known.

RAFI’s Executive Director Scott Marlow speaks at the Farm Aid 2014 press conference.

And over the years, while driving home or after we hang up the phone, we have also been asking the question what is it that puts farm families in this situation and what can we do about it. That work at kitchen tables gives us, and many of the other organizations who work with Farm Aid, unique insight into what does and does not help farm families stay on the land.

The answer to that question immediately becomes complex. It is about natural disasters and change in the marketplace. But it is also about access to credit and disaster programs. It is about fairness and openness of markets. It is about the minute language of regulations and legislation. It is about all of those issues that make people’s eyes glaze over, but that make the difference between staying on the land or not.

And what we see is that the industrial approach that treats the land as a factory and people as equipment, chasing more production cheaper, also treats our farm families as disposable. For some, loss of family farms, destruction of our rural communities, mistreatment of workers and pollution of the land and water are just collateral damage in the quest for the industrial efficiency of concentration, uniformity and specialization.

But agriculture is part of the natural world, not industrial world, and nature does not work like that. As we chase that efficiency, the cost of propping it up and cleaning it up is getting more and more expensive. Worse, the farmers who are doing the right thing have a harder and harder time competing. We, with Farm Aid, see that human cost every day.

So we also welcome Farm Aid to North Carolina because North Carolina is at the forefront of that choice. We have a growing market for organic and sustainable food, but are also one of the top states in confinement poultry and hog production. What North Carolina’s agriculture, rural communities, and land will look like in the future is very much in question right now.

What will answer that question is three things; how people eat, how they vote, and what they are willing to raise hell over. We are overjoyed to welcome to North Carolina Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews, and all of the people at Farm Aid, who for almost 30 years have been willing to raise hell for the family farm.

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