The following letter is in response to AgDay host Clinton Griffith's Farm Sense Column: Farm Aid - Does It Love All Famers Equally? The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Farm Aid: Fighting for All Family Farmers Since 1985
by Jennifer Fahy, Communication Director, Farm Aid
When Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid in 1985, they saw the event — and the subsequently formed organization — as a way to amplify the voices of America’s family farmers. That mission has never changed, though the threats to family farming have certainly evolved over the past three decades.
Our organization works each and every day, year-round, to build a system of agriculture that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong rural communities. Since our first concert in 1985, we have raised more than $53 million to support programs that strengthen family farmers, challenge the growing corporate power of our farm and food system, and promote food from family farms and local and regional food systems that allow farmers the opportunity to be price makers, not price takers. We provide annual grants to nonprofit organizations that are close to these issues and can help us better serve family farmers nationwide, as well as build grassroots strength. We also issue emergency grants to farm families hit by natural disasters and man-made disasters out of their control, like the current farm economy.
Per IRS regulations, we are unable to provide grants or loans to individual farmers for the commercial operation of their farms, but we do everything we can to keep family farmers on the land by providing immediate and effective support services to farm families in crisis. To date, Farm Aid remains the only national hotline for farmers (1-800-FARM-AID). Any farmer who calls the hotline receives personalized attention from Farm Aid’s in-house farm advocate, who can advise farmers and connect them to resources to address their financial, legal and emotional health concerns. The last several years of a down farm economy have resulted in more calls, with far too many of those farmers in extreme crisis. Farm Aid has been a leading voice advocating for increased mental health resources for farmers and rural communities.
The comments on this story point to the reality that your farmer readers know well: corporate power and increasing consolidation drives family farmers off the land. Corporate power leads to their increasing political influence over the rules that govern our food system and allows agribusiness to manipulate the marketplace — pushing down the prices paid to family farmers. The issues that Farm Aid works on relate to that reality — from GMOs to contract animal agriculture. These are challenges that family farmers first brought to our attention and asked Farm Aid to help them organize around. Since the commercial introduction of GMOs in 1996, the seed industry has rapidly consolidated; today just four companies control almost 60 percent of the seed market. Farmers can see the results in their balance sheets: between 1995 and 2014, soybean and corn seed spiked dramatically by 351 percent and 321 percent, respectively.
It’s no secret that while farmers are declaring bankruptcy, putting off buying new equipment, and scrimping and saving, draining their assets to hopefully make it through another year, agribusiness is hanging in there just fine. Farm Aid is a voice for family farmers who are fighting back. Less than 1 percent of our population grows our food. Pitting farmer against farmer is not helpful for anyone who shares the mission to keep farmers on the land and engage new farmers. And when eaters understand and value family farmers, a stronger, healthier farm and food system can be built.
We all do better when we work together. Not all farmers have to be part of Farm Aid, but any farmer who calls our hotline, regardless of location, size, production methods, etc., will find a listening ear and a helping hand when they need one.
Farm Aid, Inc.