2007_08_arts_fa.jpgGiven the conspicuous absence of farmers in New York City, the decision to stage a Farm Aid benefit here may seem surprising. But when one considers the booming popularity of Greenmarkets throughout the city, the metropolitan locale makes a certain sense. This year’s Farm Aid will feature an abundance of organic food on sale from local farms, so health-conscious New Yorkers are sure to feel right at home. And for one week starting today, top city restaurants like Angelica Kitchen and Gramercy Tavern will offer family farm meals using sustainable, humane farming practices. The all-day event takes place this Sunday on Randall's Island; the line-up boasts Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, and many more. (Buy tickets here.)

Please share your favorite example of how Farm Aid has directly helped someone in dire straits.
Back in the mid-1990s there was a very bad drought across the southeast. We got a call from a dairy farmer in South Carolina who was on the verge of going under because he had no more hay for his cows. Farm Aid quickly mobilized a hay relief with farmers in other states who had surplus hay. The hay arrived just in time. Not only was the farmer able to keep his dairy operating, but it also allowed him to re-think his whole operation and make it much more sustainable and profitable. Today, he runs a thriving farm business doing direct marketing. He’s a pioneer in pasture based dairying and has become a model for dairy farmers who want to retain more of the profit from their farm. Later, he donated hay via a Farm Aid haylift to farmers in Texas who were having a drought! Farm Aid’s help kept him on his land – but it also preserved the possibility for a farmer to farm in new ways that protect the environment and build local food systems. That’s the hopeful future for family farmers and all of us.

Besides directly aiding farmers, how else is the Farm Aid money spent?
Farm Aid’s mission is to keep family farmers on the land. Our goal is to bring together family farmers and all of us who eat to restore family farm-centered agriculture. Farm Aid has four key programs accomplish that accomplish this mission: Promoting Food from Family Farms, Growing the Good Food Movement, Helping Farmers Thrive, Taking Action to Change the System.

While Farm Aid does provide direct funds to family farmers in times of crisis and disaster, like the story above about the South Carolina farmer, the main goals of the Farm Aid concert and related events are to raise public awareness about the multiple benefits of family farm agriculture, to promote family farm food, and to raise funds for family farm-centered food production. Farm Aid “program grants” do NOT go to individual family farmers for business purposes, but rather to non-profit family farm organizations that in many different ways build and strengthen family farm agriculture.

This year's Farm Aid is called A HOMEGROWN Festival. What's that about?
HOMEGROWN is an invitation to taste delicious family farmer food at our concessions. Food just tastes better when you know the story about who grew it and how it was grown! Concertgoers can explore the sources of good food at the HOMEGROWN Village, a place to dip your hands into organic soil and meet some heroic family farmers.

Besides the line-up, what else sets this year's Farm Aid apart from previous years?
Farm Aid 2007: A HOMEGROWN Festival will be the biggest family farm food restaurant in New York, and it’s open for only one day! This is the first major concert event where concert-goers can enjoy local, organic and family farm food.

We will create a HOMEGROWN Village where people can meet farmers and learn how family farms promote renewable energy. People can explore healthy organic soil, learn about farming and clean water, and how to grow plants and raise chickens, even in the city. The HOMEGROWN Village is open to all Farm Aid 2007: A HOMEGROWN Festival ticket holders.

There aren't a lot of farms in New York City. Why do Farm Aid here?
New York City is the biggest media market in the world, and we’ve got a story to tell! With inspiring music on stage all day long, delicious foods to eat, and hands on exhibits about food and farming we hope people will leave the festival with songs in their heads, and a new yearning for good food grown with care by family farmers.

What is the “Good Food Movement”?
The Good Food Movement is the growing number of people who are paying close attention to where their food is grown, how it is grown, and by whom. More and more people are demanding food that is healthful, organic, locally grown, humanely-raised, hormone-free – and they’re coming to the realization that family farmers are the ones who can grow this food. The foundation of this burgeoning Good Food Movement is the family farm. Industrial, chemical intensive agriculture, with its factory farms and monocroppong has resulted in a food system that has public health consequences—like diabetes and obesity. The Good Food Movement is a healthy response to industrial agriculture, which is creating a whole new food system.

In the twenty (plus) years since Farm Aid began, has the life of the average family farmer in America gotten better or worse?
There is still a crisis in American agriculture – we are still losing about 300 farms per week in the US. This is a terrible loss of the deep knowledge of the land that is needed for sustainable farming. But thanks to growing consumer demand through the Good Food Movement, there are more and more opportunities for family farmers grow the food that more people want. Right now, in some areas, there is more demand than family farmers can supply. Simply put, we need more family farmers on the land. Right now we’re importing a good share of the organic food that folks want, because domestic supply is not available. America has all we need to meet domestic demand for quality food– fertile land, innovative farmers, and appropriate technology. Farm Aid’s vision is to have more family farmers on the land growing good food and taking care of our natural resources. We see a lot of farmers taking advantage of the emerging market opportunities and thriving.

According to Oxfam "The current Farm Bill represents a broken promise to America's farmers and rural communities, and it falls short of meeting its obligations to families that depend on food stamps and conservation programs that protect rivers and streams. To make things worse, the current Farm Bill actually hurts poor farmers in developing countries." Where does Farm Aid stand on the Farm Bill the Senate takes up in the fall?
Ultimately, for the farm bill to be a positive force for change, both here and across the globe, Congress has to put the interests of family farmers, consumers and the environment above the interests of the international grain traders. Current US farm policy is wreaking havoc on farm communities across the country and around the globe. We support a farm bill that secures the economic livelihood of family farms – not through subsidies but a fair price for farmers – and steers US agriculture in a new direction that restores our soil and water, provides good, healthful food for all, and that strengthens local communities. Congress must pass a new Farm Bill with these goals if it is to have a positive impact.