Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Get Off My Tractor!

Neil Young is pissed, and you should be, too.

“Why?” you ask. “He’s an angry, old hippie. What is it THIS time? The government? Evil corporations? Is Big Brother coming to get me? Pffft. Whatever it is, it’s all blah, blah, blah.”

Except…it’s not. America really is dying. Look around you. When I was a kid, we used to joke about the worthlessness of Canadian money. Ask a Canadian about OUR money today. We used to pack a lunch and sit down for a home-cooked dinner. Kids played outside and got fresh air and exercise. One paycheck supported a household. The rest of the world applauded us. Water was FREE!

Were “the good ol’ days” perfect? Hell no! There was plenty for Neil Young to be pissed about then, too; racism, sexual inequality, war, poverty, homelessness, and political corruptness were rampant. And I think that’s the heart of it: we’ve taken steps in the right direction, to be sure (women and people of color can vote, whiskey and abortions are legal, the peaks of Washington and Colorado are both literally and figuratively high), but – in our country’s history – we haven’t really resolved a damn thing. Add a crumbling infrastructure, failing public assistance and educational systems, epic dependence on foreign oil, rapidly diminishing domestic resources, and the slow demise of small business at the hands of gargantuan super conglomerates, and you (we) have a BIG problem.

Somebody needs to do something about something.

In 1985, in response to a comment Bob Dylan made during Live Aid, two angry hippies and the poster child for the American Heartland decided to do what they could about an issue that effects all of us, so they gathered a bunch of blues, rock, and country friends and – with only six weeks’ preparation – performed a benefit concert in Champaign, Illinois, to support America’s farmers. They called it Farm Aid. Over 50 bands/entertainers stepped up to help, including Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Bon Jovi, John Denver, Foreigner, and B.B. King. Van Halen even debuted their new singer, Sammy Hagar. Attendance was around 80,000. They raised $9 million. Neil, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp thought they were done. Turns out, family farms in America needed way more help than anyone thought…(excerpts from FarmAid.org):

1985: To compete with exponential growth of large scale, industrial “factory farms,” and after decades of advancing technology had already forced them to “trade horses for tractors,” record numbers of family farms reported record amounts of debt

1991: Following a devastating drop in market prices, dairy farmers organized around the country in an effort to survive

1992: Farmer’s Home Administration sent out 40,000 foreclosure notices to troubled farms; every five farms that closed took one small business with them

1993: Heavy rains in the Midwest caused the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to overflow, swallowing entire towns; thousands of families were homeless; eight million acres of crops were destroyed, 20 million acres were damaged [Note: this was also the year the FDA approved the use of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to speed the production of milk]

1994 & 1995: For two years in a row, our country lost over 500 farms a week; Ernest Krikava, a 60-year-old Nebraska farmer, was sentenced to prison for illegally selling his hogs during his farm's bankruptcy proceedings – the family had no food for themselves, their hogs were starving, and the bank refused to release funds to operate the farm; Krikava was later pardoned by President Clinton, due in part to the advocacy work of Willie Nelson and Farm Aid

1996 & 1997: A string of natural disasters, including a drought in the Great Plains, Hurricane Bertha in the Carolinas, blizzards, floods, and late frosts dealt substantial blows

1998: Ice storms in the Northeast and drought in Oklahoma and Texas contributed to the most devastating year for farmers since Farm Aid began in 1985; factory farm production continued to foster an enormous inequity in market pricing; Willie Nelson stated, "In rural America, the farm economy is the economy. If we don't pay attention right now to what's happening to farmers, we're not just going to lose them, we'll lose the thousands of schools, businesses, and churches that depend on family farming for their survival."

1999: Farm Aid is held near Washington, D.C., where hundreds of farmers rallied to protest the "Freedom to Farm" bill, in place since 1996; the bill had resulted in record profits for multinational grain traders and big food manufacturing companies, while leaving family farmers bankrupt

I’ll stop there... Okay, one more quote: In 2007, Farm Aid became “the first major music event to serve local, organic and family-farm foods at concessions and backstage. The concessions ingredients were local, organic and/or sourced from family farms. Concert-goers also enjoyed Farm Aid's first HOMEGROWN Village, which offered hands-on interactive experiences with family farmers and sustainable family-farm practices.” In Raleigh this past weekend, I had the most amazing, baked-that-morning “apple hand pie”! Our friend said it was the best food she’d ever seen at a concert. Amen!

I grew up on a small farm, and Farm Aid has been on my “bucket list” since its inception. At the time, I was 20 years’ old, broke, and freshly-moved to the San Francisco area after leaving rural Washington state to “find myself.” A few years later, I moved with Scott to Florida. Because the concert is held in a different city every year, and those cities tend to be near the center of the country, where farming is more prevalent, it hasn’t been a convenient trip. Until this year. You can find reviews online, and a lot of the concert is available on YouTube, so I’m not giving you a play-by-play. But, I’ll say this: for many, it was merely a concert; for me, it was a pilgrimage, a kind of rediscovery or reclaiming of my roots. It felt surreal being there. Some things, I’ll admit, were disappointing (after 28 years, you’d think organizers would have figured out how to open the gates on time). Some things were a surprise (I never expected to enjoy – and want more of – a band called “Insects vs Robots”). Many things, however – especially people – were inspiring; Willie kicked off the event with a welcome song that included Native American dancers; in the grass, we sat next to an elderly man with a walker who’d just lost his wife this year (he shared his all natural gummy bears, we shared our contraband); and Lukas and Micah Nelson sent me over the edge, making it impossible for me not to (finally) fall in love with Neil Young.

My dear friend, folk musician Robin Stuckert, would have been so proud.

It didn’t happen instantaneously. I already respected and admired him, not only because of his history and iconic status, but because Robin loved him and I loved Robin. (Incidentally, Robin despised Kid Rock, but I had him coming around toward the end.) Neil came on late, after everyone had been partying since noon. When he rolled into his rant about family farms and how it was OUR job, our DUTY to support them, I felt the crowd pull away. Seated up on the lawn, a few people were respectfully paying attention, but we were largely surrounded by drunks and young people who’d come for Delta Rae and Jack White and, therefore, didn’t give a shit. There was so much chatter, it was hard to hear him toward the end. That pissed me off. I wanted to tell everybody to SHUT THE HELL UP AND LISTEN! His message was why we were all there, for crying out loud. But, they wouldn’t have listened; they would have called me a bitch, told ME to shut the hell up, their conversations would have continued – only louder – and I would have walked away the bad guy, having tainted somebody’s good time. Instead, I enjoyed the rest of the concert, drove home to Florida, and spent a day on my computer, researching Farm Aid and the plight of America’s family farms. My conclusion: Shit is fucked up and bullshit.

To recap: Every five farms that close take one small business with them; in ‘94 and ‘95, the U.S. lost over 500 farms every week. (I didn’t want to do the math, but I also didn’t think I’d need to.) I skimmed through current statistics to offer you an update, but they were so depressing, I stopped. In a nutshell, large-scale factory farms have all but annihilated the family farm. That matters – to me, to you, to ALL of us – because family farms grew small fields of healthy, ACTUAL food, where factory farms grow mammoth fields of genetically and chemically modified VERSIONS of food. Why and How did this happen? I’ll break it down for you:


Or (for those who need more specifics):


Or (for shits and giggles):

            GARBAGE IN --> GARBAGE OUT

You’re welcome to substitute any (make that ALL) fast food and/or unreasonably large chain stores for McDonald's (like Walmart, for example). With few exceptions, their offerings are toxic. Why? Because they purchase fruit, vegetables, and meat on a scale we can’t fathom, forcing suppliers to produce on an otherwise impossible level. And they’ll keep doing it as long as we keep buying it. Other countries have banned GMO and other chemically treated foods. So, why are WE still sucking it up? Have you checked health statistics lately? Don’t you think, maybe, if we stopped buying and eating foul shit, we’d stop getting sick? Huh? How do YOU feel today?

If you’re still with me, let me share a few other things, too: In 1935, with a population of 127 million in the U.S., family farmers operated 6.8 million farms and supplied nearly 100% of the market; by 2007, with a population of 300+ million, there were only 2.2 million farms; most recent statistics show 1% of the population claims “farming” as an occupation (2% report living on farms); of that 1%, only 45% claim farming as their “principal” occupation; 2% of farms are considered factory farms, and they control 89% of the market; Monsanto controls 90% of the seeds…

I could get all anti-political here and bring up laws our crooked leaders have passed in favor of factory farming, but that’s a lot of research, I won’t like what I find, and I’m already mad. I could dig more into Monsanto, too, and lobbyists and fracking. I could easily tie in the big pharmaceutical companies who keep factory farms in business by helping us “manage our symptoms.” But, if I went too far, I’d disappoint Neil Young and get off message. And the message is this: BUY LOCAL. Make a pledge TODAY to substitute every other trip to the big chain store with a trip to the farmer’s market, the neighborhood butcher, or the corner bakery. If you can’t swing every other trip, try every third or fourth. When you go to the county fair, take a detour off the midway and visit the agricultural tent. Throw money in the donations buckets for the kids in FFA and 4H. Choose restaurants that source their meat and produce from local and/or organic growers. And go to Farm Aid (just be sure to bring your appetite!).

Somebody needs to do something about something. And that somebody is you. Do what you can. Choose fresh. Choose organic. Buy local.

~ Dawn

P.S. To honor the struggle of America’s family farms, I'm challenging all my friends on Facebook and Twitter to share this post. It’s my hope that all readers will consider pitching in any way they can. To all who do, you have my most sincere thanks. ~ D