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Farm Aid 30 - Music, Connections & Purpose

Our journey to the Farm Aid 30 Concert started early on September 19th. Angelic Organics Learning Center was one of many food & farm non-profits asked to set up shop in the “Homegrown Village” on Northerly Island in Chicago. The prior week's rain made for muddy conditions, but the sun shone the entire time, as if to say, "no matter what you're dealt, there are always brighter days ahead!" This was a fitting backdrop to Farm Aid and their amazing work over the last 30 years.

No paper was allowed, so we lugged computers, a television, and a crate for our friends from Caledonia – chickens!  Yes, we were a mobile learning center and the girls were a hit.  All ages wanted to hold the chickens and it almost felt as though we had feathered rockstars at our booth.  Then the camera crew arrived and it was official! 

German documentarians interviewed Development/Communications Director, Denise Stennis, and Farmer Training Director, Jenny Doty, about the local food movement. They then headed over to Band of Farmers to interview CRAFT farmer Chris Prchal of Trogg’s Hollow, and made their way through the awesome non-profits represented.

Jenny grabbed a quick bite and headed over to sit on a panel moderated by Jim Slama of Jenny discussed how Stateline Farm Beginnings and Upper Midwest CRAFT impacted training for small sustainable farms in our region. Concertgoers, local food vendors, and DIY food demonstrations filled the open field between our booth and the stage. A mix of country, rock, and even blues played all day as people mingled, enjoyed the sunshine, and connected over this vital cause to maintain family farms and promote locally grown, clean food. 

We had the opportunity to meet amazing people, many of whom came to Chicago from all over the country. Some were yearly volunteers, travelling from city to city. Others were longtime activists in the family farmed, environmental and community supported agriculture (CSA) movements. We spoke with a woman from Vermont who started one of the first CSAs in the United States in the mid-1980s. It was quite an honor.

Some of us stayed to watch the music after we packed up our table and sent the chickens back to relax. Farm Aid founders John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson each gave incredible performances, with video backdrops of farms and Midwestern imagery. Some of us were too young to remember the 1980s farming crisis and the reason Farm Aid began in Champaign, Illinois. But as we listened to Mellencamp sing “Rain on the Scarecrow” and Neil Young sing “Workin’ Man” (a song from his recent Monsanto Years album) everyone felt 30 years of dedication to this movement surface in song. The Farm Aid movement has grown beyond helping the small family farmer in a financial crisis. It now advocates for clean, local, non-GMO, humanely raised and sustainably grown foods and farm businesses. They believe in a world that benefits the whole system - eaters, family farmers, communities, and natural resources.

Many generations were represented at Farm Aid 30, including John Mellencamp's son, Ian, and Willie Nelson's son, Lukas, who both played individual sets. An 83 year-old Willie Nelson headlined the event at 11pm, proving good food does indeed make a difference! There was a sense that this movement only has room to grow as more and more people take stock in their food, local farms and communities. The day left smiles on our faces and resolve to keep fighting for all that Farm Aid represents.