Dear Farm Aid, You Need to Visit a Family Farm!

This Saturday is the annual Farm Aid concert/fundraiser. For over 30 years, you have put together a group of celebrity vocal performers such as John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Mathews, and Willie Nelson. Farm Aid was originally started in 1985 to bring awareness to the loss of family farms. While I appreciate their efforts, the whole Farm Aid is playing off in left field. You don’t understand what a family farm is and I would highly suggest you visit a family farm. 

family farmer
Family Farmer

Farm Crisis – Where farm aid started

If you look at history, the early 1980’s is when the “farm crisis” occurred. The “farm crisis” was a time when there was high-interest rates (10-18%), a strong dollar, low commodity prices and a significant drop in land values. During the early 80’s, we were just beginning to farm. Thankfully, we didn’t have much money borrowed at the time.  I say that because many farm loans were called in because farm values decreased significantly. It was a crazy, scary time. Many farmers, including neighbors and friends, were filing for bankruptcy. In our area, farm values went from $4000 an acre to $1000 an acre—all within a short amount of time. Farm income was at an all-time low.

It was terrible. 

Farm Aid’s Mission

Farm Aid’s ultimate goal is to help keep family farmers on the land. And I commend you for that. But where you are wrong is your definition of a family farmer. On your website, you state,

“We’ve worked side-by-side with farmers to protest factory farms and inform farmers and eaters about issues like genetically modified food and growth hormones.”

I am disturbed by your statement. Let’s take a closer look at what you are saying.

First, there is no such thing as a factory farm because 97% of farms are family-owned. These are family farmers–ones who go out every single day to care for their animals. They are cared for by people – not machines.

And “inform farmers and eaters about issues like GMOs and growth hormones?” What the hell is that about? The vast majority of farms are family-owned, many of them use sustainable-friendly farming methods such as using GMO technology. Do you consider farmers who use biotechnology not family farmers? Seriously? That’s just plain crazy.

And hormones? Again, I am appalled at you promoting fear in our food. It is illegal to give poultry and pork additional hormones. And the beef industry uses very little, if any, hormones in their cattle. In fact, there are considerably more natural hormones in foods like cabbage than what is used by the beef industry. 

modern farming
Modern farming

What is a Family Farmer?

Again, “We know that to keep family farmers on the land we have to increase the number of people buying their good food.” 

Let me just add that there are many types of family farmers. A family farmer is NOT just someone who operates a CSA or grows food for a local market. A family farmer is also someone like myself where we raise pigs that are sold to Hormel, who then sells the meat to grocery stores and restaurants. We also grow corn and soybeans that are used for livestock feed, ethanol and many other uses.  

I am a family farmer!

“Family farmers in the United States are under extreme economic pressure and thousands are pushed off their land every year. This crisis in farm country is threatening the very existence of the family farm in America. As family farms are forced out by large, factory farms, the quality of our food, our environment and our food security is in danger.”

I have a real problem with this statement. Family farms are not being forced out by large, factory farms. And the quality of our food, our environment, and our food security is not in danger. Farmers continually improve their farming techniques that result in improvements in our soils and environment. And . . . our food security is not in danger.

Farming is Hard and at Times – Really Hard

There is no doubt that farming is hard and at times, just plain not fun. And right now, many farmers are facing some tough times. Us included. But farming is cyclical. Always has been – always will be. To survive through the low times, it’s about reducing risk, making good and tough business decisions, tightening your belt and persevering. 

Your website and mission are misleading. According to you, I am not a family farmer. But you are wrong. There are many family farmers like myself. Family farmers do not look the same. We are CSAs, we are growers for local markets, we are grocery store farmers and we are renewable fuel farmers. Some of us use biotechnology and some do not.

But we still are all family farmers. 

I remember when the first Farm Aid concert was given. it made me feel good with the positive attention you were giving a very dire situation that was occurring during the farm crisis. And I thank you for that. But now, Farm Aid is about niche family farmers and not about all family farmers. I invite you to see and acknowledge of types of family farms. 

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  1. Thank you, Wanda, for a great article. I also married a farmer in the early 80s and went through much the same as you, along with the feelings regarding the first few years of Farm Aid. Now, however, I am with you again on how I feel FarmAid has ‘strayed’ from the path! Along with so many, it now spreads the propaganda that only ‘small family farms’ can be FAMILY farms and the organizers need to get out and see there is more than one type of family farm. Thank you for bringing this to light – you’ve said it much better than I could!

  2. Great article!! I grew up on a farm, and am blessed that I can still work in agriculture even if I’m not involved with the farm now. I am constantly amazed by the depth of misinformation there is out there – and made worse by celebrities who don’t understand the science or economics of agriculture.
    I get frustrated too by this misconception of factory farms. Are they confusing farms that are incorporated or set up as LLC’s – to protect the families behind the farms – with factories?? That is about the only way I can rationalize this idea they have of these big “factory farms”. :-(

  3. I have a sneaking suspicion that people outside of farming believe farms are quaint hayseed operations from the 40’s. They indicate this by using terms like ‘factory farming’ and ‘monoculture’ so we can spot them and laugh.

  4. I don’t think farmers can make it without celebrities with farm aid to “educate” them. That’s very condescending and arrogant. ?

  5. I think they’re fighting for the “little guy”. The farmer who has to compete against the gigantic operations who can afford to pay and receive the kind of prices that put the traditional family farm out of business, which results in another farm sold to the bigger operations whose only concern is profit.
    They stand for the family farm that would be in big trouble if one growing season were lost to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances.
    The family farm that has been worked by the same family for generations. That “cute little 100 acres and 40 head” operation that means more than a paycheck.
    Just because a family owns one of the factory farms doesn’t make it a family farm.
    There are people out there who worry every single day if they’re going to go belly up, and then what?
    Kind of sad that you decided to use this as your forum for recognition.

    1. I honestly hear what you are saying. And we would fit into your view. We would be hurting big time if we lost a growing season. But we also use biotechnology as a tool to help us be more sustainable. According to Farm Aid, they are against biotechnology. They fight against my type of farm strictly because of that.

  6. There were 600,000 pig farmers in this country when Farm Aid started. There are 60,000 now. That is not progress. Europe chose a much farmer friendly path than the US.

    1. Greg G. Tell us the prices for pork in europe versus the U.S. There are efficiencies with scale. We have enough trouble producing foods affordable for the poor. Going back to small scale farms is not the answer.

      1. Bill, we had as large of a hog inventory in the US in 1979 as 2012. We’ve largely industrialized food in the US and number of people hungry and number of people food insecure domestically and globally hasn’t changed. Not exactly sure what your point is? Concentration and consolidation in agriculture with the Overproduction of food isn’t a cure for hunger.

        1. I note that you did not give current prices between Europe and the united states for food. With in the u.s. the price differential between conventional and organic/csa/artisan meat and produce can be substantial. Only a small percentage of the population can afford to pay the prices of the small producers. Then there is the environmental costs of the inefficiencies of the small scale producer. I prefer the most efficient production of food at the least amount of environmental damage over some romanticized vision of small farms.

          1. Let’s quit dancing around the issues. All but a handful of the niche brands in the US are the same multinationals as the commodity product. The company Wanda grows for is an excellent example. Every bit of their Jennio turkey in the store says Natural, raised without steroids and hormones. I don’t see their pork but I bet it’s the same??? And who is the largest niche lunch meat producer in the US? Hormel? Farmers are being played as cogs in the gears. I don’t understand why farmers would be proud that US consumers spend the lowest percentage of their income on food. Retailers and processors got huge and efficient in the US and maintained their margins. And for the record, I produce, process, and market about a million pounds of meat and poultry per year. Hardly 1800’s production practices. Not really “small” but that is a relative word.

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