Is Farm Aid really farmer friendly? Farm Aid has become a shrill voice for "specific" farming practices
May 4, 2004
By Aaron Putze, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation or 512-225-5414
Aaron Putze, APR, is Director of Public Relations for the Iowa Farm Bureau
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The mid-1980s was a dark time for rural America. Crop, livestock and land prices plummeted, creating a financial strain for many farmers. Some survived and remained in agriculture, some didn't. Neighbors watched neighbors go broke. Some farmers contemplated suicide -- and even worse, committed it. No one was left untouched by the difficulties.

Out of this despair, Farm Aid was born. In 1985, a well-known trio of Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp jammed away at an outdoor concert near Champaign, Ill. The show, which was organized in less than six weeks, drew 80,000 people and raised more than $7 million for farmers in need of financial assistance. Buoyed by its first-year success, Farm Aid soon became an annual event. It even swept into Ames in 1993, along with record flooding.

Today, Farm Aid plays on. But don't be fooled by nostalgia and former number-one songs. Quietly and discreetly, Farm Aid has become a shrill voice for "specific" farming practices. Participating musicians gladly pose for the cameras wearing the familiar, red "Stop Factory Farms" shirts while raising millions to fund objectionable activities and organizations.

For example, Farm Aid condemns "factory farming," an emotional phrase activists love to use but never define. On the web, Farm Aid provides links to numerous animal rights groups including Farm Sanctuary and the Animal Welfare Institute. Farm Aid also uses the "Mad Cow" issue to push organic food sales, despises genetically enhanced food and blames modern food production for childhood obesity, food-borne illnesses and antibiotic resistance.

But give Farm Aid credit: it isn't afraid to put its money where its music is. The group doles out thousands in grants. Iowa's own Citizens for Community Improvement -- which has endorsed out-of-state activist groups like Waterkeeper Alliance and supports moratoriums on new livestock farms -- has accepted Farm Aid cash. Farm Aid has also bankrolled efforts to end commodity checkoff programs and supports groups that excel in political agitation and grandstanding.

As its 20th anniversary approaches, Farm Aid continues to tug on the heartstrings of America with its folksy blend of music and nostalgic grassroots activism. But don't be fooled. The tune being played by Farm Aid today isn't in harmony with farm families that want to have a future in their chosen profession.
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