Farm Aid 2002: Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be farmers

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Farm Aid 2002, the Willie Nelson-created farm benefit concert, celebrated its 15th year in western Pennsylvania this past weekend.

“Who controls what we eat” was the battlecry from Nelson and his star-studded board of directors. I dunno, last time I checked, I controlled what I eat with how I spend my food dollar.

But the musicians have a deeper agenda to fight large-scale agriculture and promote organic agriculture with sweeping statements like, “farm chemicals cause cancer and illnesses.” So even the small family farmers – adored by Willie – are the bad guys, too, if they use an herbicide?

It’s admirable that Willie and Neil Young are so worried about what they’re putting into their bodies these days, because they’ve sure abused themselves in the past. (And present? One of the songs Toby Keith sang with Willie on stage carried the refrain, “I’ll never smoke weed with Willie again.”)

Secondly, the concert venue wasn’t exactly a cornucopia of healthy food choices – the food service vendor Aramark is more noted for its nachos and cheese, overpriced hotdogs and beer.

Interestingly, Willie Nelson’s signature bourbon, Old Whiskey River, was a proud sponsor of the Sept. 21 benefit concert – although I will add that the news release claimed the bourbon is made from American corn, barley and rye, grown on family owned farms within 100 miles of the Kentucky distillery. There’s your niche marketing for you.

Other sponsors for Farm Aid were the New York City-based Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, or GRACE, whose latest claim to fame was the handbook it released this summer, How to Confront a Factory Farm; and the Wisconsin-based Organic Valley Family of Farms, whose news release touted a new exclusive interview with Willie Nelson conducted by environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – the same Kennedy who, in a speech in Iowa earlier this year, called the pork industry “a greater threat” to American liberty “than Osama bin Laden.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Farm Aid’s philosophy that “family farmers are the backbone of their communities and the caretakers of our limited natural resources.” And I couldn’t agree more with a statement Farm Aid board director John Mellencamp made at the pre-concert news conference: “If you want a better place and better food, it starts with one person, and that’s you.”

But I have a real problem with people who hitch their wagon to the “family farmer” cause and then exclude the bulk of U.S. family farmers because they don’t fit into a narrow definition.

Politics isn’t the only arena that makes for strange bedfellows.

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