Well, I didn’t fulfill my dream of meeting Neil Young, but I did find Farm Aid 2011 to be an enriching and empowering experience. This year’s edition of the annual concert, held last Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., featured usual suspects Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews—all Farm Aid board members—along with Jason Mraz; Jamey Johnson; Nelson’s lookalike, sound-alike son Lukas; and many others. It was a full day and night of music and merriment in Middle America that brought major attention and major dollars to the cause of family farming.
Of course I loved the tunes—Neil busting out “Comes a Time” and “Heart of Gold” on acoustic guitar and harmonica never hurts. And I was delighted to spot a guy wearing overalls chomping on hay—something that I, as someone who’s never lived near farm country, thought only happened in cartoons.
But for me the most interesting and enlightening part of the event was checking out the Homegrown Village located right outside the stadium. The Village featured exhibits from many amazing pro–family farming and sustainable organizations and companies, along with one local farm cooking up pulled pork and other BBQ delights.
I spent time visiting with a few exhibitors at the kickoff party Friday night. Here are three that really stood out.
A partnership between Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate Kansas City, this nonprofit helps legally settled refugee women who’ve fled their homelands to build new lives, or “lay down new roots,” in the Kansas-Missouri area. Many of these women already possess agricultural know-how, so New Roots gives them the tools and support to grow vegetables and fruits and start their own small farm businesses.
The produce is sold at area farmers’ markets and through the New Roots CSA, and eventually, each woman farmer gains more and more financial and operational independence. Although New Roots farms are not certified organic due to literacy issues, all crops are grown “without synthetic fertilizers or chemical input,” according to the organization’s website.
Did you know women own nearly half of the farmland in the U.S.? I certainly didn’t. My chat with Lynn Heuss of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network revealed that many of these women inherited farmsteads from their families or husbands and do not have access to the information and tools necessary to maintain their land how they’d like.
Overall, women are underrepresented on farm policy–making boards and forums. WFAN’s mission is twofold: Empowering women landowners and farmers while promoting sustainable agriculture. Based in Iowa but extending nationwide, WFAN offers programs such as Women Caring for the Land, which educates women landowners about conservation and sustainable farming practices and helps them find and negotiate with tenants, and Harvesting Our Potential, which pairs young women farmers with older women landowners in farming internships.
In true Farm Aid fashion, every detail of the event was executed in a sustainable and mission-furthering way—right down to the souvenir T-shirts, which Anvil Knitwear crafted from 100 percent–organic cotton. Awesome, but even cooler is the company’s T-shirt-tracking technology: Each shirt’s tag features a reference number that you can punch into the website trackmyt.com and view the journey your T took from cotton seed to finished product.
The website is very kid friendly in order to educate young ones about the process. You “meet” the family farmers who grew the cotton, view their organic certification, and see where the cotton was processed and the shirt was sewn. A few of these farmers even traveled to the event—for real, not virtually—to meet concertgoers, although I unfortunately stopped by too late in the evening to catch them.
For more, be sure to check out my video interviews with these three exhibitors.