In 1985, three show business giants threw a concert to benefit small farmers in America. They began what became the first annual Farm Aid in the spirit of folk singers from the '60s protesting Vietnam and singing out for civil rights. But Farm Aid became an institution itself, still going strong in the new century. To date, 25 million dollars and massive public consciousness has been raised on behalf of those with small farm holdings.
Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp little dreamed what their seed of an idea for that benefit concert would grow to be. They met in Champagne, Illinois that year, and it was so successful, they decided to do it again the following year. The die was cast. This was an important enough cause to be an annual event.
The politics of food has always been one of the most controversial subjects in history. What happened to this country's small farmers by the 1980s was the eventual consequence of post WWII agricultural policies favoring the creation and expansion of large corporate factory farms. Slowly but surely over the decades, the larger farms began to eat up the land of small farmers unable to compete, or who were more vulnerable to natural disasters than their larger neighbors. Families who had lived for generations in one place were forced to leave their farms for jobs in bigger cities, at the rate of almost 400 per week. As they left for cities, local businesses and soon whole towns began to die. Farm Aid is bucking this trend.
Today, ticket holders have the satisfaction of knowing that Farm Aid gives grants to local organizations offering legal and emergency assistance to farmers. It helps groups attempting to change public policy. It supports educational initiatives to educate the public about eating fresh, organic food grown from local farmers. Its success solidifies the strong connection between entertainment and politics.
Appropriately, the Farm Aid concerts held in September are broadcast on Thanksgiving Eve, having become a new tradition offered by legendary performers to ticket holders, supporters of the cause, and the viewing and voting public.
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