Story by Diane Farineau, Photos by Camden Littleton Photography.
Farm Aid’s 31st annual food and music festival kicked off Saturday morning under overcast skies and a cool breeze in Bristow, Virginia. “Music and food have an incredible power to bring people together,” said Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar. “Farm Aid is a day that illustrates the diversity and strength of the Good Food Movement.” In truth, what this event reflects is more of a revolution, as American agriculture is at a historic turning point. The farm to market, farm to table, and farm to local family effort may be at the tipping point of making family farming a viable and sustainable way of life. Featured at the event was a core group of musicians whose support of the organization’s mission, to build a vibrant, family-centered system of agriculture in America, has not wavered since the inception of Farm Aid in 1985. The passion of Board Members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews came through as they shared the stage with local farmers at the event kick-off to reiterate their support of the family farm movement. “Follow the family farm and you’ll see the future of America,” said Mellencamp. First timer at Farm Aid, Nathaniel Rateliff, shared his personal motivation for performing this year: “I’m here to remind us that our hands help feed the world. . . and that it is our responsibility to know where our food comes from, and to take care of each other.”
The event had a strong educational component, featuring a Homegrown Village (Eat Your Zipcode!) with local vendors and exhibitors from Virginia, including the Local Food Hub of Charlottesville and the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition of Nellysford. In the Homegrown Skills Tent, concertgoers could take mini classes in fermentation, composting, saving seeds, and practice turning hemp into paper. Vendors included purveyors of both local fare and local brew. Concert attendees hailed from far-flung states, the crowd a veritable sea of Farm Aid t-shirts from previous years. It was a visual testament to the enduring passion for, and dedication to, Farm Aid’s mission.
And then there was the music, so much amazing music. Farm Aid is somewhat unique in its ability to pull together a superstar lineup featuring Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Nathaniel Rateliff, Sturgill Simpson, Alabama Shakes, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and last, but certainly not least, Mr. Farm Aid himself, Willie Nelson. They all donate their efforts because the Good Food Movement is a personal passion. Stressing the importance of legislative support for family farming in an effort to combat the exploitative power of corporate agriculture, Neil Young issued this call to action: “Family farmers are the warriors of tomorrow, returning good food to the people of the land. This is a revolution!