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Thousands brave rain for annual Farm Aid benefit concert

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EAST TROY (WKOW) — The rain didn’t stop the thousands of people who trekked across the country to attend the 34th annual Farm Aid Music Festival at Alpine Valley in East Troy Saturday.

“It’s raining but it’s a great event and we’d be here no matter what,” said festival-goer Brittni Swanson. “It said rain or shine on the tickets and here we are.”

The concert has always been a way to bring awareness to the plight of farmers across the country, and to help raise money to keep them afloat. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp organized the first concert back in 1985. Dave Matthews joined the board in 2001.

The four took the stage Saturday morning with farmers from across the state and country, who shared stories about what it’s like to be a farmer in the United States.

“I congratulate you for the way you feel about what you do,” Neil Young told them. “And for the harmony that you’re living in with the Earth.”

Farm Aid Board Members, from left: Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews

27 News has been reporting that farmers across the country are at now at at crossroads as many struggle to keep their farms going. They may work hard all day, every day. But there’s no guarantee that at the end of that hard day, they’ll make enough money to feed their own families.

“We’re in hard times,” said organic farmer Kriss Marion. “If you can reach out to a local farmer and just say, ‘I see you, I hear you,’ that’s meaningful.”

The dairy industry is especially volatile. The costs of technology and labor, plus aging farmers with no one to take over their operation have led to closures of these farms.

Those who attended Farm Aid not only got to rock to some of the best musicians in the business, but they also got to meet the real people who are making sure the food Americans want to eat gets to the table.

The festival also highlighted things that are “homegrown.” There were people from across the country celebrating the culture of agriculture with festival-goers. Many of them shared how they use practices to enrich soil, protect water, and grow the economy.

Pork sandwich coming from Missouri’s independent family farmers.

While the festival does help get millions of dollars to farmers in need, this festival is also about bringing awareness to how everyone can help. The message this weekend was one of action. Many farmers are hoping people can take their voices to their legislators.

Marion said she has talked with officials in Washington, D.C. who think agriculture is strong and doing well. She said there needs to be more awareness that farms are closing left and right, and are not as strong as legislators think.

“For every dollar you spend at the grocery store, we get 14 cents, she said. “All that money’s going somewhere and that’s what we need to talk about. We need legislation that busts up monopolies.”

But farmers and other advocates urge everyday citizens to also do their part by shopping local. Small grain farmer David Dolan said that one major benefit of Farm Aid will be that he can connect with bakers and other farmers like him. He said by doing this, they can keep things in the neighborhood, instead of buying grains from a corporation.

“Keep the money in the area,” he said. “I believe that’s what I’m doing. I sell in the area and I buy in the area and it helps the whole community out.”

The American Psychological Association has also asked Farm Aid to team up in order to figure out how to best provide mental health services to farmers. Farm Aid already operates a hotline for farmers in crisis to call.

“It can be a very stressful job especially when the financial end is poor and people are struggling to make things meet, and some of them don’t know which way to turn and they choose the wrong avenue,” said Dolan.

Here is a link to the Farm Aid website for more information on what farmers are facing and how you can help.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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