FarmAid message: Local food is the best food

Published on Thu, Sep 23, 2004 by at Grubb

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Farm Aid message: Local food is the best food

By Pat Grubb

A sellout crowd of 28,000 jammed the White River Amphitheatre on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, near Seattle for an afternoon of good music and good food at the Farm Aid 2004 concert. And unless they were deaf, they came away with something else – an appreciation of America’s family farmers and the role they play in nurturing Americans’ health and economic opportunities.

Despite the occasional raindrop, the audience rocked to the music of an all-star lineup while enjoying natural and organic foods and drinks from the venue’s food suppliers. Organic farmers and food suppliers offered concertgoers a welcome change from the junk food typically found at music venues. Silk Soymilk sponsored the concert and donated $100,000 to Farm Aid.

Before the concert, the artists and organizers held a press conference to a room packed full of TV, radio and print reporters.

Opening the conference, Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, noted that it was the first time the organization had held its annual concert in the West. Mugar observed that the Northwest was part of the country that loves its food and loves its farms. She discussed the possibilities inherent in American-made bio-diesel, an alternative fuel that can be made from any fat or vegetable oil, such as soybean oil.
Willie Nelson, 74 years old and sporting his trademark bandana and long pony tail, drew a laugh when he said “It’s good to see us still here after 19 years.”

“It’s real simple. It doesn’t matter if it’s shiny. It matters where it comes from,” said Neil Young, explaining the importance of buying food locally from local farmers. “Buy your food from someone who lives in a house,” he urged, “not someone who works in a high-rise office in Chicago or New York.” Family farmers grow it, they eat it, and they make it good, he said.

Both Neil Young and Willie Nelson who use it in their tour buses and personal transportation took up the bio-diesel refrain.
Bio-diesel can be used in diesel engines with little or no modification.

It can be used in its pure form (B100), or blended with petroleum diesel at any level. Bio-diesel is better for the environment because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel. It is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as fast as sugar. Since it is made in the USA from renewable resources such as soybeans, its use decreases U.S. dependence on foreign oil and contributes to the economy.

The press conference featured the artists as well as local farmers, activists, Native American leaders, Senator Maria Cantwell and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Cantwell pointed out that agriculture was the largest employer in the state with 35,000 farms, 85 percent of which are family operated. “Subsidies support the large farms and we have to change that,” she said. She cited the example of a Olympia school that serves organic lunches to students and added it was important to pass Country of Origin labeling, a bill that is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, in the midst of a cross-continent tour, was passionate in proclaiming the need to reform the U.S. Department of Agriculture; an agency he said looked out for the big guy but did nothing for the family farmers or consumers. He referred to President Clinton’s recent heart operation and compared Clinton’s care to the lack of care available in rural America. Reverend Jackson also pointed out he had lost 30 pounds by following the No Carb diet. “No Cheney, No Ashcroft, No Rumsfeld and No Bush,” he thundered to laughter.

The organization introduced its latest campaign and publication, “10 Ways to Ensure Healthy Food For You and Your Family,” in a series of events leading up to the concert at Pikes Place Market in Seattle. The campaign links personal and community support of family farmers with personal food choices and healthy eating.

Farm Aid grew out of the 1985 Live Aid concert where Bob Dylan suggested to the audience that something should be done to help farmers right here at home.

Willie Nelson took up the challenge along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp. At the time, over 1,000 farmers a week were being forced off their land due to low prices, dropping land values and higher production costs. Currently, according to Farm Aid, 330 farmers are losing their farms each week.

The first concert had 60 artists and drew 80,000 fans to Champaign, Illinois. The organization has raised $26 million to promote and support family farms. Farm Aid supports programs on the national and local levels to fight factory farms, promote sustainable food husbandry, advocate fair food prices and educational programs for consumers and farmers alike.

The artists perform free of charge and pay all their own expenses.
This year’s Farm Aid concert, sponsored by Silk Soymilk, starred Farm Aid directors and musicians Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews as well as popular performers Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Jerry Lee Lewis, Trick Pony, Tony Coleman, Blue Merle, Kitty Jerry, Kate Voegele and the Canadian duo Tegan and Sara.

For more information visit www.farmaid.org.

Ten Ways To Ensure Healthy Food
For You and Your Family

“Right now, we still have a choice about the food we eat – a choice between food that is grown and raised locally by family farmers or food that is produced on factory farms. But this choice is disappearing each day as local family farms – the producers of fresh, healthy food – are displaced by giant food factories.” Willie Nelson, founder and president of Farm Aid

Below are 10 Ways To Ensure Healthy Food and to help support family farmers and healthy food reprinted from the Farm Aid publication of the same name:

1. Know your food.
Food can be produced in a variety of ways, but food production that is based in family farming practices – a family farm food system – is the best for people and the environment. Family farmers grow good food that chefs, nutritionists and food professionals seek out. Knowing and understanding the benefits to buying this type of food will help Americans become healthier while supporting their local farm economies.

2. Be an active food shopper.
Being an active food shopper is about recognizing good food and demanding it from stores and restaurants. Learning and understanding labels, certifications, and packaging can help food buyers know when their food is grown by a family farmer or if it is organic. Asking super market managers, restaurant chefs, and vendors questions about the food they sell – Where did it come from? Is if fresh? How was it grown? – is the first step in becoming actively involved in buying food.

3. Ensure that your food dollars support family farmers.
Before a food buyer can be aware of where their food dollars go, they must be committed to supporting family farmers and fresh, healthy foods. Farm Aid asks folks to take the Local Food Pledge, promising to purchase a self-identified amount of local food each week, ensuring their food dollars are supporting family farmers and their local farm economy.
4. Get to know a family farmer.
Food buyers can approach farmers at farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, or other programs where food can be purchased direct from family farmers to ask questions about and to learn more about the foods they eat. Farmers work hard to grow good food and can talk with consumers about how farms operate, ways food is produced so it is good for people and for the environment, and about what eating good food now means for the future.

5.Teach children how to grow food.
Children are the world’s future food buyers, and have influence over what food choices their parents make. Teaching children the value in growing fresh food will give them the tools they need to support these principles as they grow older. School gardens, farm-to-cafeteria programs, and community youth gardens are all innovative ways to get children and teens involved in the food production process.

6. Bring food and farm issues to your community.
The Pacific Northwest is home to a variety of organizations that address important community issues, including food and farming issues that should be discussed in every community. Even seemingly unrelated activist organizations can be aware of how food and farm issues affect the community – from pollution and the environment to economic development, animal welfare, labor laws, nutrition education and health – and voice their desire for change.

7. Strengthen local support for farmers.
People in any community can become involved in farmers’ markets and CSA programs in the area. The area chamber of commerce can provide information on the location of these activities, or can help concerned citizens start their own programs. In Washington alone there are several groups that help interested food buyers identify farmers’ markets and assist farmers in securing all logistical needs to participate such as insurance, tax deductions and other state and local regulations.

8. Get involved in grassroots efforts to save family farmers. Connecting with folks about food when people are buying food is a way to begin the conversation about grassroots activities that support family farmers and family farm food systems. Many public awareness campaigns, non-profit organizations and local businesses support grassroots efforts that promote good food for the Seattle area, and are receptive to new members and fresh ideas about strategy, tactics, and outreach.

9. Demand democracy in our food system.
Voting is the most powerful tool people in the Pacific Northwest and across the country can use to guarantee their food has been produced in a way that is good for everyone, including the environment. Food policy is decided on a local, state, and federal level, each government lobbying the next for change and forward progress around food and farm issues. It is important for voters to be educated on a candidate’s farm policies to help family farmers get a fair price for their product and guarantee that value is placed on the quality of the food and not the quantity of the food being produced.

10. Become a food and farm activist.
Across the Pacific Northwest, organization after organization is joining Farm Aid in the fight to save family farmers, keeping them on the land, growing good food for people. It is easy for people to join a group they are interested in and still support family farmers and Farm Aid by networking, and participating in food and farm related activities in the area.

For more information on ways people in the Pacific Northwest can support family farmers as they continue to grow fresh food, or to speak with a spokesperson from a food and farm activist organization about any of the above topics, contact Mark Smith, Farm Aid Campaign Director at 617/354-2922 or mark@farmaid.org.