Music With A Message

“Where words fail, music speaks.”
― Hans Christian Andersen

Captivating, emotive and haunting; there are few instruments more powerful than that of music. From a simple tune that resonates with the human condition to melodies that unite people and communities, music is a medium unlike any other.

Possessing the unique ability to reach hearts and change minds, it’s no wonder music has become a favored vehicle for various types of advocacy. During the 80s many groups utilized musical activism to raise awareness and instigate change; however, Farm Aid is the only one that to this day has the unwavering commitment of its original founders.

Back in 1985 falling crop prices and rising debt payments incited an upsurge of foreclosures that were pushing family farmers off their land. Recognizing the importance of family-run farms and sympathizing with their plight, American country music singer-songwriter, Willie Nelson decided to organize a concert in support. “I’ve always believed that the most important people on the planet are the ones who plant the seeds and care for the soil where they are grown” Willie Nelson, President of Farm Aid.

With the help of fellow organizers, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, world-class talent like Bob Dylan, Billy Joel and Jon Bon Jovi were rounded up to create an impressive roster of performances. After much effort and anticipation, Farm Aid held their first show at the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Sept. 22, 1985 before an enthusiastic audience of 78,000 fans. With this first concert Farm Aid was not only able to promote awareness about the challenges of American farmers, but they also raised over $9 million in the process.

Fast forward thirty years later and Farm Aid is the longest-running concert for a cause in history. With the help of more than 300 artists and hundreds of thousands of supporters, this non-profit has raised a staggering $43 million in support of family farmers.

While Farm Aid’s support remains constant, the challenges to family farming have changed over time. After the economic difficulties of the 80s, farmers then had to face the threat of factory farms. Run by powerful corporations, these massive farms were able to gain government support which resulted in commodity prices being lowered. With cheap, subsidized grain fueling the growth of factory farms, family farmers plummeted into further debt.

Unable to watch idly from the sidelines, Farm Aid rallied their resources to help form the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE). Dedicated to stopping the growth of factory farms, this grassroots initiative united family farmers and rural communities, eventually blocking these powerful farms from building in new communities.

While Farm Aid’s activism has put on many hats over the years, their fundamental goal remains the same: to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture. Sharing this vision, Dave Matthews joined the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001, becoming a vital part of the movement. “What represents America? Certainly, I think that the family farm is a main ingredient of what made America” says Matthews. These sentiments are shared by Willie Nelson, who believes “we’re fighting for the small family farmer, which means that we’re fighting for every living American.”

Standing up for our right to healthy food and a clean environment, Farm Aid’s efforts today focus on promoting food from family farms, growing the good food movement, helping farmers thrive and taking action to change the system. Employing grassroots methods as well as TV, radio, mail and web campaigns, Farm Aid is making a profound difference.

As always, an integral part of solution lies with the American public. Using their annual concerts as a platform, Farm Aid informs us that we all have the ability to incite change simply by buying with a conscious. A sentiment they stood behind at the annual concert in 2007, when organizers replaced fast food vendors with farm fresh options. As a result, a slow shift is taking place where more people are beginning to ask questions about where their food comes from and are switching to locally produced food.

In addition to motivating Americans to make wiser food choices, Farm Aid also encourages the expansion of markets for family farmers, working to get family farm food in urban neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants and other public institutions.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that this problem cannot be solved overnight. Though Farm Aid is working to shape government farm polices and petition for fairness and competition in the agricultural sector, it takes time. To help struggling farmers in the interim, Farm Aid provides immediate support services as well as connects farmers to an extensive network of organizations across the country that help farmers find the resources they need to be competitive, sustainable and profitable.

However, to expedite change, they need your help. The preservation of family farms is something that benefits us all. Be a part of the solution, visit