“We celebrate the family farm not only because it gives us the food we eat, but it also maintains a way of life," said Barack Obama, then the U.S. senator from Illinois, who had come to introduce that night’s performance by Chicago’s Wilco. Those farms, he said, teach “the values of decency, and hard work and looking after one another.”
Farm Aid has its roots in the mid-'80s era of music activism. On July 13, 1985, onstage in Philadelphia at Live Aid, the concert for African famine relief, Bob Dylan remarked to the crowd: “Wouldn’t it be great if we did something for farmers right here in America?”
At the time, falling crop prices and rising debt payment had ignited a wave of foreclosures that were pushing family farmers off their land.
“I didn't realize there was a problem until Bob Dylan said that,” recalled Nelson. “Then I started talking [to farmers] and found he was absolutely right.”
Nelson organized the first Farm Aid concert on an all-but-impossibly-short lead time at the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Sept. 22, 1985. It is has been staged every year since, at venues around the country.
But the words and music of Farm Aid would mean little without money and action.
Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised $48 million through its concerts and outreach to donors. Those funds have funded a crisis hotline, created the Farmer Resource Network and a deep network of farmer advocates, pushed for national policies to support independent farmers and promoted new markets for the produce of family farms.