Each of this year's featured headliners is a longtime supporter of Farm Aid and its efforts to support family farmers, and the Good Food Movement. Crow, who has been touring this summer with Nelson and Bob Dylan, played Farm Aid in 2003 in Columbus Ohio. The Avett Brothers previously have played benefits for organizations including the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association in their native North Carolina, and Johnson has been a frequent presence at Farm Aid (including one memorable appearance as a cow).
This marks the third time Farm Aid has come to Pennsylvania, following concerts in Burgettstown in 2002 and Hersey, Pa. in 2012. Agriculture is the state's leading economic enterprise, contributing nearly $75 billion to the state's economy each year. The state is home to 58,200 farms and ranks 22nd nationally in farm sales.
Pennsylvania is also considered the birthplace of organic agriculture and a leader in sustainable agriculture practices. In Pittsburgh, 30 miles east of the concert venue, urban farming has thrived. The organization Grow Pittsburgh has launched more than 60 farms to increase access to fresh food and farm training programs for young people.
"Family farm agriculture is the heart of Pennsylvania," says Nelson, founder and president of Farm Aid. "What's happening in western Pennsylvania and the region shows us that we can count on family farmers to strengthen our communities and connect people. Whether we live in rural or urban places, food -- and music -- brings us all together."
At the same time, western Pennsylvania has lost 2,539 farms -- a 13 percent drop -- in the past decade, an example of an economic crisis facing farmers nationwide. Farmers have faced a multiyear slump in crop and livestock prices. Since 2013, America’s farmers and ranchers have weathered a 45 percent drop in net farm income, the largest three-year drop since the start of the Great Depression, Farm Aid reports.
The circumstances echo the farm foreclosure crisis of the mid '80s that led Nelson to stage the first Farm Aid benefit on Sept. 22, 1985 in Champaign, Ill. The farm advocates who rose up in that era were recently profiled in a new documentary, Homeplace Under Fire.
Farm Aid has been staged every year since 1985, at venues around the country, and is the longest-running concert for a cause in pop music history. Since Nelson founded the organization, it has raised $50 million for advocacy efforts and direct support of farmers.
But more than an annual benefit concert, Farm Aid has been a 30-year-plus effort, led by Nelson, to fight corporate control of America's farmland, shape national farming policy, and promote the Good Food Movement.
Each year, Farm Aid serves as an annual gathering of activists focused on food issues, environmentalism and social-justice battles. Many farmers and activists travel to the event to network, share strategies, listen to the music and eat family farm food on a menu that Farm Aid has trademarked "Homegrown Concessions." With composting practiced backstage and promoted to the audience, the concert aims for zero waste.
Farm Aid's support of family farmers extends to its policy of accepting sponsorship only from companies that share its mission. California-based Bonterra Organic Vineyards will be a sponsor of Farm Aid 2017.
Prior to this year's concert, Farm Aid is teaming up with IfOnly to sell and auction signed memorabilia and behind-the-scene tours at this year's event.
Farm Aid also is encouraging festivalgoers and supporters to use the hashtags #FarmAid2017 and #Road2FarmAid to join discussions about this year's concert on social media.