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The History of Farm Aid

Updated on October 19, 2012

RAISING AWARENESS FOR THE AMERICAN FARMER

It began with an off-the-cuff remark by entertainer Bob Dylan on July 13, 1985. Performing at a Live Aid concert, a benefit for African famine victims, Dylan said, “I hope that some of the money raised for the people of Africa, maybe they could just take a little bit of it, maybe…one or two million…to pay the mortgages on some of the farms in America.”

At the time, that remark was not appreciated by the benefit organizers, but several entertainers, among them Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young, decided to hold their own benefit concert, called Farm Aid, to help farmers in the United States who were suffering through one of the toughest economic collapses in history.

Their goal was to raise money (Nelson hoped to raise $50 million), but also to raise awareness for farmers in need of assistance and legal help. During the 80’s, severe droughts had rendered many farms in the United States completely unproductive. Property values had plummeted, loan interest rates rose rapidly, and many farmers lost their farms due to foreclosure and bankruptcy.

The founders of the concert hoped to gain attention to these problems and hopefully dialogue would then follow and solutions to problems would be found. In fact, three days before the concert, Nelson and Young travelled to Washington D.C. to personally appeal to Congress to help the American farmer through improved farming laws.

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson | Source

THE FIRST FARM AID CONCERT

Held on September 22, 1985 at the University of Illinois’ stadium in Champaign, the first Farm Aid concert drew 78,000 people. More than 50 artists performed (at their own expense) in the 14-hour concert.

The concert and telethon raised more than $9 million, far below the goal hoped for by Nelson, but a tradition was started that night and has continued now for twenty-seven years.

Among the performers that first night were Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Alabama, The Beach Boys, Bon Jovi, John Denver, Don Henley, Carole King, John Mellencamp, and Joni Mitchell.

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2012 Farm Aid Concert
2012 Farm Aid Concert | Source

THE TRADITION CONTINUES

And so it has continued all these years; the latest Farm Aid was held on September 22, 2012 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and among the performers were Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Kenny Chesney, and Dave Matthews.

Willie Nelson, in fact, has performed at each and every Farm Aid concert, including 1989 when he did a series of solo concerts across the United States, all at his own expense.

To date, Farm Aid has raised over $40 million to help the farmers of this nation.

Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar, states that the focus has changed since the mid-80’s. Today it is “more about anti-corporate fight back.” She goes on to say, “we want government to be a referee and ensure that we have a level playing field with the large, corporate farms.”

They are also quite busy promoting locally grown food and at each of their concerts only “homegrown” food is served. The recent trend towards loca-vore and organic diets has been a big boost for Farm Aid and farmers in general, but there is still a great deal of work ahead.

Source

THE HARSH REALITY

One-third of the world’s workers are involved in agriculture, and yet in the United States only 2.5% of our workers are in farming. However, the United States is fourth in the world in agricultural output, behind only China, the European Union, and India.

What does that tell you? It clearly illustrates the problem family farmers are facing today. There are fewer and fewer family farms in the United States, and yet our productivity output is at record levels. Why? Because most of the productive farms in this country today are corporate farms, huge conglomerates that control the farming industry in this country.

Mega-corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto Company, and the privately held Cargill, control the farming industry through a process called vertical integration. In other words, they control every aspect of farming, from seed supply, agrichemicals, food processing, machinery, storage, transport, distribution, marketing, advertising and sales, and this process is slowly squeezing out the family farmer, making it impossible for them to compete on a national market.

The three corporations mentioned above accounted for over $65 billion in 2010, and recent estimates state that megacorporations account for over 78% of revenue in the agriculture industry in the United States. Clearly someone is making money in farming but it most definitely is not the family farmer.

The family farmer, and there are more than two million of them in the United States, faces a playing field that is definitely not level. In many cases they become contract farms, selling their crops to the major corporations at a pre-arranged price that has very little to do with the laws of supply and demand.

THE OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE

Well, the outlook is bleak for the family farmer. The Sherman Antitrust Act, passed in 1890, prohibits certain businesses from controlling prices and commerce in a particular industry, and calls on Congress to legislate and protect the spirit of that law. However, to date, the practices of these mega-corporations have not been determined to be in breach of the Sherman Act.

The Farm Bill, an omnibus legislation that is renewed every five years by the U.S. Congress, has been largely ineffective in dealing with the current issues, focusing more on farm aid rather than farming reform.

The only bright spot on the horizon for family farmers is the growing movement towards organic farm products. As more and more Americans become disillusioned with pesticides and genetic engineering, we are seeing a slow but gradual movement away from mega farms whose farming practices are less than stellar.

Family farms are also moving in the direction of specialty products, those not grown and sold by the major corporations.

This is a painfully slow process, and while it plays out, more and more family farms are either forced to go bankrupt, accept foreclosure, or become contract farms.

All of which brings us back to Farm Aid, a continuing event which hopefully will continue to raise awareness about the plight of the family farmers in the United States. Realistically, the $40 million dollars raised over the past 27 years, is but a drop in the bucket when dealing with the staggering problems that farmers face. However, one cannot put a price on the goodwill created by these live concerts. As one farmer said last month at the concert: “For a few hours, it felt as though someone actually cared about us.”

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Aboutaustralia....thanks for the visit and the link; I'll check it out.

    • aboutaustralia profile image

      aboutaustralia 4 years ago from Newcastle, New South Wales

      Thanks for a very informative hub on the history of farm aid. Good on Bob, Willie, John and Neil for having the foresight, passion and energy to bring it all together. We need something like this in Australia!

      I thought some of your readers might be interested in this article, as it relates to the U.S. http://wholesale-australia.com/wholesale-success-t...

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha....LOL....great suggestion! I love it, and I'm not convinced that it wouldn't be a good idea. :) Thank you my dear; take care.

      sending love your way,

      bill

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      It's so sad and shameful that corporations have taken over farming. It doesn't even make sense! Maybe the farmers should take over Washington. We'd all be better off, I bet!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, as harsh as that statement may sound, I agree with it...this is no longer the land of the free. Sad but true. Thank you Deb!

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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It is impressive that Willie Nelson performed at each of these events. The big corporations control too much. This is no longer the land of the free. Up, awesome and sharing.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, Willie Nelson will always be one of my favorites for his unselfish work for the farmers in this country; obviously he has never forgotten his days working in cotton fields. Thank you my friend!

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      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I remember when Willie was making the tour for the Farmer's Aid project. It really was a great movement. As you stated, the farmer's are facing lots of difficulty in getting the funds they need to survive. I do hope that organic farming does increase and is readily available in the markets. Great hub post and voted up.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ruby! It's a tough row to hoe, that's for sure. :) Sorry for the pun; I couldn't help myself.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      When farm-aid first started It was a wonderful way to help the farmers, now the huge conglomerates are reaping the benifits. Very few small farmers gain from tax breaks like Dole or Chiquita. Great article Bill..

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Keith, I have become very jaded with regards to corporations; I just see too many examples of greed. That, of course, means the government would have to get involved, and sadly I hate to see government interaction. LOL It's the kind of Catch 22 that makes me grind my teeth at night.

      I think there is a place, even in this marketplace today, for the family farm, but I think it is going to be in the growing organic trend, and they also need to specialize in products that major corporations do not do. We have several successful family farms around here, but they have also done special things like corn mazes, petting zoos, and the like, to keep revenue coming in during the off-season.

      Great thoughts Keith; thank you for adding to the conversation.

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      KDuBarry03 4 years ago

      This really reminds me on how supermarkets across the US have also been putting Mom & Pop stores out of business and now those supermarkets are being put down by other forms of open shopping centers with living spaces called "Mixed Media Centers" or the like. We're seeing the same thing with family farming and corporate farming. Perhaps there should be a way to have certain large brand products (i.e. whole milk) for certain corporations and yet have family farming specialize in other staple foods not normally bought, but still bringing in a revenue? On an economic standpoint, I truly believe there can be some way for both corporate farming and family farming to work together for both of their gain. What do you think, Bill?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jordan, thank you for the share, and for caring. Have a great weekend my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Martin, thank you Sir! There are a great many out there who are under-informed about this subject, I'll just have to do something about that!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Faith! We will have a blessed and enjoyable weekend, the same as I wish for you.

      bill

    • Jordanwalker39 profile image

      Jordanwalker39 4 years ago from GA

      Thank you Bill for sharing this, Sending this to everybody.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for raising our awareness on this. I am too under-informed to say anything but thank you.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Thank you dear one. I really love Willie Nelson too, as he is just about as down to earth as one can get and has a heart of gold.

      I pray your weekend is lovely with your lovely Bev. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith my dear, thank you once again!

      I have always been impressed by the entertainers who have done this year after year at their own expense. Willie Nelson will always be one of my favorites for his humanitarian acts of kindness.

      I wish you a wonderful weekend my friend. May peace and happiness be with you today, and always.

      bill

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Bill, you have stepped it up another notch here with this amazing and thought-provoking hub. I remember watching all the Farm Aid concerts - God bless them all for their endeavors to help the American family farmers!!! Sadly the family farms are disappearing right before our eyes. In the county in which I live, we do support the local farmers by buying their produce, which is always so much better and healthier, so why would one not do so?

      This is a stellar hub and you have done a most outstanding job in writing it.

      Voted Way Up, except funny

      In His Love Always, Faith Reaper

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Pamela! Yes, Nelson and others have given unselfishly for decades now, and that is to be commended. I just hope it helps in some small way.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      Willie Nelson and the others have worked hard to raise awareness for so many years that I sure hope it helps the farmers. This is a very interesting hub and it raises awareness among your readers, which is great.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Beckie, you get kudos for watching the concert AND for remembering it. :) There are several concerts I do not remember at all. :)

      Thank you as always; this has been a wonderfully humanitarian effort for so long now, and I salute them for keeping the message alive.

      Have a great weekend Irish!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo, I have heard the same reports, and it has me concerned to say the least. We have the ability to raise our own, but for many people who don't, I think there is going to be a rude awakening in the next few years. I hope the reports are wrong, but I'm taking steps just in case they are right.

      Thank you my friend from Bedfordshire....you are appreciated!

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      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Would you believe I can recall in detail where I was and who I was with when watching my first televised Farm Aide! Equally impressive as I was quite "intoxicated" at the time.

      I am glad to know the productive Farm Aid is still going on as this category needs all the assistance available.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Recent prediction is that there will be a major shortage of food in the next few years, if this is true, the world is going to need all the farmers it can get. This may well be a good time to start growing our own. Those who have the means and are able to.

      Farm Aid is an inspired idea, if the money goes to where it is most needed. Billy you've pulled off yet another gem.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, I agree completely! We need to take this to the local level, and support local farmers. It may be too late for those who are contract farms, but independent family farms can still be saved if we all do our part. Thank you, Mary, and I hope you have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rich, that is a great point and one I had not considered. Thanks for adding that; I'll tell you buddy, between the way we treat our veterans and the way we squeeze out our farmers, I'm getting more and more ashamed of this country and it's leaders.

      Thank you Rich and have a great weekend!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Alice, thank you for your comment and visit! It is incredibly sad and tragic, and I'm afraid the deck is stacked against farmers for a good many years to come. At this point, the best thing we can do is buy produce and meat locally.

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      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Excellent as always! How sad that each day we see more and more of America disappearing. We all need to focus on buying local, visiting local Farmer's Markets and supporting small, family farmers in any ways we can think of!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

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      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Bill, I watched a cable show about Farm Aid a year or two ago. Most of the messages were cut from the program as the performances were the main focus. During commercial breaks a five second message appeared on the screen concerning the focus point as outros and intros to the performances. It's no wonder such a small amount has been raised when TV programmers forget what the message is and only concentrate on what will gather in ratings points. Sad, but true. Great points and hub, my friend!

    • aliceleftinwonder profile image

      aliceleftinwonder 4 years ago from Somewhere along I-5

      I didn't grow up on a farm per se ("officially" we had a hobby farm rabbits, chickens, a dog... and a failure of veggie garden) but my involvement in 4H and family background made me familiar with the plight of the farmer at a young age.

      I have seen many people I know sell (if they were lucky) or foreclose on their farms. Families who had been farmers for as far back as anyone could remember, losing their livelihoods because they simply can not afford to compete. It’s tragic.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Cam, thanks for adding your own experience. It is an incredibly tough life and God bless the farmers.

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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      I grew up on dairy farm in Indiana. What a childhood I had. I would love to see more families on farms, working together and making a profit. Even when I was young it was hard. It always will be I think because farmers not only have to fight the corporate world and government, but they are at the mercy of the weather as well. Thanks for a great hub.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kelly, I certainly don't want to think about that possibility! I can't remember a darn thing the government has done lately that turned out better. :) Thanks my friend; have a great weekend!

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Awesome Bill...I live in areas where people farm and have all their lives. Is so sad to see people lose their livelihood - soon the government will own all of our food supply and what do you think life will be like then?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael, thanks for adding that, and I firmly believe you are correct. This market has been manipulated, and the family farmer is the loser each and every time. Small farms of 100, 200 acres, don't have a chance of making it with the cards stacked against them.....but amazingly, they keep working and hoping. I agree...the government needs to get the hell out of this business....like that will ever happen. :)

      Thank you Sir, and have a great weekend down in Texas!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Crystal, and it is a tragedy, but we can turn it around by buying locally and organically. I think people are starting to realize this fact.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      I remember the Farm Aid concerts but I wasn't aware they were still happening. It's a tragedy what has happened to our farms and farmers. Great job bringing awareness.

    • Michael Tully profile image

      Michael Tully 4 years ago

      Bill, I think you hit the nail squarely on the head when you mentioned the "pre-arranged price that has very little to do with the laws of supply and demand." The effect of federal government subsidies over many years of market manipulation has been (deliberately, I believe) to artificially depress the prices of farm commodities to the point where the only people who can make a living at farming are the big, vertically-integrated corporations. As I've said before, the only truly effective "farm aid" over the long haul would be to get the government out of the biz, and let the free-market prices of ag commodities fairly reflect the costs of production. But until (if ever) that happens, praise the Lord for the Farm Aid movement, for what it does to maintain the public's awareness of the problem. Great hub, as usual, brother. Voted up, etc.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Everymom, thank you for a great comment. We still have co-ops here in Olympia, and a growing movement towards community gardens. We also have a great Farmer's Market that runs from April through October, and it is supported strongly. I will do some research on the CSA movement and thank you for the great suggestion.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Joseph, that is my hope of course; by raising awareness more people will come to realize that we need to support the local farmer. Thank you buddy and I wish for you happiness on this weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Randi, as always, it comes down to extra cost and effort. People don't want to make the extra trip to the farmer's market, or pay a little more for organic.....it's a shame, because we are hurting ourselves and the economy by making those decisions. Thank you!

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michele, great addition to the conversation, and of course, you are so right!

    • everymom profile image

      Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I know I'm repeating what so many have said before me, but: great article about a very important subject. I cannot believe how many people shop blindly at supermarkets (and I include Whole Foods and Trader Joe's in this) without realizing that these large corporations have not only infiltrated but also co-opted the organic foods movement in order to get even more of our money while deceiving us. Where have our food co-ops gone? This is my lament! Would you write an article about the growing CSA movement and how it supports family farms?

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      Joseph De Cross 4 years ago

      Remember the first Live aid in Philly back in 85, telecasted simultaneously from London and Melbourne. Farming is becoming and has become a corporate business, that along with their machinery engulf the profits with no regards to the local farmer. 2.5% needs more than just a drop in the bucket. Legislation is there and we can make a difference as consumers. Like in any other business, maximum revenue is the main goal and that can affect the average farmer. Micro agriculture will evolve because of a need and true caring. Great points here to create awareness as usual. Have a good one Billy!

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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Like so many things in our society, this just doesn't make sense. You'd think it would be a no brainer. Thank you! Up, interesting and sharing!

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      Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Oh, one more thing Bill, how many times has something been recalled because there is something bad in it, like e coli? Or something else that makes a lot of people sick. That never comes from a farmer's market, always from a store.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michele, all great points, and thank you for them. I love the local farmer's market, and I love to drive in the country and buy fresh produce. We are buying our meat from the local butchers who we trust....if about ten million more people would do that, the American farmer might have a chance.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Suzette, I always hesitate to talk about foreign aid because I don't want to sound like I don't care about the starving in Africa. It's not that.....I just think we have a responsibility to our own people before moving overseas with our efforts, and Lordy, we have enough people in trouble here to keep us quite busy.

      Anyway, before I start off on a rant, thank you, and have a great weekend in sunny Naples!

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Individual farming is slowly fading away. It is very hard for family farmers to make money these days. Farm equipment is expensive and the time is takes is also expensive. By the time they are finished, they have make almost nothing if you take into consideration the money they have spent on equipment, seeds or other products, some spend money to protect the plants they are growing, harvesting, then selling.

      They are also competing against giant corporations, that grow vegetables. The problem with the huge corporations, is that they harvest too soon, they process the vegetables and a lot of the nutritional values of the vegetables are lost during that process.

      I am blessed, I grow and can my own vegetables, and trade with some farmers in this area. I just know a few. We can even trade for fruit. There is even a group that will buy part of a cow, and freeze it. We know the animal is healthy, because the owner is the same farmer. No chemicals. All the animals do is graze in a field.

      It is horrible how hard farmers have to work, just to make ends meet.

      My fear is that someday, there will be no real farmers, just the huge "Farming Corporations"

      Thank you so much for sharing this hub

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      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Great article, Bill. Thanks for making us aware of the Farm Aid concerts and raising of money for farmers. Thanks for the stas on present farms and the problems they incure. I have to agree with Bob Dylan - we need to take care of our own farmers at home, here in the U.S., before sending funding to other countries. Thanks for writing a much needed article and bringing this situation to our attention!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning Linda and how are you today? How does that Lollipop look up there on your virtual mantel?

      Thank you my dear; this is an important subject and we can change things. Yes, it will cost us a little more to buy organic, but this is so important. I know, with you, I am preaching to the choir, but thank you anyway for reading and being who you are.

      Have a great day my friend!

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol.....lol.....if I'm in the neighborhood, I'll come to watch you write, but I won't pay to hear you sing. :)

      We have control of this; if we buy local and buy organic, then we directly help farmers. If we continue to buy in the supermarkets then we are helping corporations. It's our choice.

      Thank you Carol and have a great weekend.

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, I'm glad you found hope in this, because that's what I was shooting for. I think the American public can help immensely by buying local and buying organic. That's a huge step.

      As always, thank you my dear, and have a great weekend.

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      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      Awesome! I'm so glad you wrote about this issue and the efforts of some incredible musicians to save one of our most valuable resources - the family FARM! I know how connected you are to this issue but the majority of Americans never give one thought to where their food comes from. Farmers work harder than any other group of workers in this country and they do in the most adverse conditions. They are another group of unsung heroes. A beautiful and educational hub Bill. Voted up, awesome, beautiful, interesting, and useful. Good morning!!!!!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      As always a well thought out and thought provoking hub. It is sad as I feel the farmer is the backbone of our society. Growing crops and raising livestock is what America has been built on. I always feel good when passing a roadside stand with fresh produce from local farmers. And the good thing is that we get fresh produce instead of what has been sitting in the grocery stores for ages. And it gives the farmers a chance to make money without the middleman. Thanks for a great eyeopener. Wish I could sing as I would have a concert. Do you think people will come to watch me write?

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Beautiful Bill and can tell you this it is truly sad how anything family owned (farms included) have been eaten up by larger corporations. That seems to be the name of the game with our country as of late. Thank you for sharing a bit of hope here; however small it may be. Have of course voted and shared all over too!!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Michelle! This is a huge problem in the States, and it is going to take a long time to fix it.

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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Let's hope farm aid really helps these good folks. Great share and a unique hub topic too. Thanks for sharing! Shared as well.