By the time loyal Sunday readers get to this, I hopefully will be westbound and down heading across Kansas for the higher altitudes and cooler nights of Colorado.


The reason I’m in Kansas is Farm Aid. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Mathews had 25 Farm Aids under their belts before I caught up with them for No. 26.

For anyone whose taste in music runs on that line that includes outlaw country and rock, Farm Aid should be on your bucket list. From its beginnings, Farm Aid has been about rural politics and conditions in the agricultural economy.

A farm debt crisis not unlike what the rest of the economy is going through now was behind Willie Nelson’s call for the first Farm Aid.  Farmers were losing their farms, often without much notice.

This was 1985 and still a time when a Republican President (Ronald Reagan) and a Democratic Congress could pull together and accomplish something. 

After the first couple Farm Aids, federal ag credit was restructured, and one of the top experts on farm credit tells me that is why farm land values and financing have been largely immune from the “credit crisis” facing the non-Ag economy today.

Farm Aid has continued, raising north of $40 million in 26 years mostly from annual one-day concerts involving the founding four and others they enlist.  

I am driving across Kansas, however, because of the Farm Aid 2011 “festivities” and the “Good Food Movement” politics. Farm Aid wants to “change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.”

My guess is everybody cheered for that, even though most in the Kansas City crowd are probably employed by the “system of industrial agriculture.”  But that’s OK, because when Willie and John Mellencamp are around, it’s easy to suspend reality of the workday world.  

I wanted to see who came out for the “biggest family farm restaurant in Kansas” with HOMEGROWN Concessions ® at Farm Aid.  Its menu included local, organic, family-farm sourced ingredients.  I went for the  “the “grass-fed beef brisket” over the “family farm pork BBQ ribs,” but it was a close call.

The HOMEGROWN Village provided “a chance to meet farmers” and get one’s hands dirty. There were games, with one farm trivia challenge for players being “guess which country the food in your grocery store comes from.”

Ever since they shared in the victory of seeing the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 signed into law, Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Mathews have used Farm Aid to push ag policies they favor.   From the passage of the Organic Food Production Act in 1990 to the filing of the largest class action lawsuit ever brought against USDA on behave of African-American farmers, Farm Aid has been a consistent force for these past 26 years.

Certainly, Farm Aid rhetoric tends to get overblown.   It’s always good family farmers versus evil corporate agriculture.   Having grown up with farmers, gone to college with farmers and ranchers at a Ag university, I know many.  What I hear mostly is they feel like they have feet in both camps.  

Kansas is a big corporate Ag powerhouse, yet 85 percent of its farms are family-owned.

Food safety either goes un-mentioned or it is assumed that all organic/locally grown food is safe, period.   One gets the impression that unless you bring it up, the Good Food Movement would prefer not to talk about food safety.

Still, Farm Aid 2011 provided one of the best mixes of music and food politics this side of a state fair.  

We went to look and listen to both in hopes that some food safety consciousness would also be in there, somewhere.