Tim Reynolds, who will play with Dave Matthews at Farm Aid, remembers growing up on a farm well. As a toddler he would frolic through the cornfield that, given his height at the time, seemed “like a forest.” But with the advent of cooperate farming, it has now become more difficult for families to sustain their farms.
Farm Aid — a nonprofit that has grown out of a benefit concert first organized in 1985 — is actively trying to change that reality. Keeping with the original tradition, each year a concert is held at a different location in the United States.
This year, Farm Aid will take over Hersheypark Stadium, with doors opening at noon on Saturday. As always, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Matthews will perform, but many other artists such as Reynolds and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real will also take the stage.
As the son of Willie Nelson — who was one of the initial organizers of Farm Aid — Lukas Nelson has attended Farm Aid concerts since he was young. Because the event “inspires” him, he said he decided give his own support as a performer.
“It’s a cause that I believe in number one, and number two, it’s my family,” he said. “It brings us together and it’s all for an incredible cause.”
And as Lukas Nelson said, Farm Aid isn’t just about the music. Throughout the year, Farm Aid provides grants, a hot line and an online database for farmers, as well as supplies educational programming for the public through an online community, HOMEGROWN.org.
During the event, the HOMEGROWN Village will also be set up. There, concertgoers can talk with farmers and take part in hands-on activities to learn about the issues farmers are facing and how they can help.
Also, in the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent, attendees can engage in hands-on workshops such as How to Cook Seasonally on a Budget and Compost 101 and Worm Races.
“When people attend the Farm Aid concert, they’re often changed,” said Jennifer Fahy, Farm Aid Communications Director. “In addition to celebrating the family farmers, we also want to inform folks of the challenge farmers are facing, so we’re going to be talking about the issues that family farmers are grappling with every day.”
But family farm efforts aren’t just happening through Farm Aid. In State College, Mark Maloney has turned about 10 acres of land into Greenmoore Gardens, an organic farm that operates by the Community Supported Agriculture membership model. Students and community members can purchase shares for an entire season, which provide households with fresh produce each week.
“There’s a lot of produce… if you average it out per box, it’s probably half the price of Wegmans,” Maloney said. “You’re getting stuff that we harvested that morning. Most people don’t know what good food is until they start eating from a farm.”
Currently, there are 165 members of Greenmoore Gardens, who receive a wide variety of produce, Maloney said. At the beginning of each year, he said the farm orders over 100 different kinds of seeds ranging from arugula to pumpkins to blackberries.
“It’s amazing how much stuff [we have]… I can’t even keep track of it,” he said.
The farm will even be able to continue growing throughout the winter months, since two greenhouses were added in time for last year’s winter season.
Maloney also serves on the steering committee of a new Friends & Farmers Cooperative that is cropping up in State College. For the past eight months, community members have been planning for a future food cooperative, a member-owned grocery store that stocks local products on its shelves.
“We want this to be a positive thing for the farmers and our local food community,” said Carolyne Meehan, a member of the membership and marketing team of the steering committee.
Members of the Friends & Farmers Cooperative are currently in the process of educating and outreaching to the community so that more people are aware of the initiative.
Though no time frame has been set for the opening, Meehan said they have already generated a lot of support and interest about the cooperative. An open community meeting has also been scheduled for 6 tonight in the State College Municipal Building, 243 S. Allen St.
“To me, food is such an important part of our life and knowing where it comes from and how it was grown,” Meehan said. “Given the opportunity to support our local economy, that’s where I want to spend my money first.”