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Farm Aid: Saving the Family Farm
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Farm Aid: Saving the Family Farm


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

As you prepare to eat on this Thanksgiving Day, we're going to take a listen to our regular feature we call Hidden Kitchens. The Kitchen Sisters who produce it take us to Camden, New Jersey, for the 21st Annual Farm Aid benefit concert held earlier this fall.

Imagine 4-H meeting Woodstock. Thousands of farmers, musicians and activists come together to support America's family farms.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Mr. WILLIE NELSON (Musician): Well, hello there.

(Soundbite of music)

It's been a long, long time. Thank you very much.

I'm Willie Nelson, we're doing Farm Aid and this is 2006. We're in Camden, New Jersey. I started picking cotton alongside my grandmother when I was maybe 5, 6 years old. And I would have a little bitty cotton sack that she would make for me, and make me some kneepads so I could crawl along beside her. And I learned a lot about how hard work farming is.

Mr. CORKY JONES (Farmer, Nebraska): I'm Corky Jones, a farmer from Brownville, Nebraska, raising corn and soybeans. Back in 1985, when Farm Aid was first thought about, the problem with the farmers at this time was farm foreclosures, bankruptcies, farmers kicked off of the land. We had a story to tell, but we farmers weren't telling it very well, and here's Willie Nelson, picked up the ball and says, we can gather the crowd.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Mr. NELSON: Do you remember Live Aid, where we had a lot of artists on TV raising money for food around the world? And Bob Dylan was on the show. He said wouldn't it be great if some of this money stayed here in this country for our farmers who are really in bad trouble. So I called Neil Young, John Mellencamp and we put together the first Farm Aid twenty-one days later in Champaign, Illinois, to support the small family farmers.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GEORGE NAYLOR (Farmer, Iowa): My name is George Naylor, I farm in Green County, Iowa. This is my 30th harvest. The economic realities are not encouraging whatsoever. Most farmers have to depend on all-farm income to survive. My wife had to go to work off the farm so that we could have health insurance.

Then, you know, your farming life becomes completely different. You like live in two different worlds, and it breaks up families, and a lot of our small towns have lost their schools. Many of them don't have grocery stores in them anymore. You know, it all takes its toll.

Ms. HELEN WALLER (Farmer, Montana): My name is Helen Waller. I'm a farmer from eastern Montana. I was born and raised on a farm. My husband, he's home now seeding winter wheat. Usually I'm there to move trucks or work the ground ahead of him; I love it. About the time Farm Aid started, we organized the National Family Farm Coalition and began drafting a farm bill that we felt was not only good for farmers but taxpayers, consumers, and the environment. We thought working people would understand that they need a minimum wage and so do we.

Farmers who produce a product deserve a fair price. We do not believe in a subsidy system. That only makes farmers be launderers for money that passes right on through the big corporations.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOJO GARZA (Singer, Los Lonely Boys): We are Los Lonely Boys. I'm JoJo, Henry, and our other brother's Ringo.

Mr. RINGO GARZA (Drummer, Los Lonely Boys): We've been a part of Farm Aid now for - this is our fourth year. We connected with Willie through the music, and through music he brought us to Farm Aid, which our family was grown into cotton. Our father used to pick cotton when he was 5 or 6 six years old.

Mr. J. GARZA: We have big traditional meals, huge meals. Our Thanksgiving lasts until Christmas.

Mr. HENRY GARZA (Guitars, Los Lonely Boys): We have a turkey cook-off. I cook a turkey, Jojo cooks a turkey, Ringo cooks a turkey.

(Soundbite of music)

LOS LONELY BOYS: Thank you, Jerry Lee. Thank you, Willy. Come on over baby. a whole lot of shaking going on.

Mr. TOM STRUMOLO (Director, Greenmarkets): My name is Tom Strumolo. I'm director of Greenmarkets in New York City, the largest farmer's market network in the country. The 200 growers we have in our program, we're faced with a real problem of attrition over the next five to 10 years. We're all getting into our sixties. The kids don't want it because it's too hard work. They don't have any healthcare. They don't have any insurance that comes along with it. So we're trying to make this more attractive to the young people.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: Thank you for my breakfast. Thank you for my lunchtime. Thank you for my baby's breakfast.

Mr. STRUMOLO: My son who is 17, who's been around Greenmarket from the day he was born, never thought what I did was cool until I told him that Dave Matthews was on the board of directors for Farm Aid. Well, guess what? Him and his friend took a bus after school today and they're going to be here someplace.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DAVE MATTHEWS (Musician): (Singing) Crazy. Oh, feels so right...

Ms. KAREN WASHINGTON (Farmer): I grew up in the projects on the Lower East side watching Farm Aid as a kid on Channel 13 in the morning and saying to myself, one day I want to have my own farm. And I'm a farmer! I'm a city farmer!

My name is Karen Washington. I moved to the Bronx and across the street was an empty lot. I said, my goodness, I got a piece of the American dream, but across the street is my American nightmare. We got together and turned that empty lot into an oasis of flowers, vegetables and fruit.

Unidentified Group (Singers): (Singing) After the garden is gone...

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) After the garden is gone...

Mr. NEIL YOUNG (Singer): Hello folks. We're looking for some new blood. We need some new farmers. You people in school, you're getting out of school pretty soon. If you don't mind a little work and something to do with your hands, you could get a farm. Some of them are going real cheap and it's a great way to make a living and grow some organic food.

(Singing) Won't need no shadowman runnin' the government, won't need no stinking war...

Ms. LINDA BOCLAIR (Project Director, Camden Community Farmers Market): Linda Boclair, Project Director for the Camden Community Farmers Market. Right now we have the distinction of being the most violent city in the country and the poorest city. And there's still only one supermarket in Camden. And it's a real challenge to run a farmer's market in a low-income area.

We're very fortunate to have two family-owned farms that have been supporting us. It's convincing people that it's safe to be in Camden, to shop in Camden, and we're looking forward to a real good future. We're going to turn it around.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. WALLER: I don't think any of us thought in the beginning when Willie began doing Farm Aid that it was going to take this long. But, I guess we're in it for the long haul. Being able to see the people who I met back in '84, '85, it's encouraging to see where everybody has advanced to, you know, one gentleman I talked to about raising organic wheat. We don't now, but he's found a market and I can go home and talk to my son about raising organic wheat.

Willie - we visit with him every time he comes through Montana on tour. And I brought him a batch of fudge one time. I've made him an afghan but he's never around long enough to fix a meal for him. It would probably be roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy and a vegetable and a salad and dessert. That's the usual around our table.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group (Singers): (Singing) On this harvest moon...

INSKEEP: That's our latest installment of Hidden Kitchens. It was produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson. It was mixed by Jeremiah Moore with Jim McKee.

And by the way, for Helen Waller's roast beef recipe and a peek at the Hidden Kitchens book, you can visit

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Mr. NELSON: Last Thanksgiving, we'd had a Thanksgiving turkey dinner and Robert King with Pacific Biodiesel was our guest. So he brought along a little machine and we cooked our turkey outside. He made biodiesel out of the grease when we got through, put it in his car and drove home. From the turkey to your tank.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Group (Singers): (Singing) Homegrown is the way it should be. Homegrown...

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