July 11, 2005
Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp set Farm Aid 20
By Michael Conlon
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp
announced plans on Monday for Farm Aid No. 20, with an emphasis
on saving family farms by creating demands for organic food and
alternative energy sources.
The latest edition of what organizers call the
longest-running benefit concert in America will take place
Sept. 18 at a concert venue in Tinley Park near Chicago.
"A lot of people ask me, 'Do you guys think you've made a
difference?"' Mellencamp said. "I always say the same thing --
in an individual person's life, Farm Aid has made a great
difference. In the big scope of things with the government,
probably not so much. With the individuals, we've helped a
lot," he said.
"We know we're making some sort of impact, that's why we're
still here," Nelson told reporters, a cap shading his head
under a blazing sun on Chicago's lakefront.
The Indiana-based rocker and the Texas troubadour, along
with Neil Young and others, organized the first Farm Aid
concert 20 years ago in Champaign, Illinois. While family farms
are not going under at the rate they were then, 300 farmers
still quit the business every week, the Farm Aid organization
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are 2.1
million farms across the country. Citing a University of Iowa
estimate, Farm Aid said 560,000 are family farms, which get
their income principally from the land.
We're "trying to get a good farm bill that will help
farmers stay on the land and try to figure out ways ... where
the farmer can make more money for his family," Nelson said.
"One of the ways we've found in the last few months is
biodiesel," Nelson said of the cleaner burning fuel made from
renewable sources such as vegetable oil.
Mellencamp said Farm Aid has "always been about a dream of
equality for the little guy," but the focus is always changing
because "when you think you've helped individuals over here ...
you look around and the government's done this and you have to
go (over) there."
Glenda Yoder, associate director for Farm Aid, the group
formed after the first concert, said the events have raised $27
million. Over 80 percent has been spent on programs to promote
family farming, while the rest has been devoted to operating
"Over the years we've funded a very wide range of programs,
everything from direct emergency assistance when people need
groceries and medical help" to campaigns against factory farms,
she said in an interview.
There is a growing consumer interest in buying organically
grown foods, she said, one that has the potential to return
more farmers to the land and make more money for family