Farmers are true rock stars, Farm Aid headliners say
The musicians onstage at the KeyBank Pavilion in Burgettstown were plentiful. Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp were joined by Dave Matthews (a board member), Sheryl Crow, Jamey Johnson, the Avett Brothers, Valerie June and others.
But the real stars — at least according to Young — were the family farmers in attendance.
"America is already great," Young said, clapping as he recognized the farmers on the dais. "We don't need to apologize. We don't need to feel bad."
Farm Aid, now in its 32nd year, has raised more than $50 million since its inception to help struggling family farms.
The farmers on stage and in the audience came to bear witness to the problems that confront them daily.
Chris Fisher of Windy Ridge Dairy in Beaver County spoke about fluctuating dairy prices that have wreaked havoc on the farm's budget.
Ayanna James of Sankofa Village Community Garden in Homewood-Brushton said there hasn't been a grocery store in the neighborhood for 40 years.
And Joyce Shafer of Preston County, W.Va., spoke about how co-op gardening provides opportunities but also requires diligence and hard work.
"It's not easy," Shafer said. "But it's so rewarding to take and place and grow vegetables to feed people."
Farm Aid provides resources including grants, financial aid and a hotline. Jennifer Fahey, Farm Aid communications director, said Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have stressed already beleaguered farmers in those regions. Part of this year's mission was to get those affected the resources they need, she said.
Despite the ongoing economic pressures, including competition with large corporate farms, there's hope. Don Kretschmann of Kretschmann Organic Family Farm in Rochester, Beaver County, is one of the organic farming pioneers in Western Pennsylvania, having started 40 years ago.
"I was just crazy," said Kretschmann, who eschewed a career in physics to go into farming. "I love farming because I can do it the way I want to do it and not be ashamed of what I've done. … It's the highest calling."
Joe and Virginia Roseberry, dairy farmers from Maine, traveled to Farm Aid to show support for fellow farmers even though they've not had to tap into the organization's resources.
At Sankofa Village Community Garden, the season's farmer's markets have drawn to a close. But the organization is planning to open a year-round center at North Braddock and Susquehanna avenues. The George Washington Carver Farmhouse — "the Peanut Butter House for short," James says — will house a greenhouse and a commercial kitchen, with plans for healthy cooking classes, lessons in canning and a café for visitors that will feature goods produced by Sankofa Village.
While most in the audience came to hear the stellar cast of musicians, farmers had booths scattered across the grounds to display their wares and tell their stories. Anything to raise awareness, Joe Roseberry said, is good.
Nelson, the godfather of the event, started the show by singing the Lord's Prayer. He had said earlier that progress has been made since the benefit concert's inception 32 years ago, but there is still work to be done.
"We'll go another 32 years if we have to," Nelson said. "I hope we don't, but we will."