Farm Aid returns to Wisconsin at Alpine Valley Music Theatre
Started back in 1985, and organized by Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp, Farm Aid was formed to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land.
Wisconsin is no stranger to the fundraising venue, having hosted the event at Miller Park in Milwaukee, back in October of 2010.
This year, on Saturday 21st, Alpine Valley Music Theatre located in East Troy, Wisconsin, will host the iconic event and feature performances by Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds, as well as Bonnie Raitt, Luke Combs, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Jamey Johnson, Tanya Tucker, Brothers Osborne, Yola, Particle Kid, Ian Mellencamp, Ho-Chunk Thundercloud Singers, and the Wisdom Indian Dancers.
With the Farm Aid organization making an effort to pay homage and respect to this country’s first farmers and land stewards, this year’s concert will kick off with a prayer and blessing by Hocak (Ho-Chunk) Elder and Vietnam Veteran (Navy Corpsman) Andy Thundercloud. The Thundercloud Singers also from the Hocak Nation, will render a welcome song, continuing the hospitality the Hocak are known for. The Native American group Wisdom Indian Dancers will perform alongside the Thunderclouds.
An important highlight, as if the entertainment is not enough, is the Homegrown Village. Billed as the “hands of the event”, according to the organization’s website, festival goers will explore interactive exhibits and activities that engage all of their senses. Food and farm groups from across the country showcase exhibits about soil, water, energy, food and farming through art, games, and hands-on activities. In the Homegrown Skills area, festival-goers can attend skill shares and demonstrations, celebrate the culture of agriculture and go home with new skills. Farmers, farm activists, and festival-goers come together in the Farm Yard to meet and share stories. In addition, on the Farm Yard stage, farmers and concert artists will discuss urgent issues.
Every year, Farm Aid has Farmer Heroes, farmers from across the country that share their history, struggles, and successes in their farming way of life.
Former organic farmer’s Jim and Rebecca Goodman were Farm Aid Heroes in 2010, the year Farm Aid was held in Milwaukee. Their legacy ended this past March with the sale of their farm which was preceded the previous year with the sale of their livestock. The farm had been in Jim’s family ever since his grandfather bought the farm in 1889.
Ultimately, the price drop in milk played a major role in the decision of the Goodmans to get out of the farming business. “About the big farms flooding the milk, had that not happened with organic, had the price of organic stayed where it was in 2014- $40 for a hundred I think this probably had looked differently. Maybe seeing there was money in it, we could have found someone to come in and replace me. The drop in milk prices and farms in general affected most people much worse than it did us. It still changed the dynamics of our retirement. I think when the cows left, we were down to 26 per 100. You are still paying the same expenses. We were financially ok, but we weren’t making much money. We weren’t a young couple with a lot of debt, kids to take care of, machinery to pay off. It’s no wonder that so many farmers were going out of business in the last couple of years. A lot of them think if they get out now, they can still get have some equity and start something else. Some held to the bitter end and declared bankruptcy. That’s not the way it ought to be. Food is pretty important,” Jim said.
On getting out of farming, a solemn Rebecca shared, “It would have been like so many other farmers where suddenly they lose everything. We were saved from that maybe by our age. We were lucky enough to have built this house 30-some years ago. There was an acre of land set aside for the house to be on. We are not part of that operation anymore. We can live here. It is very nice to be here in this place we love, this Driftless area. Having the constant reminder right outside can sometimes be difficult. It’s always there. We are hoping to be able to still have agreeable relations where we could share things and get together, but that isn’t how it turned out. Whether that will make it easier or harder in the long run, I don’t know.”
With the Goodman’s story not so uncommon these days, they still are very active with organizations like the National Family Farm Coalition, and the Family Farm defenders, both of which will have a presence as usual at Farm Aid.
With pre-Farm Aid discussions being held yesterday, Jim stated there were a group of people that gave the Farm Aid organization ideas and they synthesized it down to the panels they held that focused on the challenges facing today’s farmers, and ways of working land in an environmentally sound approach.
“Of course, the press will be there, but most come for the concert part when Willie Nelson is there. I know there are some people that will be there wanting to interview farmers having a rough go of it, talk about the bankruptcy issues. The press stuff is at the concert, they have radio interviews and stuff in between the acts,” Jim said enthusiastically.
A bit Northeast of the Goodmans outside Kendall, Wisconsin, Joel Greeno, also a previous Farmer Hero, has his farm raising a few head of cattle and growing organic corn and graded hay.
Greeno, like the Goodman’s, is no stranger to the Farm Aid organization. In 1999, while at a meeting of the Family Farm Defenders, John Kinsman founder of the defenders who passed away last year, asked him if he wanted to go to Farm Aid, and Greeno accepted. Off they went to the Farm Aid concert in Bristol, Virginia, a trip that would find him involved with the organization for the past twenty years. In 2009, Greeno was recognized as a Farm Aid Hero. Like the Goodman’s, his farming story was highlighted.
Having owned his farm now for 30 years, and with hard times the norm, Greeno supports as he calls it, his “farming habit” by working an off-farm job. Originally milking dairy cows, Greeno had milked from 1993 up until he sold his herd in 2013 due to falling milk prices, and stated that marital problems that led to a divorce lasting two years didn’t help either.
With flooding also affecting many farms across our nation, Greeno and many other farmers in the Driftless area have had a rough go of it. “I’ve spent the last 3-4 years fighting with mother nature and the weather. A lot of it is in the valley. The rain has kind of taken some of my farm out of production because it never dries out enough to actually use it. Instead of being productive farm land, it has mostly turned into pasture, which has its value and purpose. A year ago, the flood took out every fence on the farm and washed tools, supplies, and equipment right out of my machine shed down the river to the Baraboo. It’s just crazy,” he said.
Despite the flooding, with the help of his family, Greeno continues to work hard and hang in there.
On Farm Aid’s work, he acknowledged that working with all of the organizing efforts of Farm Aid, meetings, and opportunities that they have set up, Farm Aid is an important resource for the nation’s farming advocacy groups. “Making sure that we keep up with the work that is necessary to look out for what’s left of our nation’s farms is so important,” Greeno said.
DriftlessNow.com will covering Farm Aid on Saturday, September 21st, and will follow up with the Goodmans and Joel Greeno, as they continue to advocate and network with farms represented from across Wisconsin and the nation.
For those not attending the concert, you can tune into Willie Nelson’s SiriusXM channel (59) starting at 12 pm CT, or stream the Farm Aid 2019 webcast at Farmaid.org beginning at 2 pm CT.