Food has a way of bringing people together. They came together again last weekend at Farm Aid in Kansas City.
Ever since a group of religious fundamentalists followed a doubtful leader into oblivion by drinking poison mixed with a sweetened drink, anytime someone tries to foist a bad idea onto unsuspecting followers we hear the slogan “don’t drink the Kool Aid.”
But that hasn’t hurt at least one other kind of aid, because in Kansas City, Kansas, last weekend, tons of people drank in every drop of Farm Aid they could get….and it was cool in a good way!
I’ve never been to a Farm Aid concert before, but I’ve seen a few on TV. I have to say that Neil Young is my favorite performer for bringing farm and food along with his performance the same way gravy goes with grits.
Neil always gets me to my feet, from the recliner or the grandstand, when he says things like, “Support family farmers” or “Stop by that roadside stand and buy something” or “I don’t hate corporations, but I wish we didn’t have ’em.”
What Neil is talking about is the way big food corporations promote big profits right along with food borne illness, poverty, poor health, and declining rural populations while real family farm numbers slide down a steep trend line to nowhere.
“Hate” never even came close to being on the stage with Neil and the other performers, or in the audience either. It wasn’t exactly a ‘60s style love fest, but it was easy to see that by 7:00 that evening at the Livestrong Stadium situated on the Kansas side, west of the Missouri River’s big bend, people were feeling the love.
Bands playing early in the day warmed up a crowd that slowly filed through in the gates. First impressions were that it was a poor turnout when no more than a third of the stadium was occupied by mid-afternoon. More attention was being given to fresh roasted brats, pork chops, and ham from Patchwork Farms (and maybe beer from nearby concessions) than to who’s singing.
There was a lot to look at, such as the mobile meat processing unit partially funded by the Socially Responsible Ag Project (SRAP) and promoted by ranch entrepreneur Mike Callicrate and a bunch of others who know that rural America is the real source of real food.
Corporations take credit for that food, but, really, they only profit from it.
All the farm groups who care about food and farmers have a place in the big tent, like Farmers Union, RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International), WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils), and NFFC (National Family Farm Coalition). Business sponsors include Horizon Organic, Organic Valley, Silk Soymilk, United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), Whole Foods Market, Goodness Greeness and Hippie Chow. There were demonstrations about how real people can grow and prepare real food, and games to let folks learn just how hard it is to be a farmer.
Harvest Public Media was taking names and food stories for National Public Radio while other newsers prowled the fairground looking for the low down. And, of course the big dog of blog reporting was there, the Daily Yonder. But I didn’t take notes. It was more fun just to take mental picture, and look and listen to all the people, and the things that were happening.
By 6:00 the place was full and the crowd rockin’. Like most big gatherings there has to be some law and order. Police were there, too. What I saw them do mostly was just stand around and talk. They did escort a couple of young guys away who were having a pretty minor disagreement. My guess is there’s zero tolerance for that when Farm Aid comes to town.
The funniest thing I saw was when a girl who felt the music to her core started dancing with a big cop in uniform. He wasn’t cooperating. He just pointed his finger at her, telling her to move away.
I thought she was flirting with disaster (as well as the cop) and might be arrested, but she just laughed and danced closer until the policeman finally broke and ran to join two of his colleagues a few yards away. They huddled up apprehensively, braced for what came next when the girl ran halfway to them, waved goodbye, and dashed off with friends.
Don’t ever let a Kansas City cop tell you he’s not afraid of anything, because somewhere out there is an attractive 20-something female who knows better.
It felt good to be there. I think the reason is because food brings people together at a rock concert the way it has always brought families together on the farm. Food is our livelihood and our life. Eating is important to everyone, but on the farm we grow up eating three family meals a day, every day. More modern times may mean there’s less of that, even on the farm, but food really is about family.
Not all the people who came to see Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Cougar Mellencamp and Dave Mathews looked familiar to me. But we savored the day together.
And they all felt like family.