Twenty-one years later, Farm Aid's goal remains the same - advocating for the importance of family farms and encouraging consumers to create a demand for wholesome, responsibly-farmed food. At Farm Aid's 21st annual benefit concert in Camden, NJ, I had a chance to hear the message first-hand, and witnessed the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to put together a benefit concert this successful.
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Since its inception in 1985, Farm Aid has grown from a benefit focusing solely on ailing family farms to an event that not only promotes healthy choices through organic and sustainable farming, but advocates for creating a demand for quality food to help ourselves and our families eat better. This simple message hits home with many: family farms in communities across the country have been shut down due to competition from factory farms and the low cost of commercially-grown produce.
"If the consumer is pulling for quality, for good food, and for organic food, and for quality of food for us to feed our children with, then it's supply and demand, very simply," said Farm Aid board member (and farmer) Dave Matthews, backstage before his solo acoustic set. Matthews, 39, and his wife Ashley own an organic farm outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.
"When I go to the supermarket now, there's so much more choice, and I really think that, as part of a movement, which is what Farm Aid has become, it's been of great support for the evolution of an idea, which is quality. That's what Farm Aid is standing for now, which in turn helps the farmers."
The Matthews' farm, Maple Hill Farm, is a part of the Best Of What's Around Community Supported Agriculture program. This unique program is comprised of community members who pledge support, either financial or labor, for the farm's yearly operations in exchange for a dividend of fresh produce. Matthews hopes his farm can help end the romanticized idea of where food comes from. Of his farm, Matthews said: "Getting to see farmers who look the way they should, in the field, loving the land, and producing food that's delicious, that's something that's uncommon, that's not what's happening most, most of the food is a giant machine spinning around and scooping up the land, and poisoning the planet to produce substandard food."
The Best Of What's Around CSA has programs for low-income families to receive both community financial support for their share, and to make payments combined with labor commitments to receive fresh, organic produce. The farm is also well-known locally for its organic, free-range eggs. In addition, Dave has his hand in another organic operation, Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, VA, managed by his brother, Peter Matthews.
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Farm Aid's labor and production is primarily donated. The event features a remarkable light show from Bandit Lights, a Knoxville, TN-based lighting design company. Bandit Lights designs an amazing custom lighting system for Farm Aid every year, the highlight of which is the custom-made Farm Aid circular logo above center stage.
Sound was provided by ShowCo, a Pennsylvania-based audio company. The centerpiece of front-of-house was the Midas Siena mixing console, running in a 21-bus configuration. Aside from the FOH audio, the Siena had separate feeds being sent into different parts of the venue. A mono feed was sent to the lawn delays as well as the house FM loop. A split from the direct outs on the Siena was sent to a multi-track recording system, provided by Westwood One Radio, for radio, television, and DVD release at a later date.
In addition, the Siena sent a feed to a separate mixing console located at FOH, where it was mixed with a time-aligned microphone feed of crowd noise. This feed was sent to both a multiplier box in the working press area and a production truck, where it was combined with a video feed for webcast and in-house monitoring.
With their innovative use of technology and spreading their message through the generous music community, Farm Aid's mission is simple: through promoting responsible use of American farmland and education of the consumer, we can live better with a higher level of food quality, and in the process help ailing family farms.