If I took one lesson away from attending Farm Aid in Hershey, Pennsylvania on September 22, it’s that, given the chance, I’m going to buy as much food as possible from local farmers’ markets rather than corporations. People always ask, “What can I do?” for various causes from environmental to political to charitable and, in this instance, it’s easy: buy your food where you know where it’s grown, be it in your town, your county, or your state. It’s healthier, it tastes good and, in doing so, you’re making a statement. You’re saying you’re not going to support the big corporations, the agri-business establishment that’s all but wiping out the family farm. You’re not going to eat beef from cows that are tortured and held in small standing pens their whole lives and pumped up with steroids and antibiotics so they won’t fall down dead in their own feces yet still provide the meat you put into your body. You’re not going to eat beef imported up from South America because you don’t know what pesticides were used for the hay those cows were raised on. Organic is good, great even, but the important thing is to buy your food local. Period. (Corporations have been known to slap “organic” stickers on anything just to cash in on a craze.) To this, the 30,000+ at Hersheypark Stadium, many wearing red “NO FACTORY FARMS” t-shirts all agreed. Hell, why wouldn’t you want to know what’s in the food you eat?

Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Jack Johnson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews brought that point home hard at a noon press conference preceding the concert. “We have to convince kids that the real future of America is to rebel, to be a farmer,” said Young. “It’s a mission from God.”

Brian Snyder, head of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), tells the Aquarian, “It’s so important to buy food from local sources because that’s the only credible way we’re going to rebuild a strong economy in America while keeping farmers on the land, restoring the health of our people and protecting the environment at the same time. It’s the single most simple, straightforward and effective thing anyone can do to change the way things are, to make sure the food you eat today supports the world you wish to live in tomorrow.”

The lineup was packed: Besides the aforementioned five, Kenny Chesney, Jamey Johnson, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, ALO, Pegi Young & The Survivors, Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real and Dale Watson all played for free, and even paid for their own transportation.

Willie, who started Farm Aid 27 years ago on a suggestion from Bob Dylan, said at the press conference, “We the people are building this Good Food Movement from the ground up. Farmers are doing the hard work on their farms. People are demanding this food. We’re not going to stop until every family farmer thrives and everyone has access to good food from family farms!”

I’ve been to many backstage scenes wearing many a laminate around my neck that said either “Press,” “V.I.P” or “Guest.” At Farm Aid, my laminate said “FARMER” and when I next visit my daughter, Jessica Seeley, of Milky Way Farms in Troy, Pennsylvania, a family farm that has the best damn milk, cheese, hot dogs, popcorn and sloppy joes I’ve ever tasted in my life, I’m going to milk a cow to earn that stature. Kim Seeley, the head of that fourth generation farm, who will tell you a thing or two about how the corporations are putting profits ahead of health, promised to show me. And I’m damn well going to take him up on it.

Musically, I fell in love with Grace Potter and have a newfound respect for Dave Matthews. Song Of The Day—and we were there for over 12 hours—was Neil Young & Crazy Horse splitting open the night sky with “Mr. Soul,” a song from his Buffalo Springfield days that’s 45 years old but sounds more powerful now than ever. The show ended with Willie calling up the assembled multitude of artistry to join him for “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” complete with gospel choir who looked a little uncomfortable for the final song, Willie’s new anthem, “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.”

This column is dedicated to memory of Shon Seeley.

(Pictured: My Traveling Companions – Jessica Seeley and Dane Seeley of Milky Way Farms in Troy, Pennsylvania.)

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