It’s rare that I allow an entertainer to get my goat on an issue. I figure he or she is a citizen, protected by the First Amendment, same as you or me, just with a larger platform and an amplified voice.
But when that voice is using a platform like Farm Aid to preach that the only good farm is an organic farm, or that anyone trying to use science and technologies to improve his or her family’s prosperity is somehow worse than the worst, well, I’m going to speak up.
Recently Farm Aid posted a video on its Twitter that led off with artists Neil Young and Dave Matthews touting organic agriculture.
Now, you can wade into the weeds all you like over whether organic is better than science-based technologies. You can hash out in your farming operation whether you want to use all of the tools, some of the tools, or none of the tools available to you and in what fraction.
As far as I’m concerned and HPJ is concerned, there are as many ways to grow the food, fiber and fuel that keep this country moving as there are farmers out there on the land. And our only mission is to provide as much information to our readers as possible so that they make their own decisions. It’s why we offer so many different educational events and try to present as many different farming methods in the pages of this publication.
As the kids say, “You do you.”
What I take issue with is that there are people who look to Farm Aid as a clearinghouse for defining what a “family farm” and a “family farmer” must be. These people are taking this message from these performers as gospel. If Neil Young defines a “family farm” one way, and this person values Young’s word on the matter because he or she identifies him as a fighter for the common man—then, by definition, his voice carries farther than yours or mine on the matter.
Why can’t Young use his platform to call attention to the low commodity prices all farmers are receiving, the pennies they get for that $4 box of cereal on the shelf? Why can’t he bring to light the trade wars that are crippling farm prices? Why can’t he speak to the devastation that Mother Nature has wrought through fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and drought and how farmers are at her mercy no matter how much they prepare?
Instead of talking about rural flight and the brain drain of our communities he focuses on the division of organic versus conventional farming methods. Because it’s easier to raise funds when you’re preaching to someone’s pre-conceived notions.
In 1985, when Farm Aid first held a concert to raise funds for farmers, it was the height of the farm crisis. I was 7, and I remember that as a time when the adults in the room held whispered conversations about land values, farm auctions and untimely funerals. Back then, the American farmer was that guy in overalls, standing stoically next to his long-suffering wife in her one good cotton dress as the auctioneer gavel banged on the lost dream.
But times have changed, and the American farmer isn’t some rube that needs some famous fella with money to condescendingly tell him or her what’s best. And that’s what Farm Aid has turned into, in my opinion. It’s turned into just one more soapbox for people outside of agriculture to dictate how farmers and ranchers “must” do things in order to get that halo effect and earn your true “family farmer” bib overalls. And they’re raising money off of that definition.
Look, grow what you want to grow, how you deem right for your operation and your family. Don’t let some guy with a guitar tell you that you’re wrong for doing what you need to do to keep the grocery shelves stocked, provide for your family and manage your land the best way you know how.
I’ll still listen to the music of Young, Matthews, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson. I can differentiate between their artistic side and their political views, and some of you might be able to do that too.
But they’d do well to remember “a farmer man don’t need him around, anyhow.”
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.