Farm Aid benefit gig heads to Pennsylvania
By Mar Scolforo, AP
July 10, 2012, 12:41 am TWN
HERSHEY, Pennsylvania--The annual Farm Aid benefit concert is coming to Hershey in September as the country's small and medium-sized farms face a shifting economic landscape, but board member Dave Matthews sees some hopeful signs in the uncertainty.
Matthews, who will perform at the Hersheypark show on Sept. 22 with longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds, sees demand growing for the types of farm products produced by smaller operations.
Farm Aid has been held nearly every year since 1985, including in western Pennsylvania a decade ago, and has raised more than US$40 million to help keep family farmers on their land.
Tickets for this year's show go on sale Friday. Matthews' fellow board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp are also slated to perform, as are Jack Johnson, ALO, Pegi Young and The Survivors, and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real.
Matthews, a Farm Aid performer since 1995 and a board member since 2001, maintains a farm and vineyard in Virginia. His family also grows some of the food they eat at their Seattle home.
As a boy in South Africa, he idolized his dairy farmer uncle and dreamed of being a farmer himself one day. These days he sees the idealized version of the small family farm in America as a contrast to the industrial techniques and scales that dominate modern agriculture.
"The way it's run now is unhealthy, unsustainable, and that's what's destroying the small farmers (and) the mid-sized farmers," Matthews said. "That's the part that is heartbreaking."
Pennsylvania ranks third nationally in direct farmer-to-consumer sales, according to Farm Aid, and sixth with some 600 organic farms. Agriculture is the state's leading industry, and south-central Pennsylvania, where Hershey is located, includes vast areas of highly fertile farmland.
Farm Aid, which drew about 16,000 people last year in Kansas City, Kan., runs a grants program that doles out money at the end of the year, but it also is a way to draw attention to issues facing farmers. Most recently, its Farmer Resource Hotline network has migrated online, working with farmers to help them explore alternate sources of credit or find specialized training.