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“Farmers are the Real Rock Stars”

AWA Farmers and Staff at Farm Aid 2009

So stated Deputy Secretary of the USDA Kathleen Merrigan at the Farm Aid press conference on October 4.

Emily Lancaster, Brigid Sweeney and I were honored to represent Animal Welfare Approved at Farm Aid this year from October 2-4 in St. Louis Missouri.  AWA farmers Mark and Patricia Whisnant, David and Lana Price and Henry and JoAnn Fudge joined us for the festivities.

On Friday night we attended a special Farm Meets Fork dinner at Overlook Farm in St. Louis where we met local farmers and chefs. Read Farm Aid’s blog about the event here.

On Saturday afternoon we visited Farm Aid’s Homegrown Urban Country Fair where we ate delicious sweet potato and goat cheese crepes from “Oh Crepe!”  and met some of the Tower Grover Farmers’ Market farmers.  We saw Severine of the Greenhorns demonstrating all the different ways beginning farmers can access land with lovely sewn images of creative ways for young people to access farm land.  Fabric is the new PowerPoint!

Following our visit to the Fair, we attended a kind of town hall meeting with family farmers and family farmer advocates who spoke at the First Presbyterian Church about the most pressing issues facing family farmers today:

Mary Hendrickson, University of Missouri/Food Circles Networking Project, focused on the necessity of a truly competitive marketplace for family farmers.

Joel Greeno, American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association called for an emergency floor price that will help prevent more families from losing their dairy farms.

Scott Marlow, Rural Advancement Foundation International, discussed the credit challenges facing family farmers.  He began his talk by making everyone in the room repeat “If they’re too big to fail then they’re too big. Enforce antitrust.” Scott was adamant about the fact that we need to make sure that the farmers who are in trouble don’t lose their farms.  His call to action asked the audience, “Now is the time and here is the place. If not us, who, if not now, when?”

Later in the evening, Farm Aid Eve at Blueberry Hill Restaurant featured Animal Welfare Approved pork and grassfed beef from Fudge Family Farms and American Grass Fed Beef.

Governor of Missouri Jay Nixon and Deputy Secretary USDA at Farm Aid Press Conference 2009Animal Welfare Approved staffers were attending Farm Aid with Media Credentials as writers for the AWA newsletter and blog.  Because of this we attended the press conference and had the opportunity to take photographs of the concert from the photo pit in front of the stage.  Plus, hanging out at the Media Tent allowed us the opportunity to share the good word about AWA and several of our farmers were interviewed by the media.

This year’s press conference also featured Deputy Secretary of the USDA Kathleen Merrigan, who has spearheaded the new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. Two seats down from her “idol” Willie Nelson, Ms. Merrigan described this new effort to support local and regional food systems, and to promote sustainable agriculture practices.

Acknowledging that the new website is “skeletal” she invited input from the public as to what they need from this new administration, saying, “We’re trying to reorient the Ship USDA.” One of the reforms Deputy Secretary Merrigan has pledged to work on is spreading the word about new funding opportunities, saying that certain programs are continually under subscribed. Information on grant opportunities offered through the USDA’s $130 billion cut of the Recovery Act is available online.

Later in the morning, Deputy Secretary Merrigan was taking the opportunity to talk with farmers and farm advocates and AWA staffer Emily Lancaster and AWA farmer Henry Fudge were both interviewed for her You Tube channel.

Memorable Quotes from Farm Aid
Willie Nelson and Neil Young at Farm Aid Press Conference 2009“Not every family needs a lawyer, not every family needs an accountant, but every family needs a farmer.  Farmers are the real rock stars.”   —Deputy Secretary of the USDA, Kathleen Merrigan

“People are becoming aware that there is good food and it’s available. And it should be there for everybody.”   —Dave Matthews

“We want people to wake up, think big and make a difference in the world.”   —Jason Mraz

Jason Mraz Performing at Farm Aid 2009 “Factory farms are not my favorite thing.”   —Neil Young

“We want our farms back!”   —Neil Young

“Raise your voice to participate in something.  Flex those activist muscles!”   —Jason Mraz

“Look for your @AWAapproved label and you will feel better in more ways than one when you eat.”  Will Dailey

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