Could there have been more vegetables at Farm Aid?

My neighbor, Dave Crowell, and I both loved the family farm pork chops. But where was the salad? Photo: David Sommerstein.

My neighbor, Dave Crowell, and I both loved the family farm pork chops. But was there enough salad? Photo: David Sommerstein.

First off, please check out our Tumblr page from our coverage of Farm Aid in Saratoga Springs Saturday. There are loads of fun photos, video, and audio, including Neil Young talking about climate change and agriculture.

As Natasha Haverty and I reported this morning, the "Big Four" of Farm Aid – Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews – basically advocated a wholesale recalibration of our nation's – and the world's – food system toward smaller, "family" farms and sustainable production, and away from the corporate "feed the world" approach of Monsanto, RJ Reynolds-Nabisco, and Cargill. Take these excerpts in our story:

At their annual press conference, the Big Four came out swinging against “Big Ag”, that it’s destroying small family farms, people’s health, and the environment. They spoke against factory farms and fracking, the need to address climate change.

Here’s Neil Young.

If we grow the wrong way like the corporate farms are doing, we’re going to really trash this place.

And Dave Matthews.

We can’t eat well if we eat this giant agricultural corporate food that’s sort of being funneled to us.

And John Mellencamp.

Don’t let the Big Man shove you around. Stand up for yourself.

And Willie Nelson.

The people who don’t agree with us on all this…will be, ‘we’re not happy, until you’re not happy.’

But when I went to get food, I saw mixed results.

Farm Aid has taken huge strides in serving regionally sourced foods at traditional venue concessions and backstage through a project they call Homegrown Concessions. You may still be buying hot dogs and chicken tenders with fries, but they're organic and antibiotic free. And there are more veggie wraps and things like that.

As Farm Aid told the Associated Press:

"Farm Aid's mission is about family farmers, and economic opportunity for family farmers is a really big priority of ours," said Glenda Yoder, associate director of Farm Aid. "We also support good farming practices and rewarding farmers for those practices. So our Homegrown criteria call for food that is sourced from family farms that meet an ecological standard, and that returns a fair price to the farmer."

There was a long line for family farm, sustainably produced BBQ pork chops, ham steaks, and sausages, baskets of apples from Grow NYC, and kegs and kegs of New York State-brewed beer.

But I wish Farm Aid went even bigger. Maybe this is a small bone to pick, but I had hoped, and kind of expected, to see a re-envisioned world of concessions, one where meat on a bun and fried corn dogs take a back seat to vegetables, beans, and whole grains. And this is coming from a full-fledged meat-eater.

What happened to the vast range of harvest happening right under our noses all across Upstate New York? I tried to find a good old fashioned locally-harvested salad. No luck. Maybe it was out there somewhere, but it wasn't easy to find.

Photo © Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

Photo © Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

Couldn't this be the moment for Farm Aid to make a huge statement? Something like, "for just this one day, we're going to feed 25,000 people 100% regionally and sustainably, and that includes not serving so much meat". I mean, if you can't feed a stadium full of fans of "small family farms", how are you going to do it on the scale the Big Four are advocating?

Don't get me wrong. I waited in line for that delicious BBQ pork chop. (And I bumped into my neighbor who did, too, as you can see.)

Farm Aid is light years ahead of where most concerts seem to be, and I'm hugely appreciative of that. They also went to great pains to highlight not-for-profits working to change the current food system, with a bustling "Homegrown Village".

But with so much focus on the farm-to-table, buy local movement, I'm dying to see someone go big and change the game on what it means to "feed the world".

If you were there, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

NOTE: I've rewritten this blog post substantially, thanks to Farm Aid pointing out some big aspects of their Homegrown Concessions that I did miss.



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  1. Wren't there a lot of vegetables? I mean, weren't they all vegging out?

  2. David, I'm with you but it's the middle of September. There have been more than one chilly night in your neck of the woods. Granted, not all of NYS is quite that cold, but this is the end of the season in the Northeast. Farmers' fields are played out, and they are looking to button things up for the winter
    Yes, Farm Aid could have provided more veggies, but salad*? Coleslaw would have been seasonally appropriate, and it's not a big seller at concerts. Just guessing, but if the concert were held on August 20th it might have been accompanied by tomatoes, corn and zucchini.

    * Also, lettuce and other greens are highly perishable. There is reason that outdoor concerts offer the foods that they do.

  3. On Saturday morning I was at the farmers market in Glens Falls and talked to the proprietor of Quincy Farm where Willie had gone for a Farm Aid promo earlier in the year. I asked why she wasn't at Farm Aid. She replied that she needed to be catering to her regular customers, like me. Probably most other local producers were in the same boat, or delivery van.

    It isn't unusual to find a food truck at an event, but I don't think I've ever seen a salad truck. Maybe it is a niche that Farm Aid will think about in the future.

  4. I agree, there could have been more local produce available. Roasted corn on the cobb for example. We are still getting corn from our local stand in St. Lawrence County. And there is plenty of zucchini available as well as fall veggies.
    On another note, I wish the background pictures on the screen showed a wider variety of farms. Most if not all looked to me to be mid- western farms. I didn't see any that looked like the farms in our area.