|By ERIC COX
CHICAGO, Ill. — Roger Allison was oblivious to the concert taking place a few hundred yards from his Patchwork Family Farms booth at Farm Aid. He was too busy selling pork chop sandwiches and bratwurst to hungry music lovers.
But when the smoke from his giant grills cleared, Allison, disheveled wiry hair spilling out from under a red baseball cap, was happy to describe the Patchwork philosophy for pork production.
“Our goal is to show family farms can raise animals in a sustainable way with lots of fresh air and sunshine,” Allison said. “We don’t use continuous antibiotics, growth hormones or synthetic growth promoters. We treat sick animals on a sub-therapeutic, case-by-case basis.”
The Patchwork organization is situated in Missouri and includes 15 family farms, each committed to “common sense” pork production.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Allison said. “This organic method of pork production offers our member farms an economic incentive to raise hogs in a traditional manner.”
The words “family farms” cropped up time and time again at Farm Aid. This year’s event took place on Sunday, Sept. 18 in the Village of Tinley Park, south of Chicago. Farm Aid’s 20th anniversary drew another roster of top musicians and tens of thousands of fans.
Sponsored by Silk Soymilk, Farm Aid kicked off with a press conference that featured Farm Aid board members John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Dave Mathews.
A prime topic of conversation was an apparent error in a Chicago Tribune story regarding the Farm Aid organization and how it distributes funds. The article drew the ire of many Farm Aid organizers. Throughout the day, musicians, onstage and off, maligned the Tribune and sometimes the media for the miscue.
The Tribune’s story reported that only about 20 percent of Farm Aid’s funds actually reach family farmers. However, Farm Aid Director Carolyn Mugar corrected the story, saying that about 80 cents from each Farm Aid dollar goes to farmers.
Mugar went on to laud Farm Aid’s board of directors.
“The longevity of Farm Aid can be directly attributed to artists like these,” she said of Mellencamp, Young, Nelson and Mathews. “They never give up. These are some of the most stubborn, clever and strategic people I’ve ever met. These are four of the strongest people you’ll ever meet. They simply won’t back down.”
Recently, Farm Aid helped out in hurricane-ravaged Mississippi, where entire family farms were destroyed. Mississippi farmer Ben Burkette fought back tears during the press conference while describing the help he received from Farm Aid.
“The help has been truly amazing,” Burkette explained. “There’s a rainbow at the end of this disaster.”
Neil Young, wearing a bright red T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, “Stop Factory Farms,” said Farm Aid has been “the voice of the little guy” for 20 years. And, he said, it’s a battle worth waging.
“So many of America’s farms are factory owned,” Young said. “In fact, 80 percent of America’s farms are owned by about three big companies. And these (factory farms) are not nice places. There are flies everywhere, giant pools of waste … and the life around these places is not good either. No one wants to live around one of these farms.”
Since its inception in 1985, Farm Aid has given more than $17 million in grants to a variety of farm-related institutions and organizations. Grant categories include Farm Policy, Farm Systems, Farm Action and Farm Resources. Grants can range from $1,000 to $50,000, but most fall in the $3,000 to $7,500 range.