John Mellencamp Continues Farm Aid Crusade - CBS Early Show Interview

CBS News

This year's Farm Aid concert is Saturday in Kansas City, Kansas.

The annual benefits have raised more than $39 million over the last 26 years to promote family farms in the U.S.

John Mellencamp, one of the founders of Farm Aid, recently spoke to "Early Show" Contributor Ayla Brown, saying there's still a lot of work to be done.

For more than 30 years, rock icon John Mellencamp has provided the soundtrack for life in America's heartland.

When he began to witness that landscape change as large factory farms were driving small farmers out of business, the musician turned social activist.

"Small family farmers are what made this country what it was," Mellencamp told Brown. "When I was a kid all of these small towns across America were supported by farming. There was a saying, the way the farmer goes, goes America. And that has changed dramatically."

When asked about the current state of the family farm in the U.S., Mellencamp said, "We have been in crisis mode for decades and before long we're gonna wake up one day and we're not gonna recognize this place."

He added, "You know everybody in this country deserves to make an honest wage, be able to live the American dream and that just does not exist anymore."

To preserve that dream, Mellencamp joined forces with Willie Nelson and Neil Young in 1985 to create Farm Aid. The day-long music festival raised awareness and more than $9 million for small family farmers.

Farm Aid - around for 26 years - is the longest-running benefit concert - a distinction Mellencamp never expected.

"At the time, we anticipated doing one concert," Mellencamp recalled. "We thought, 'We'll do this concert, bring some attention to it, we'll get some politicians there, and we'll talk to them and they'll do what's right.' Well, not much of that happened."

He continued, "The laws are set up to facilitate big business like everything else in this country."

This year, Farm Aid is more important than ever. A bleak economy combined with historic natural disasters has crippled family farmers.

Cricket Adams and his wife, Kim Adams operate a small organic farm in Altoona, Ala. They lost nearly everything during the devastating tornadoes that tore through the south in April, the nation's deadliest in 37 years.

"We got hit pretty hard, a lot of property damage," Cricket Adams said.

The couple had damage to their land, house, garage and barn.

Kim Adams said, "We are making due. But it hurt us financially and emotionally."

With a $500 Farm Aid grant, they purchased an industrial chainsaw to cut fallen trees from their fields - and finally get back to work.

"When we found out that we were getting a grant, there was a lot of tears. A lot of gratitude," Kim Adams said. "Without Farm Aid, we would not have been able to recover like we have, and like we still have to."

Despite Mother Nature and a tough economic climate, the Adams' press on.

Cricket Adams added, "It's tough, but I mean, we don't want to leave. We want to hand this down to our grandchildren."

Kim Adams said, "That has always been the dream, is to have the family continue with what we started here. Don't let the family farm die. It's too important."

Such resilience is what drives Mellencamp and friends to keep Farm Aid growing.

"It's problem solving, that's what Farm Aid is trying to do is to help people solve their problems and trying to be a part of the solution to individuals," Mellencamp said. "That's the spirit. I think that's what America was founded upon."

On "The Early Show," Chris Wragge added Mellencamp, Nelson, and Young will all perform at Saturday's concert. Other headliners at this year's Farm Aid benefit include Dave Matthews and Jakob Dylan.