Milwaukee, WI Journal Sentinel: Celebrating The Seeds of a Movement By Carolyn Mugar

On Sept. 22, 1985, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp came together to host the first Farm Aid concert in front of 78,000 farmers, fans and activists. They thought the event in Champaign, Ill., would be the first and only Farm Aid concert - that the overwhelming public outcry would spur public officials to act immediately to right the obvious inequities that were forcing thousands of farm families off their land and out of their homes.

None of us could have anticipated the movement that concert sparked in 1985, and 25 years later, I can proudly say that Farm Aid has not quit. We've not only kept family farmers on their land, we have created new farmers; helped farmers transition to sustainable and organic production methods; increased access to healthy, fresh food for more Americans; helped to revive rural and urban communities; and supported developing and growing local and regional food systems that stimulate our national economy. But even as we reflect on the success and momentum of the past two decades, it's clear that our work is far from done.

For 25 years, Farm Aid has talked with farm families and heard firsthand accounts of both the challenges they face and the opportunities that can help them thrive. In Wisconsin, we've heard from many farmers that we're at a critical crossroads.

On the one hand, Wisconsin is a picture of what is possible in a family farm food system. Over 97% of Wisconsin's 78,000 farms are family-owned. Farms and agricultural business generate $60 billion in economic activity and employ over 350,000 people in the state. In Milwaukee County, the number of farms grew by 23% from 2002 to 2007, creating new economic growth and job opportunities.

Yet the threat of industrial agriculture in Wisconsin is real.

When you look at the crisis in the dairy industry, the potential for further consolidation in agriculture is painstakingly clear. For nearly two years, dairy farmers have been paid abysmal prices - as little as half the cost of production. Family dairy farmers have lost upwards of $200 per month during this crisis on each dairy cow they own, while the largest dairy processors have made record profits. Lax enforcement of antitrust regulations has resulted in a system that creates artificially low prices for farmers and no savings for consumers.

In Wisconsin - home to 1.2 million dairy cows producing 2.2 billion gallons of milk each month - the situation is critical. Since the 1980s, Farm Aid has advocated for a food system that allows a level playing field for family farmers and consumers instead of the current system of increased consolidation that puts more power into the hands of powerful corporations.

Local farmers are intrinsically tied to their local economies, personally invested in their land and its well-being, and they produce fresh, healthy foods. Conversely, industrial agriculture crushes rural economies by bankrupting family operations, damages our environment through air and water pollution and soil degradation and contributes to the diet-related public health epidemics affecting our nation.

It will take each and every one of us working together, seeking out food from family farms and calling for a different kind of agriculture to ensure that family farmers stay on their land, growing strong, healthy communities.

That first Farm Aid concert was more than just a rallying event for family farmers across America. That day, we sowed the seeds of a movement. Twenty-five years of Farm Aid have shown just how much impact family farmers have on our lives and reinforced our commitment to fight for and alongside them.

Farm Aid promotes a simple truth: Supporting family farmers and family farm-centered food systems is a powerful strategy for jump-starting our fragile economy, improving our public health and creating a cleaner environment for generations to come. We invite you to join us in advocating for the changes we need so that family farmers can continue to grow hope for America.