In the frenzy of fanfare and with bushels of fresh produce, thousands descended on the Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek Saturday for the Farm Aid festival.
The annual benefit concert — founded by musicians Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985 — has become a hub for small family farmers as they grapple with the devastating effects of climate change and competition with commercial farms.
“The obstacle we’re all up against in this battle to protect our planet and children is greedy people,” musician Dave Matthews said Saturday morning.
Matthews went on to perform for a sold-out house of more than 20,000 later in the day. He shared the stage with some of country music’s biggest names, including Nelson, Mellencamp, Margo Price, Sheryl Crow and Chris Stapleton. All the performers shared a deep connection to farming and its surrounding communities.
Artists and activists alike spent the day speaking about the power of individual advocacy in shaping the farming landscape.
“Every time you scan food at the supermarket, you are voting with your dollar,” Price said.
Event organizers also called on visitors to use their voices to impact political change. On Saturday morning, Farm Aid’s cultural impact director Michael Foley said that Farm Aid would be hitting the road this spring.
With the hope of compelling Congress to enact legislation to protect small farmers and the planet, Foley announced plans for a major mobilization of farmers to Washington, D.C., on March 6 called “Farmers for Climate.”
Mellencamp said he would be in attendance.
To encourage audience members to get in the practice of supporting local farmers, all of Farm Aid’s concessions were provided by sustainable farmers whom organizers emphasized received a fair price for their goods.
Visitors across the Music Park’s semi-circle seating were surrounded by fresh produce, seasonal apple cider and sustainably sourced beef. Attendees could be confident their money was going directly to the farmers who needed it most.
“Buy local,” said Eddie Moore, a sustainable cattle farmer from Maxton, North Carolina. “It may not be the cheapest, but it’s the best value.”
According to Moore, buying from local, family farmers is an investment in consumers’ communities and their futures when combating climate change.
“Having a local food system is a really good way to minimize our carbon footprint,” Moore said. “It’s like an insurance plan.”
“Instead of doing the quick and easy thing… go support your local farmer or start growing food yourself,” said musician Micah Nelson, Willie Nelson’s son.
In recent years Micah Nelson has become a prominent advocate for the legalization of industrial hemp, a crop frequently used for soil replenishment. Throughout the day, several farmers and artists spoke about the vital role reviving soil will play in the climate crisis.
“I think beyond sustainability, we are regenerating our soil,” said Zach Ducheneaux, a South Dakota rancher.
Ducheneaux looks to employ holistic farming techniques originally developed by his Indigenous ancestors with the hope of creating healthier farmland for those who come after him.
“It’s a multigenerational vision,” Micah Nelson said.
“Our farming practices have to be intentional to save our soil,” said Derrick Jackson, a Georgia farmer visiting Farm Aid.
United by their desire to overcome mounting difficulties, those tasked with feeding America’s communities find Farm Aid offers a sense of belonging.
Despite the overwhelming excitement of the crowd, farmers and artists expressed a grim urgency to address climate change.
“We have to plant the seeds now that will grow into the future we want to see,” Micah Nelson said.