Reflections from Farm Aid
By Hannah Braun and Colin Fox
Last weekend, we had the opportunity to learn more about the emerging issues and innovations in agriculture at this year’s Farm Aid festival, which is held by a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping farmers thrive. The first Farm Aid festival was hosted in 1985 by Willie Nelson and Neil Young in Champaign, Ill., to raise awareness of the importance of local and family owned farms, as well to provide funding to keep families on farms. Farm Aid has since been held every year in different locations across the country that play a crucial part in the U.S. agricultural sector; with agriculture being a $92 billion dollar industry in North Carolina, Raleigh was an excellent fit for Farm Aid this year.
As people with a passion for community-based public policy, it was truly amazing to spend the day talking to change-makers in North Carolina’s agricultural sector. We put our roots down at the Homegrown Village, the section of the festival that features exhibits from organizations dedicated to various issues in agriculture. We spent the day asking individuals about their work and what we can do to support the people at the heart of our state’s largest economic sector. One of the most interesting groups Hannah Braun (IEI’s Hunt Intern) was able to speak with was the Veteran’s Farm of North Carolina, a nonprofit dedicated to providing veterans and their families with the education and training needed for success in farming. Robert Elliot, the founder of the Veteran’s Farm, expressed the need for more farmer-to-farmer cooperation; Hannah conducted an interview with him discussing this further, which you can watch here. Colin Fox (IEI Digital Inclusion Fellow) was able to speak with the NC A&T Extension Office and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Hannah was also able to do a Twitter takeover and post some fun facts about agriculture along with photos we took at the festival!
North Carolina has a thriving agricultural sector that intersects with many issues in the public policy space, and it has been such a beneficial journey to learn more about. In our preparatory research for Farm Aid, we learned about the extent of the state’s agricultural sector. Seventeen percent of North Carolinians are employed in agriculture and agribusiness, making this sector responsible for one-sixth of North Carolina’s income and employment. Needless to say, agriculture is a fundamental element of our state’s economy and identity. Farm Aid gave us an opportunity to explore this vital area of North Carolina and connect to the people who have dedicated their lives to it. Our experience at Farm Aid was an enlightening and engaging one, and it gave us a lot of hope for the future of local and family farms in our state.