We started the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in 1985 in response to the farm crisis of the ’80s. While they were providing for the rest of the country, farm families were standing in line to get food because they couldn’t put food on their own tables, and Farm Aid really helped to give the cause a voice. John Mellencamp came out to the protest action in north Missouri in 1985 and did a concert in a small town of about 8,000-15,000 people. It really helped to get the message out about what was going on in farm country.
At that same time, my parents’ farm was in threat of foreclosure, but thanks to Farm Aid and musicians like Mellencamp, they, like hundreds of other farmers, were able to hold onto their farm. My parents still have that farm today, and my husband and I own a farm an hour and a half south of there, so there’s definitely a personal relationship. Farm Aid saved this real-life farm and ended up contributing incredibly to our community’s economy.
Later, in 1995, Willie Nelson came to Missouri and stood up with 3,000 family farmers protesting one of the largest hog corporations in the world. Our members raise pork without antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones, with access to fresh air and sunshine. We said, “Let’s see if it’s possible for family farmers to sell pork at a concert.” Farm Aid put their money where their mouth was and we’ve been selling pork at every Farm Aid concert since then.
For the first Farm Aid concert, our executive director, Roger Allison, traveled from Iowa to Illinois, and farmers stood all along the train tracks with their American flags, cheering them on. It was a really incredible time. In this place of hopelessness, something provided hope. Soon after that first concert, Farm Aid was able to make grants, which really made a difference in places like rural Missouri.
The concerts are an incredible experience. Everybody should go to a Farm Aid concert. It’s always fabulous music, and farm-raised food, but there’s a sense of hopefulness at these concerts. Both the grant funds and Farm Aid’s ability to use their artists’ commitment to highlight these issues have resulted in an incredible amount of policy change. It really matters. —Rhonda Perry
Rhonda Perry is a livestock and grain producer from Howard County, Missouri, and the program director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a statewide organization of 5,500 farm and rural families.