I had the privilege of attending the Farm Aid benefit concert this year at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the Press Conference on Saturday morning, Board Member and musical legend Neil Young reminded us that the Farm Aid concert isn’t just a celebration, it’s a mission to keep family farmers on their land.
The concert brings together thousands of people and features local farmers and food producers while offering the opportunity to listen to great music and get educated about a variety of topics ranging from rural-to-urban connections and farming collectives to sustainable seafood and making pepper jam. This concert is about preventing further erosion, both literally—caused by industrialized agriculture that uses toxic chemicals that compact the soil, prevent water absorption, and lead to run-off—and metaphorically—of a food system ruled by corporate executives who attempt to shape our laws to serve their interests rather than those of farmers and consumers. Jim Hightower, national radio commentator, writer, and twice-elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, moderated discussions by farmers and activists while musicians played on the main stage.
Dangling from my neck was a badge that read “Farmer,” which got me into the Press Conference that morning but made me question the work I do in this world in terms of making it better place. Having grown up in a family of farmers, I know that farmers work a lot harder than I do, and their job often goes unappreciated as we mindlessly eat our meals, often in our cars on our way to work. Farmers are not only hard workers, they are also relentless fighters, the original rebels who paved the way for all protesters in this great nation.
Take the Whisky Rebellion, for example, a tax protest in 1791 during the presidency of George Washington. Farmers from the western frontier regions resisted a tax on their distilled grain whisky, which was often used for bartering. In the end, the tax was all but impossible to collect and the Rebellion raised the question of what kinds of protests were permissible under the framework of a brand new Constitution. When the farmers speak out, our elected officials listen.
That’s what we’re hoping for, anyway.
Walking humbly amongst people who deserved the badge I wore, I took in the scene and scouted the venue while John Quigley of SpectralQ and Jane Kleeb of BOLD Nebraska met with musicians, their managers and technical crew for the upcoming benefit concert, “Harvest the Hope,” which they are producing on Art and Helen Tanderup’s family farm in Neligh, Nebraska on September 27.
Neil Young and Willie Nelson, father of Farm Aid, will be playing, along with other artists at the benefit concert supporting protesters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, would cut right through the Tanderup farm and the historic Ponca Trail of Tears. The proposed pipeline is not only an imposition for farmers, ranchers, and tribal members, it poses a huge environmental risk to the Ogallala Aquifer that they rely on for drinking water and to irrigate the food that they grow and raise for all of us. Art and Helen Tanderup have refused to sell their land to TransCanada, and so have many other farmers and ranchers, but the ultimate decision of whether or not this pipeline will be built lies in the hands of our federal government and officials in the states in which the pipeline will be laid, including Nebraska.
If this pipeline is built, TransCanada will pump 840,000 barrels of crude oil a day, primarily from the Alberta tar sands region, through the Keystone XL (extra large) pipeline. In addition to dirty tar sands oil, a cocktail of chemicals will be used to help the viscous crude oil flow. The chemical names aren’t released to the public, but they will likely include bitumen, a black sticky substance that causes eye irritation, burns to exposed skin, and should never be ingested, according to the Material Data Safety Sheet.
Herein lies the problem: If the pipeline spills or leaks (and some leakage is expected and built into the project), it will contaminate the ground water and land, which, when heated by the sun, causes those pollutants to enter the atmosphere and, hence, our lungs.
In 2010, Enbridge’s 30-inch Line 6B pipe poured 843,000 gallons of bitumen-laced crude oil into a tributary that fed the Kalamazoo River outside of Marshall, Michigan. Homes 35 miles downstream had to be evacuated and residents were told not to drink the tap water. One of the most expensive spills in U.S. history, this leak cost more than a billion dollars. We’ll be paying for it long into the future.
TransCanada needs a presidential permit in order to build this pipeline across the northern border of the United States. The “Harvest the Hope” benefit concert is aimed directly at President Obama, asking him to make good on his promise of change.
I was hopeful during his election and so were a lot of my friends, colleagues, and students. I am hopeful now that he will work to protect Americans and their future generations who deserve clean water and air.
The farmers are fighting, and Willie and Neil will be there alongside them on September 27. This is our chance to make a difference, because healthy food and clean water are too valuable to risk.
Visit boldnebraska.org/concert to learn more about the sold-out benefit concert and to purchase merchandise. A very limited number of VIP ticket packages to the sold-out “Harvest the Hope” benefit concert on Sept. 27 featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young are available at: https://secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/hth
Poster design by Justin Kemerling (partial design shown here)