Getting to Randall's Island, New York City for Farm Aid 2007: A Homegrown Festival wasn't as nerve-wrecking as we'd thought. Event buses regularly ran to and from the site, ferrying the waiting hordes at 125th St. and Lexington Ave. And we do mean hordes.
New York City was sought out as a venue for the first time in the 22-year history of the annual benefit concert, which was first launched in 1985 in Champaign, Illinois to raise funds for beleaguered family farmers and to spread awareness that American farm families were struggling to make a living. (More than $30 million has been raised, to date) "Some people thought that bringing Farm Aid to New York was a bold move," said Farm Aid president and founder—and grand old hippie poobah—Willie Nelson. "But there is good reason to invite urban Americans to appreciate the tastes of food grown close to home. People can keep family farmers on the land with their good food choices."
And if you play it, they will come, as Nelson anticipated, even despite scorching temperatures and lines that stretched all the way into eternity.
The day kicked off when venue gates swung open at the stroke of noon. What awaited concert goers was music from over 20 artists, including Nelson himself, fellow board members Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews, as well as performers such as Gregg Allman, Counting Crows, Time Reynolds, Matisyahu, Guster, The Ditty Bopps, Pauline Reese, Supersuckers, and Danielle Evin.
Another Farm Aid first: The festival became the first major music event to serve local, organic, and family-farm foods at is concession stands and to artists, crews, and VIPs backstage. Traditional festival snacks such as pizza, burritos, hamburgers, corn dogs, sandwiches, pitas, ice cream, and baked goods, plus a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, derived more than 80 percent of all its ingredients from local, organic, and family-farm sources.
Plates, cups, and utensils, including the box lunches members of the press were doled, were made of compostable corn-based plastic. Recycling and composting themselves took center stage at an event that, by nature, generates massive amounts of waste.
The Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC) and its office of Recycling, Outreach and Education assembled a crack team of 400 volunteers who hovered by each compost/recycling/trash station to provide direction. (Before one concert goer trashed her mostly empty bag of chips in the much smaller waste bin, a volunteer intervened and shook out the remaining crumbs and chip bits into the composting bin, first.)
A mouth-watering selection of concession stands flanked both sides of the field, billed by the organizers as the biggest homegrown restaurant ever, open for one day only. The menu included curly fries sliced from fresh local potatoes, flatbread pizza fired up in stone hearths, and beef burgers and chicken tenders made from locally and organically raised meat.
A number of interactive displays were available anyone who wanted to know more about the elements of family-farm agriculture, whether it was soil, water, or urban farming, from the farmers themselves. Concert goers learned how biodiesel was made, what "food miles" meant, and how farming could be made more sustainable using renewable energy such as wind power.
Farm Aid wasn't just about good food and good music; it was about inspiring people to seek sustainable, organic, humanely raised, and local food, to reach out to their family farms, and to seize action to change the current system of industrial agriculture.
But boy, did the food and music help. ::Farm Aid
See also: ::Farm Aid 2007: The Press Conference