Interview with Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director of Farm Aid
Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, has an incredible resume of socially-conscious experience. The social issues she's tackled includes labor, environment, toxics, literacy, and community empowerment as well as starting a reforestation project in Armenia. Willie Nelson turned to her to direct Farm Aid after the success of the first concert in 1985. The staff at the organization is convinced she never sleeps — I had a chance to ask her some questions about her life's work and Farm Aid.
TH - Tell us about your background and how you got involved with Farm Aid?
Carolyn - Before I started with Farm Aid, I worked as a union organizer. When Willie Nelson asked me to help distribute the funds raised from the first concert, I began to travel all around the country to visit the families who were being pushed off their land. Farm Aid immediately supported their innovative projects and grassroots organizations that were keeping farmers on the land. I had always wondered what held the two coasts together, and I learned a bit about that when I got to visit farm families at their kitchen tables.TH — What are the top three issues facing family farms in the United States?
Carolyn — Industrial, chemical intensive agriculture and the policies that support it. The power of agribusiness corporations versus family farmers is formidable. But farmers are incredibly resilient. The Good Food Movement is really helping family farmers thrive. People are reaching for food that is local, organic and humanely raised, and new infrastructure is being created to get the food to eaters. Consumers demanding quality food is creating hope for family farmers.
Transition of on-farm practices and creating new connections between consumers and farmers can be challenging. But we are finding that farmer-to-farmer programs help farmers grow in direct markets such as farmers markets. Farmers are transitioning to identity-preserved crops, like organic and non-genetically modified crops, pasture-based meats and dairying, and free range chickens. More local distribution and processing, like smaller meat processing plants, can help farmers create direct avenues to market to the consumer, by-passing industrial processing.
The average age of the farmer in the U.S. is 55.3 as of 2002, the last published census. We will see a major transfer of agricultural land very soon in this country. We need new, young farmers with a vision, equipped with know-how, and with the necessary financial backing to be the next generation of sustainable growers. We need more farmers! The industrial system eliminates farmers, but The Good Food Movement creates a need for more farmers. Farming, growing food, watching things grow, working with animals, making things, and being "at home" on the farm can be deeply rewarding.
TH - The Farm Aid concert is only one of the activities within the organization, give us some highlights of other projects?
Carolyn - Every day farmers contact us, either by phone 1-800-FARM AID, or by e-mail at www.farmaid.org, seeking resources to keep farming. We have developed a resource network of organizations around the country that can provide the help farmers need - financial, on-farm research, disaster relief, and transitioning more sustainable ways of growing in order to make their farms thrive. Our work with farmers is critical, as we help to build up the supply of family farmers to grow the quality food we all want.
Our website has become a major focus, as we rally people to purchase food from family farms, help inform and inspire people, and build loyalty to family farming.
This is a hopeful time, because our food choices determine the kind of agriculture we will have. And we are gratified that so many people are demanding family farm food.
Farm Aid is the longest running annual benefit concert. But the work of Farm Aid has evolved over the last 22 years, as agriculture has changed tremendously.
TH - It must be a lot of work organizing a major concert, but I'm thinking it's a lot of fun too — what are some important things to you that keep you going?
Carolyn - Eating delicious local, organic food, shopping at the farmers market, sharing it around the kitchen table—these are satisfying! The music at the Farm Aid concert is a tremendous perk. The musicians are bold, relevant and creative. I've loved hearing the music, standing at the side of the Farm Aid stage, marveling at the generosity, inspiration and commitment of all these performers.