Farm Aid founders stress importance of farm produce in keeping nation strong

Sunday, September 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) _ Willie Nelson, who brought a flag-waving crowd to its feet with ``This Land is Your Land'' at Saturday's Farm Aid concert, said keeping family farms strong will keep America strong.

``I think it's important to take care of the people who grow our food,'' said Nelson, who co-founded Farm Aid in 1985 with John Mellencamp and Neil Young.

The nonprofit group's 14th benefit concert in 16 years highlighted American farmers' role in helping the nation fight terrorism. Farm Aid performers said the concert has always been about keeping America strong by helping the farms that feed the country.

``We're at a moment when a lot of people are asking what is America, what represents America,'' said Dave Matthews, one of the performers. ``Certainly, I think that the family farm is a main ingredient of what made America.''

In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Nelson called for the federal government to renew support that farmers, oil and steel producers received during World War II _ special subsidies to help them cover production and labor costs.

``Well, it's wartime again, let's bring it back,'' Nelson said.

Farm Aid organizers called this year's event a ``Concert for America,'' and pledged money to rebuild farmers' markets that were destroyed near the World Trade Center.

Along with Matthews and the founders, Saturday's performers included Martina McBride, Arlo Guthrie, the Doobie Brothers, Acoustic Syndicate, Susan Tedeschi, Jimmy Ryser, and Chris Knight.

The money raised by this year's show had not been tallied as of Saturday evening. Farm Aid has awarded nearly $16 million for farm-related causes and education since it began in 1985.

Roger Allison, a Missouri farmer with Patchwork Family Farms, said he was feeding his livestock Sept. 11 when his mother, barefoot and still dressed in a nightgown, ran outside to tell him about the attacks.

``We wanted to be in New York,'' Allison said. ``The reality is we knew we needed to be on our farms.''

Patchwork announced its donation of 5,000 pounds of farm-raised meat to the families of victims in the attacks in Saturday's benefit.

The annual traveling concerts no longer play giant stadiums. Organizers prefer smaller venues where concerts cost less to produce and sell out more quickly.

The roughly 24,000 tickets for Saturday's outdoor show in Noblesville, about 20 miles north of Indianapolis, were sold out within a couple days.