Farm Aid’s reach in supporting family farms is nationwide, but its annual concert Saturday allowed for a fair crop of local successes, too.
“We do move around the country, so we can showcase what is going on in their area and the work going on on the ground in those communities,” said Jennifer Fahy, Farm Aid’s communications director.
The outer shell of the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre featured event tents showcasing local vendors and exhibitors, and a long list of seminars including local farmers. There were also homegrown concession areas, with eats supplied by local family farms.
Topics ranged from building rural-to-urban connections to profitability tips. The largest tent was essentially a farming expo with organic compost companies, conservation groups and more.
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“It’s a lot to take in – a lot of good stuff, though,” said Karen Crutchfield, an ex-poultry and cattle farmer from Arkansas who attended Farm Aid for the first time. “It’s got a lot of information for small farmers and large farmers to try.”
Daniel Dayton and Erika Gutierrez of Old Milburnie Farm near Knightdale helped lead one of the forums on small farms building relationships with restaurants and farmers markets.
“It’s a really emerging market,” Dayton said of the recent increase in interest for farmers markets in the eastern Wake County area. “People are definitely hungry for humanizing some of these markets that corporate isn’t taking over.”
Chance to learn
Dayton, who with Gutierrez is in his second year farming about one and a quarter acres off Old Milburnie Road, said he gained as much as he shared during the concert weekend.
Some of the issues for his small farm aren’t problems for larger farms, he said.
“We’re building a network of support so we can feel like we’re grounded a little more,” he said. “A lot of the things we’re doing on our farm are low-tech and problem solving without much capital to invest.”
Talking openly with other small farmers helps to work out solutions, Dayton said.
“When you get around these young farmers, you can ask questions, like what are you doing to control this weed in this crop situation, and there’s a lot of people that are coming with really creative ideas and ways to deal with these issues without the infrastructure and machinery that people rely on in other farm situations,” Dayton said.
“That’s what’s great about Farm Aid – it gives people the opportunity to gain knowledge, share knowledge they’ve learned on their farm and work together to solve some of these problems that might be specific to a particular farm.”
A separate batch of locals was profiting in an entirely different way at the event.
With gates opening at noon, the concert lasted about twice as long as the typical Walnut Creek show. That meant a chance to score double for nonprofit groups working concession stands and earning a percentage of the sales to go toward their causes.
“We have about 20 groups of nonprofits that fill up the majority of the (concessions) stations on the regular,” said Dan Maxon, who oversees concessions for Aramark at Walnut Creek. “School bands, sports leagues, church groups – it’s an assortment.”
Wayne Vaughan, East Wake High School’s band booster club president, expected 30 people would cover two shifts at the five booths his group staffed. The crew is normally composed of band parents but on Saturday featured a handful of students who helped sell snacks.
It takes covering a shift at about 10 typical-length concerts to pay off the $400 band students owe annually, including travel expenses and competition fees.
Vaughan estimated the boosters would haul in about $3,000 total at the longer Farm Aid concert. With the band’s yearly budget being $55,000, the group stood to offset nearly a 16th of its total annual expenditures in a single day.
“It’s a really good event for a good cause, but from a financial standpoint, the increase in the number of people that come and the profitability of it is great,” Vaughan said. “We planned all year for it, and hopefully in the end it will be a really good event for us.”