The pictures and the sights and sounds of Farm Aid bore little resemblance to our stereotypical view of a farmer. There were very few 60-year-old white men wearing blue jeans, a button-up work shirt and wearing Monsanto caps. Instead, there were a lot of middle-aged people, including women, and young adults on the tours and at the concert.
Of course the concert itself is a popular draw for much more than just the farming set. I suspect not too many fans of the band Insects vs. Dragons has spent much quality time on a farm.
Instead, a lot of the folks taking part in the Farm Aid experience were people who were involved in consumer farming. That’s direct-to-table farming in which the end customer buys directly from the farmer, instead of going to the grocery store and buying prepackaged goods that came originally from some farm in who-knows-where. Consumer farming is a growing trend, even though it’s a little more pricey than purchasing from a grocery store. As people start taking more interest in what goes into their bodies, they are being more particular about reading labels and having some clue about the person who grew their tomatoes, raised the pig that became their pork chop or who cultivated their corn.
These direct-to-table farms are clearly smaller than the large corporate farms that took over American agriculture in the 1980s and spawned the need for events like Farm Aid in the first place.
In many cases, they don’t employ as many people as a traditional farm might, but because they aren’t as seasonal an operation as, say, a tobacco farm, they provide longer employment seasons for those who do work.
What’s most interesting, though, is that the direct-to-table farms worry a lot more about the quality of the product they are selling than do farmers who are raising crops in bulk. And because the size of the farm and the volume of the produce is smaller, they can take the time to pay closer attention to the crop as it’s growing and be a bit more selective than a larger outfit.
Locally, the Vollmer Farm in Bunn is at the head of the class when it comes to this method of farming. They’ve already embraced the organic philosophy and they’ve marketed themselves as not only a place to go get good food products, but also as a fun place to go. It’s not only about the food at Vollmer Farm, it’s also about the experience.
A little further west of the Triangle, in the Chatham County town of Pittsboro, a lot of folks have embraced the city-farmer mentality. There are a number of people there – most of them young, and nearly all of them who moved to Pittsboro from some place else – who have started their own small farms. While some of those are intended mainly to supply only the grower, others have opened themselves up to the public and they have met with success.
Farm Aid won’t likely be back in North Carolina any time soon – the once-a-year show travels to different venues around the country – but it was interesting to see how the event has morphed from one that wanted to save small family farms into one that now embraces a new way of farming.