The True Meaning of Farm Aid


Farm Estate Sale, Bishopville, SC, 1987.

The adrenaline rush of last weekend's Farm Aid Concert in Chicago stayed with me for much of the week. Looking at, and editing, photographs from the concert brought back specific songs, their loudness and intensity, the push of the crowd, "Neil, do Harvest Moon. Please!" As exciting and pulsing as it was, and so different than what I usually photograph, it was quite easy to be absorbed in the celebrity of the day.

Farm Rally, South Carolina, 1986.

Eventually though, my thoughts returned to the people Farm Aid was established for in the first place. The mid-1980s were a critical time for family farmers in the United States. More family farms went out of business in the 1980s than in the 1930s during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. African-American farmers in the South were hit especially hard by the politics of farm economics and many lost their farms. Farm Aid was born during this time and played an important role in funding non-profit farm advocacy groups and many individual farm mentors - advocates that helped thousands of farmers stay in business, stay on their land, and in many cases stay alive. 

Jim Smyre and Family Planting Tobacco, Harmony, NC, 1987

Jim Smyre and Family Planting Tobacco, Harmony, NC, 1987

For most of the 1980s and 1990s I worked on staff or on contract with a farm advocacy organization in Pittsboro, NC, the Rural Advancement Fund (now Rural Advancement Foundation International, One of my roles was to photograph and interview farmers throughout the two Carolinas about their changing relationships with their land. Many of the people I worked with had benefited from Farm Aid programs and some of them went on to become farm advocates themselves. 

At this year's 30th Farm Aid Concert, seven advocates from across the country were honored and had the opportunity to present something of their experiences working with farm families. These seven advocates from Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Minnesota are the real heroes and the true meaning of Farm Aid.


From left, John Zippert, Epps, AL; Benny Bunting, Oak City, NC; Betty Puckett, Natchitoches, LA; Lou Ann Kling, Granite Falls, MN; Shirley Sherrod, Albany, GA; Mona Lee Brock, Durant, OK; Linda Hessman, Dodge City, KS. Chicago, IL, 2015.

top three photographs, Photograph copyright/Rob Amberg 2015.
bottom photograph, Photograph copyright /Rob Amberg/Farm Aid, 2015.