I donated to the first Farm Aid. It was 1985, and while the world celebarated an end to hunger via the Live Aid concerts held in London and Philadelphia. I watched all sixteen hours, and while I didn't pay strict attention to every one of the acts that held the stage on both sides of the Atlantic, I was swept up in the courageous and valitant efforts of the music industry to bring about the kind of change that world governments had been unable to achieve. For this, they made Bob Geldof a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. For my part, I received no honor from her majesty, though I did get a souvenir T-Shirt. I also got a warm, fuzzy glow that I was able to pass off as humanitarian for weeks after the fact.
And somewhere in the midst of all that feel-good music and warmth came Bob Dylan's comment during his set: "I hope that some of the money...maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe...one or two million, maybe...and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks..." It wasn't exactly a feel-good moment. It was Bob being Bob, like playing an electric guitar at a folk festival. It made me think of my cousins, who were toiling away on their beet farm in eastern Colorado, raising pigs, trying to find a way to make ends meet. This was my family's farm, and it was being lost to the banks. I listened to what Bob had to say and I started thinking about saving lives by saving farms.
The good news is that someone besides me was listening: Neil Young, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp were listening too, and they organized an all-star concert of their own to aid the farmers of America who were feeling their lives slip away from underneath them just like the land they had worked all those years. They called it Farm Aid, in a stroke of wild inspiration, and those guys keep getting together year after year to raise money and awareness for the American Family Farm. Somewhere in those early days, my cousins' farm went the way of the auction block, and another chunk of the great plains fell into the hands of the machine. Forty-eight million dollars have been raised over the past three decades by the organization, but it wasn't enough to keep the bankers away. Much in the same way I couldn't pick and choose which life I saved with my Live Aid T-shirt, I couldn't convert my contribution to that first Farm Aid, with my souvenir bandanna and pin, into relief from the crushing debt that turned those beets and pigs over to the bad guys.
In the midst of this equation, food kept being grown. Some of it was shipped to countries where famine continues in spite of all the concerts and t-shirts and bandannas. Somehow, it's just not enough. And so we keep on singing. And praying for that day when we can save everyone.