SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — Farm Aid is more than a family of musicians banding together to help the small farmer. It's also a family meal.
A key component of Farm Aid concerts — this year's is taking place Saturday in Saratoga Springs — is the food, which comes through Farm Aid's Homegrown Concessions. It was started six years ago to create new markets for family farmers.
Vendors, which include local food-service outlets, as well as national brands such as Chipotle and Amy's Organic, must meet Farm Aid's criteria for sourcing the ingredients in their food, from organic flour in the panini to free-ranging, antibiotic-free hogs on the barbecue grill.
Even the cotton candy has a family farm origin, made from maple syrup produced in the Catskills.
"Farm Aid's mission is about family farmers, and economic opportunity for family farmers is a really big priority of ours," said Glenda Yoder, associate director of Farm Aid. "We also support good farming practices and rewarding farmers for those practices. So our Homegrown criteria call for food that is sourced from family farms that meet an ecological standard, and that returns a fair price to the farmer."
Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp lead the star-studded lineup this year, along with Jack Johnson, Carlene Carter, Toad the Wet Sprocket and about 10 other artists.
The annual concert is the chief moneymaker for the Farm Aid organization Nelson co-founded in 1985 and leads as president. The beneficiaries of the organization's year-round efforts are always featured prominently at the shows, with a Homegrown Village providing concert-goers a chance to meet local farmers, learn agrarian skills, and eat food from vendors who meet strict criteria set by Farm Aid.
"We talk about saving the family farmer, but the fact is, it's the family farmer who will save us all," Nelson said at a media event before the gates opened at noon Saturday.
Matthews gave a shout-out to activists wearing anti-fracking T-shirts at the media event, which was also open to many farmers, vendors and volunteers. "Don't frack our farmlands," Matthew said, to loud applause. Several anti-fracking groups from New York and Pennsylvania had a booth at the event, calling for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to continue the state's moratorium on shale gas development that began in 2008.
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