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Michael Fields Agricultural Institute logo
At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

Thank you Farm Aid

The annual farm-supporting musical and cultural extravaganza that is Farm Aid came to MFAI’s doorstep this month. Last Thursday, advocates from around the nation gathered in Lake Geneva for a day of exploring topics as diverse as empowerment histories of many Peoples of Color in this country to the ongoing farm crisis to the history of racist extremism in rural areas to various Native American nations’ relationship to the land and struggle to protect natural resources.

This powerful day of learning and exchanging was followed by three farm tours on Friday, including two organized by the Institute – one on soil health and conservation, including tours of our cover crops research in our own fields and those of farmers we work with. Lunch included shrimp from our Gulf fisherman friend Lance Nacio, who explained why Gulf fishermen dealing with the Dead Zone appreciate our farmers’ conservation practices. The other tour we led explored long-term strategies for profitability. Fifth generation farmer Randy Hughes and his son Willie shared some of their organic and conventional production and marketing methods, including recent experiences with growing hemp. Over the day, we discussed many facets of the emerging hemp production market, including cautionary thoughts, ways to segment market opportunities, and work on breeding regionally appropriate hemp varieties. Turtle Creek Gardens gave us a wagon ride around their large 80-acre vegetable and livestock farm, starting with their hemp fields. We toured their extensive vegetable fields and heard about their collaborative marketing strategies, for hemp as well as vegetables. We ended the day at Pinn-Oak farms, which raises, slaughters, and markets lamb regionally, including custom slaughtering animals for many farmers in southern Wisconsin. Steve and Darlene Pinnow and their daughter Jenny welcomed us under their “sitting tree,” where many of their farm decisions are made and where we were grateful for a chance to rest and chat.

Farm Aid’s Saturday was an exercise in mass defiance of the elements. From early morning until well into the evening, tens of thousands of people poured into the concert site at Alpine Valley, two miles from MFAI’s offices, seemingly impervious to weather. Rain ponchos were needed most of the day, but even a temporary evacuation due to high winds didn’t dent the festive atmosphere. MFAI staff were mostly in the “Homegrown Village,” where concert goers could participate in activities of all kinds. MFAI’s Research Director Jim Stute had installed a rainfall simulator and “slake tests” that showed in real time the impact of cover crops and managed pasture in reducing runoff and increasing water infiltration. The “Skills Tent housed demonstrations of beekeeping, canning, grain milling, and many other skills. Farm Aid staff had prepared a rich feast of activities, everyone came prepared for fun, and the backdrop for it all was a lineup of extraordinary musical talent all afternoon and, of course, late into the night.

MFAI feels fortunate to have had Farm Aid come to Wisconsin and even to our own immediate neighborhood this year. Getting a first-hand look at the organizing muscle required to make it happen makes us doubly appreciative. Thank you, Farm Aid!