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.
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.
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, rafiusa.org). 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.
For whatever you’re doing, for your creative juices, your geography’s got a hell of a lot to do with it. You really have to be in a good place, and then you have to be either on your way there or on your way from there. Neil Young, 2012 interview with NY Times reporter David Carr
Returning home from trips, no matter the direction I’m driving from, there are particular spots along the highways where I sense the change. Something – the smell, the look, the taste in the air – signals “I am home.” I’m back where I can most be myself, my most creative self, my easiest self. Back to the place I know best, the place that knows me best.
It’s different when I leave. My longing is immediate and palpable for a place I’m already missing, even as the mountains recede in my rear-view mirror. But the expanse of the road ahead, new people and new places, they, too, have allure, especially when informed by my spot in the mountains and the knowledge I will soon return there.