Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.


How Much Fossil Fuel Do We Use Today?

 
Unsplash/Mehluli Hikwa

In the United States and around the globe, people depend on fossil fuels for much of our energy production. This is changing — better knowledge of the health risks caused by pollution and the amount of greenhouse gases fossil fuels release into the atmosphere have made it a less popular option for energy production. Now, both governments and the citizens they represent are wary of depending on it indefinitely.

However, humans still rely on fossil fuels for much of our energy production. So, how much is used today?

What Current Fossil Fuel Use Looks Like

Fossil fuels are energy-dense deposits of natural fuel that are the results of millennia of decomposing organic matter. Oil, coal and natural gas supply the vast majority of the world's energy.

Today, around 80 percent of all energy produced in the United States comes from these nonrenewable resources. Of this 80 percent, the largest share (37 percent) came from petroleum, the next largest (31 percent) from natural gas and the smallest (13 percent) from coal.

The remaining 20 percent of energy is produced by a combination of renewable resources — like wind and solar — hydro and nuclear power.

In terms of physical resources, Americans consume about 7.3 billion barrels of crude oil, 29.96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 623 million tons of coal each year. About 46 percent of that oil, or 3.4 billion barrels, is turned into gasoline. Another 20 percent — 1.46 billion barrels — is made into diesel. The rest is used to produce electricity, as well as consumer and industrial goods — like mineral oil, plastic and steel.

Over the past few years, the amount of total energy consumed has increased, and so has the use of all fossil fuels. The percentage of petroleum and coal, however, has trended down, while natural gas use has gone up. This shift is likely due to the high supply of natural gas in the United States and advancements in fracking technology that make it easier to extract. It also emits less carbon dioxide than petroleum and coal when used to generate power.

Globally, the numbers look a little different — natural gas is used less often abroad, while coal is used slightly more. For the most part, global fossil fuel usage is the same as in the United States — primarily oil, but with significant contributions from natural gas and coal.

Future Trends in Fossil Fuel Usage

Because of the negative impact fossil fuels can have — both in causing pollution and emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide — some countries are looking at other sources.

The long-term trend is moving in the direction of green energy — except nuclear, which has started to decline slowly. In the future, renewable energy will likely take up a much larger share of production than it does today.

Looking at the current trends, however, fossil fuels will continue to supply a large amount of our energy. While renewable energy has trended up somewhat in the past few decades, the gains haven't been substantial — around 1 percentage point more of the total energy production every year. Barring major changes — like a nationwide or global push for 100 percent renewable energy — the future will be greener, but not fully powered by renewables.

At the same time, increasing oil prices may change our consumption habits and possibly push us away from dependence on oil. The cleaner fossil fuels — like natural gas and coal plants outfitted with devices that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere — may continue to eat away at the usage rate of petroleum.

How People Will Use Fossil Fuels

Both globally and in the United States, fossil fuels provide the vast majority of the energy consumed annually. Our consumption of power — and use of fossil fuels — trends up slightly every year.

Our high use of fossil fuels may decrease somewhat in the future, as governments turn toward more sustainable solutions to energy production. However, it's not likely that renewables will make up the majority of energy production any time soon.


Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity Theory


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Climate Change: A Symptom of a Deepening, Spiritual Wound

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Dragging my knees through the colloidal soil complex that holds so much of the magic that keeps my farm abundant and growing can often times feel less than magical.  I find myself curled up in a ball after a days work—smartphone in my hand—scrolling through the endless possibilities of the infinite internet. I see faraway places and people, cultures and passions, great hair styles and bad makeup tutorials and my mind swirls, satiated with the uncontained binge of media.  Something about this magic carpet ride through the world from the comfort of my bed tugs at my deeply rooted life and I feel the urge to flee.

A voice in my heart coaxes me to take flight from this landscape and experience new things. My toils in the fields seem to weigh me down like a ball and chain and my dedication waivers with the fever pitch of harvest season. All of this hard work for such bite sized, incremental gains can be overwhelming and I find myself questioning what sort of path we have set up for ourselves on this land.  No 401K or retirement, no possibility of moving up the corporate ladder, and every season is blighted with the unexpected twists and turns of a living system that pays no mind to tenure when it dishes out disease, inclement weather, pest pressures, and all other unpredictable, biological and meteorological evolutions; intensified byproducts of our changing climate.

We Face Daily Obstacles to Present, Physical Engagement

Plane tickets seem easy enough to score while I attempt to internally process my wanderlust--stalking friends, acquaintances, and total strangers from the safety of my anonymous online persona.  I see the very best of sunlit beaches, perfect relationships, and the open road. My heart bounces from one picturesque setting to the next and I compare my seemingly battle hardened life to what appear to be blemish free realities where happiness is waiting inside every brunch mimosa. Just like a bag of chips, I put my phone down not when I feel full, but when I feel slightly nauseated; almost dirtied by my uncontrollable desire to keep consuming other people’s experiences.

It’s usually only after some shame-filled adventure into the abyss of the web that I am able to see just how pervasive screens have become in our day to day dealings. Social media has made it ever more difficult to count our own blessings when the fear of missing out is a “real” hashtag-worthy phenomenon. The choice to love yours, to be here now, and most importantly, to intentionally engage with the world in your immediate physical vicinity has become harder and harder to make. These obstacles are beefed up by industries and advertisers hoping to skim the cream off the top and play to the peccadillo of our wandering eyes.

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The internet is only one facet of the party we’ve been having on our planet since our thumbs opened doors.  Our world is progressing at lightning speed and it is this constant, obsessive sprint into the future that robs us of our intimate connection to possibilities of today.

We often talk about climate change as if it exists outside of us; as is if it is an environmental problem. We see the world on fire, freezing, flooding, desertifying, and going extinct and it all feels a bit like a timeline that was predestined, necessary, or inevitable. We think about the new “needs” we each have and they feel justified and important. Our collection of poorly made goods, derived from the stolen raw materials of distant lands, carefully constructed by the exploited hands of a modern slave labor force, become a part of who we are. To us, it feels like it has always been this way and when the department store shelves are full every day, we aren’t able to imagine anything else.

Climate Change as a Symptom of Inner Grief

It’s recognizing the internal picture of things that brings me back to the porch, dusting off my boots for a morning in the fields. Climate change may feel like something far outside of us, but it is a symptom of our deepest, inward grieving. Our insatiable desire to consume, to feed our racing thoughts an onslaught of validating content, is a compulsion that traps us in an isolated state.  It is this separation from nature, from our communities, and even from the physicality of our own bodies that feeds our industries and not ourselves.

People don’t farm, establish community, or build all of the tools and comforts they need to survive because it’s hard.  It’s hard to grow food. It’s hard to love each other--our real, unfiltered, off-Facebook selves It takes time and effort, and practice to learn a craft.  For the most part, the objects that keep our daily routine in line can be purchased anywhere at anytime by the click of a mouse with no thought or knod made to the true cost of “cheap” goods.  We aren’t motivated to learn new things or to seek deeper truths through experience when a simple google search can make us an instant expert.

We’ve been taught that the Earth is a material rich medium that generates objects that bring us happiness and we’ve believed it.  We’ve severed all of our ties to natural rhythms, worked for “profit” all of our lives, and have watched the withering detachment grow from our hearts and spread into the soils, waters, and foundational natural communities that keep this world alive.  We’ve collectively contributed to the mining of our planet to fill voids opened by our raging emotions simply longing for presence, acceptance, love, and the quiet medicine of nature. We’ve allowed others to be marginalized, brutalized, and underserved so long as it didn’t affect the flow of resources to our own outstretched arms and open mouths.

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Land-based Work Can Heal

The corporations and financial institutions that rely on this extractive culture to maintain power want to keep us sick, scared, and spiritually starving; judging and comparing ourselves to others.  These invisible hands will never be satisfied with a healing Earth knowing that it will essentially ensure the healing needed within ourselves. Healing means wholeness, self responsibility, reparations, justice, and equity.  Healing is understanding how the natural world maintains harmony, allowing energy to be transferred from the atmosphere to the depths of the soil through the communal efforts of a diversified, living sphere. Healing cannot be metered, commodified, or taxed and is only truly possible for one when it is possible for all.

When I’m able to put my phone down and come back into communion with the land, the hardships remain but a freedom grows steadily from my deepening responsibilities.  My work on the land is not for material gain, nor even an activism against our seemingly unstoppable and irreparable “progress”. It is a placeholder, a fire that needs constant tending; a living, breathing organism wherein the difficult and satisfying crafts of surviving through the stewardship of a diversified, syntropic community are practiced and honed. 

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Change is slow and while the pendulum continues to swing towards devastation, I plant apple trees, nuts, and berries in preparation for when it swings back towards transformation.  As the media spins tails of hopelessness and further feeds our inability to cope, I listen to the infinite life exchanging wellness in the pasture grasses, vetch, and clovers and feel the momentum that built this world.

I sense myself becoming fortified by the diversified nutrition being made available through the developing, ecological complexity. As the great friction of these challenging times births our future wisdom, the opportunity to create something better has never been greater. I log on and throw a few follows and likes to kindred others heeding the call.

Darby Weaver has spent the last decade growing Biodynamic produce in the Southeast and teaching holistic and ecological methods to learners of all ages and backgrounds through articles, agriculture intensives, workshops, and lectures.  She has recently moved to the Northeast with her husband to begin a new venture on 20 acres in Wolcott, Vermont. You can read all of Darby's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Go Agroecological or Go Extinct

 

As if we were living out a rerun of a 1970s Heartland horror movie, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has echoed the ominous, damning words of Earl Butz, the Agriculture Secretary under Republican President Richard Nixon: "Get big or get out," Butz infamously said, a bitter command as thousands upon thousands of family farms began collapsing under the consolidated onslaught of multinational corporations, vertical integration, and bank debt.

Butz's words and policies undermined support for family farms, and encouraged the metastatic growth of factory-farms and a stupendous increase in subsidized production of staples for export, in turn a glorious benefit for the fast-food industry and makers of processed foodstuffs. All of this contributed to making America the world's most obese nation, a nation also distressed with staggering rates of diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other diet-related diseases.

The trajectory of corporate control, consolidation, chemicalization, and colonization has continued unhindered by public concern.

Now cometh Sonny Perdue, Republican President Donald Trump's USDA Secretary: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Perdue proclaimed in September, thereby adding a rhetorical kick in the ass to the painful plague of bankruptcies and farmer suicides currently afflicting rural America.

This latest slam came just weeks after Perdue mocked farmers during a Minnesota Farmfest  listening session. A former salesman of ag chemicals, Perdue uttered a cruel joke about the very people he is supposed to help: “What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar.”

Truth be told, Butz, Perdue and their ilk have given farmers a lot to complain about. According to the National Farmers Union, in just the last five years, more than 67,000 US farms went out of business. This cancerous decline of family farms and rural communities is not inevitable. It’s the result of the “get big” policies that have ruled agriculture for the past 50 years.

These slap-in-the-taxpayers-face realities underscore the critical importance of the resilient, community farm and food initiatives that have arisen so dynamically in the US and abroad in recent decades, with scant government support.

The emerging, networking community food movement, with its emphasis on organic, sustainable, regenerative farming systems imbued with economic and social justice, arises in a time of vast environmental contamination. The umbrella term for all these initiatives -- widely used around the world and emerging in the USA -- is agroecology.

Agriculture can be transformed from being a major contributor to pollution and climate change, as it is today, to being a major remedy. That’s what agroecology (and deep agroecology) are all about. It can be the foundation for our next evolutionary step as human beings living on a finite planet.

Based on the multitude of hard realities engendered by corporate chemical agriculture, it’s time to uproot the “get big or get out” farm slogans of Earl Butz and Sonny Perdue, and to supplant those damning words with something both wise and realistic: “Go agroecological or go extinct."

Photo credit Pixaby

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at DeepAgroecology.net. Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at Chiron-Communications.com.

 


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Supporting Biodiversity and Health with a Flexitarian, Sustainable Diet

Industrial meat production is unsustainable
Image by skeeze.

Animal agriculture is the single largest driver of biodiversity loss, and in the last few decades we have significantly increased our land use for livestock purposes. Converting unique ecosystems to pastures and fields for feed crops, we are not growing food directly for ourselves but for the animals we eat. Livestock graze on 26 percent of the planet’s habitable (ice-free) land, and 33 percent of our croplands are used to produce livestock feed.

Meat production accounts for 18% of anthropogenic emissions. For the sake of the argument, a recent study showed that if the whole world went vegetarian or vegan, food-related emissions would decrease by 60% and 70% respectively. Of course it is unrealistic that even the majority of the global population would at any point stop eating meat, and in certain places, the climate and environment can only support animal agriculture, and attempts to convert pastures to crop lands have failed.

In the developed world, young and well-educated people are turning to plant-based diets, but with incomes rising in developing countries, demand for animal products is only expected to increase. This is bad news from a global health perspective, as higher meat consumption is linked to poor health and premature deaths. It can also make it more challenging to argue that people in developed countries should try to reduce their meat intake. However, a new study shows that we don’t need the whole world going vegan to start reversing climate change. Simply reducing our meat consumption to 10% (around 90 grams) of our daily caloric intake would have a significant positive effect on the planet’s ecosystems and global biodiversity. If we also pay attention to where that meat is coming from and supporting small, sustainable farms instead of industrial meat production, we can help generate even more positive effects on biodiversity: in fact, small-scale, sustainable livestock grazing helps many native species that thrive only in open landscapes.

Support small-scale farms
Photo byFree-Photos.

We underestimate the effect of our dietary choices on the climate and environment, and when we discuss the climate crisis, we talk about cars, not steaks. The average American family of four, however, emits significantly more greenhouse gases from meat consumption than from driving two cars.

Here are just four simple tips to reducing meat intake and eating more sustainably:

Eat more plants

This is an obvious one, and while some meat lovers out there still think vegetarians and vegans only eat salads, a plant-based diet can be incredibly diverse and includes vegetables, grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, a combination of which can make for flavorful, delicious meals.

Take inspiration from other cultures

Some food cultures, especially in Asia, include little meat and no dairy. Try mixing up your meal routine with inspiration from China or Thailand, and look to Mediterranean dishes for a vast variety of meat-free flavor.

Reduce your food waste

This is a big one and it benefits not only the planet, but also your wallet. The average American household wastes at least 40% of food. This includes a lot of meat and dairy. A few tips to reduce food waste at home: see meat and dairy for what they are - precious resources. Don’t buy too much, don’t over serve, save leftovers (and actually eat them), store food in the right place and trust your senses (smell, sight and taste) over the expiration date on the package.

Choose small-scale, sustainable and ethical meat producers

Finally, if you’re going to eat meat, make sure you know where it comes from. This includes doing a little bit of research and shopping at farm stores, farmers markets and independent butchers.

Mia Rishel is a conservation biologist whose work has taken her many exciting places: rehabilitating wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, helping endangered iguanas in Mexico, exploring predator coexistence in Namibia, and promoting farm animal welfare in Zanzibar. She is Chair of Grant Writing and Volunteer Committees for The Orangutan Project USA, grant writer for Conservation South Luangwa and copywriter for Faunalytics. Read all of Mia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

People are Taking Their Money Out of Fossil Fuels in the Divestment Movement

 

In societies around the world, people band together to stand up for what they believe in. They know there's power in numbers.

Even better, the broad reach of social media enables activists to quickly and effectively distribute messages. The fossil fuels divestment movement is gaining momentum. Let's take a look at what it involves.

What Is Divestment?

Divestment happens when people get rid of stocks, bonds or investments connected with companies that individuals think are ethical or morally questionable. You can think of it as the opposite of investment. Divestment and disinvestment are often interchangeable terms that mean the same thing. 

How Do Activists Want to Impact Fossil Fuel Use?

The people taking part in the divestment of fossil fuels cease investment activities with associated companies. They hope this action creates a stigma around the fossil fuel industry, disintegrating its original appeal.

Some who support the fossil fuel divestment movement only stop investing as a show of symbolism. If working towards reduced dependence on fossil fuels is essential, it doesn't make sense to hold investments that directly link to companies that rely on them.

People believe divestment could make companies realize that promoting fossil fuel use is no longer financially viable. If that happens, entities may put higher investments into renewables instead.

During a 2015 interview, Bill Gates claimed divestment alone is not a solution, because not enough people have stocks associated with fossil fuels. Gates suggested movement broaden its message to support researching and developing new energy options. It seems most people on board with the cause have done just that.

How Do Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns Work?

People can take part in fossil fuel divestment campaigns in a variety of ways. One of the most common options is for divestment-focused groups to target the offensive oil and gas companies. They pick businesses based on the carbon emissions embedded in their reserves.

Another tactic is to urge institutions to divest from fossil-fuel related companies. For example, many universities rely on support from fossil fuel companies to keep operating, but that's starting to change. In mid-September 2019, the University of California educational system announced it would divest $83 billion from fossil fuel company-based endowment and pension funds, both worth billions.

A representative from the University of California said the organization decided to continue its fossil fuel investments posed a financial risk, and more appealing opportunities exist in renewables. Many other institutions are following California's lead, getting on board with the idea.

What Are the Effects of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement So Far?

It's difficult to calculate the total number of people taking part in this growing divestment of fossil fuels. However, 180 institutional investors committed to cutting fossil fuels from their portfolios in 2014. Now, the number exceeds 1,100.

Organizations often keep a tally of the total amounts divested so far. According to a September 2019 report, people have committed to divest $11 trillion from fossil fuels. The movement is quickly picking up momentum.

It confirmed that, although it took two years for the first $2 trillion of divestment to happen, the most recent $2 trillion occurred in only six months. People no longer see this kind of divestment as a niche idea.

Another positive effect of this movement is that there's seemingly no limit to getting involved. For example, New York City made history by pledging it would divest from fossil fuel owners by 2022 (read the ICLEI case study to see how the City is doing it). This decision is particularly significant considering the city has the nation's largest municipal pension system, controlling $194 billion in investments.

In 2018, Ireland made a historic move by voting to become the first country to divest public funds from fossil fuels.

The advocacy for this issue is active down to the local level. Divestment supporters in San Francisco recently staged a traffic-blocking protest in a financial district to urge banks to divest from fossil fuels.

An Exciting Way to Take a Stand

People often talk about "voting with their wallets." They purposefully decide not to buy from companies involved in practices they're against. The support of fossil fuel divestment is another way to show support.

Even if individuals don't have fossil fuel investments, they can collaborate to put pressure on the companies or organizations that do. This kind of conscious action could make affected parties realize renewable energy is the way of the future.

Photo source.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com. Read all of Kayla's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Cats in the Garden: Helpers or Hazards?

garden helping cats 

My cats have always been more people than cats. I know this because I’ve met plenty of cat cats. I’ve even lived with several that belonged to my sister. She kept pets, I had feline friends. I was reminded of this just yesterday when a visiting friend commented on how friendly my cats were compared to her mother’s who are constantly biting or scratching the hand that feeds them.

I’m not sure how common that catlike behavior is in the general public but I’m guessing that it’s common enough to warrant the age-old argument of cat vs dog. But I believe there are enough folks out there like me to fuel the cat-supportive side of that discussion. Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs too. It’s simply that cats have almost always been and always will be a part of my daily life.

My first feline friend entered during my early youth. The unfortunate demise of this first cat friend at the hands of a budding psychopath (who also took out our basset hound and her 10 puppies) didn’t serve to deter my love of cats though it did delay them coming back into our home for a few years.

Flash forward to my adulthood where I continued to live with assorted cat friends along with come-and-go hummings until I met my husband of three decades. During our initial dating, I learned that he was allergic to cats and he learned that I would always share my home with cats. I’d spent 18 months without them once and would never repeat that again. He’s still allergic and we have far too many feline housemates but at least the numbers are in natural decline.

During the early years of sharing space, my cats were the indoor/outdoor variety. They were free to roam during the day but always came in at night. That changed one horrible night when three loose dogs killed one of my closest cats in our backyard before I could stop them.

Most of my cats have been indoors ever since—the exceptions being various strays who cross my path and the pair who currently share my garden space on a daily basis (seen in these photos). TobiCatz (the gray sweetie depicted) wandered out of my forsythia and right into my lap as I was digging potatoes a few years ago. He was a stray kitten that I hadn’t previously seen or heard but whom had undoubtedly been watching me for some time. I have no other explanation for an otherwise feral cat doing such a thing.

We already had a houseful of felines at the time and certainly didn’t need another. I tried to get my best friend to adopt him but she wasn’t ready for another—having recently lost one and with other life upheaval going on. Long story short, he joined our crew indoors but upon reaching tomcat status began spraying throughout the house—especially my husband’s favorite chairs. He first transitioned back outdoors staying in the garage at night. I was sad that he had to be alone but then Byrneesse (the tuxedo kitten in these photos) joined us after having been abandoned across the street.

cat jungle gym

When the deep cold of the winter set in, I moved them into our basement at night and set them each up in their own kitty condos (aka dog carriers). They also stayed in during rough weather—be it snow, cold or thunderstorms. The current iteration has them outdoors for varying amounts during the day, indoors in one of the bedrooms for part of the day and evening, then back in their condos for sleeping.

Many people insist that cats be kept indoors due to a declining bird population. I can’t argue that there are many cats who make their mark depleting that population. However, I would argue that it’s more likely stray colonies and cats that belong to people like my sister or friend’s mom—those people who accept that cats will be cats—than cats like mine who honestly believe themselves to be people. I see my cats more like humming toddlers, and treat them as such.

I have seen Byrneesse with one dead bird in 4 years and I rescued another from her jaws to have it fly to freedom. She knows exactly how I feel about this behavior. I feed my cats very well and always work to redirect their unacceptable hobbies—killing birds definitely falls in this category. Frankly, the insects in my garden are far more at risk than my feathered friends—at least from my cats.

I also work to keep the birds in our garden happy by supplying plenty of nesting opportunities along with supplies as well as making sure they have an abundance of food and water sources. Our Carolina Wrens often help me by letting me know exactly where Byrnie is in the garden.

Whether or not my cats actually help with my gardening is another matter completely. They may slow me down at times but they also keep me company and often have me smiling—truly, who could ask for more?

communing with cats

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Farm Aid Performances Help Preserve Family Farms

John Mellencamp Performing at Farm Aid 2019

Many of America’s family farms are in crisis. Since 1985, Farm Aid has been there with resources, services and other support to keep smaller, more ecologically-minded farming operations growing. Co-founded by country-music legend Willie Nelson, along with rockers Neil Young and John Mellencamp, with Dave Matthews also now on the Farm Aid Board, the benefit concert Farm Aid is as much a musical extravaganza as it is a testament to the perseverance, hard work and hard-scrabble determination of family farmers across the US and a celebration of what they do: Feed America. Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America.

Who could turn down the chance, in Wisconsin, to listen to John Mellencamp retell the story about Jack and Diane, “two American kids growin’ up in the heartland”? He brought the sold-out crowd of 37,000 riotously to their feet to sing along.

And he wasn’t the only performer to do so. Over the course of the nearly 12-hour benefit concert, some of the best performers and music legends brought standing ovations and cheers. Besides Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Matthews, the 2019 Farm Aid line-up included such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Tanya Tucker, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Yola, and Jamestown Revival, among many others.

The location of the Farm Aid concert in Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, couldn’t be more fitting. It’s estimated that dairy farms in America’s dairyland are going under at an alarming rate due to depressed milk prices and a host of other factors including destructive weather and farm or trade policies. In 2018, Wisconsin lost 700 dairy farms at a rate of almost 2 per day, according to the USDA. 

As a result, Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow,” a signature tune at the annual Farm Aid concert, touched a particular chord for many in Wisconsin. According to Farm Aid, since 2013, America’s farmers and ranchers have weathered a nearly 50 percent drop in net farm income, the largest four-year drop since the start of the Great Depression.

 Willie Nelson at Farm Aid Press Conference

At the press conference that kicked off the event, farmers joined the founders and performers on stage to bring focus to the issues and celebrate some of the resilience of some family farmers who prioritized community, sustainability, and the soil that provides the essential foundation for farming. “Nature calls for diversity, diversity, diversity,” chimed in Mellencamp. One group of farmers featured on stage were the “soil sisters,” represented by Kriss Marion, Lisa Kivirist and Dela Ends, who shared how a group of women-owned farms were banding together to build a stronger local and organic food system in Wisconsin, with their Soil Sisters event.

Jamey Johnson Performing at Farm Aid 2019
A Farm Aid Regular, Jamey Johnson

A Farm Aid regular, singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson’s commanding performance of “In Color” and his own version of Wood Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” captivated the audience. For more than 30 years, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists like Johnson who contribute their performances each year, has raised $57 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

Margo Price Performing at Farm Aid 2019
Amazing Performances by Margo Price

The amazing performance by Margo Price brought the issues home when she shared her personal story. “My folks lost their family farm in 1985, the year Farm Aid was started,” she explained. “So, it means a lot to be here.” From Janis Joplin’s “Move Over” to “Long Live the King,” Nashville-based, country singer-songwriter Price tore at emotions and enthralled the capacity crowd.

 Homegrown Concessions at Farm Aid
Homegrown Concessions at Farm Aid

Consistent with Farm Aid’s commitment to the farmers, the Homegrown Concessions at the venue featured sustainably produced food by family farmers for festival attendees. For the past five years, Sonya Dagovitz, Farm Aid’s Culinary Director, has been working with Legends Hospitality to source all food from local and sustainable farms.

“Farm Aid and Legends Hospitality together will present the biggest family farm restaurant in the country for one day at Farm Aid 2019, serving 30,000 festival-goers extraordinary food,” said Farm Aid Associate Director Glenda Yoder in a release. The tasty menu included Milwaukee Pretzel, made from locally grown wheat flower milled by Lonesome Stone Milling, fish and chips featuring Lake Superior walleye, and pickled eggs made with Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. Besides burgers made with organic beef, numerous vegetarian options were available that included a marinated roasted beet sandwich. Only compostable serviceware was used, a first for the event.

Also at the venue, the HOMEGROWN Village was packed with farmers and organizations based in the region, celebrating the culture of agriculture with hands-on activities that engaged attendees in the ways family farmers enrich the soil, protect the water and grow the economy. 

“Helping the farms, that’s the bottom line,” summed up Matthews at the press conference, capturing all of the performers’ dedication to the cause and the plight of American farmers. Farm Aid is about “how much we need them,” echoed Willie Nelson.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


 

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