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Willie Nelson: Remember farmers at Thanksgiving

Wisconsin State Farmer

I’ve spent most of my life on the roads of this great country. One of the unique benefits of this way of life has been the chance to really get to know folks and learn what’s going on in their lives. It gives me a sense of the nation’s pulse that is much more personal than anything we can get from news headlines. 

Willie Nelson

These are hard times for too many. People are struggling, and many of us are growing more troubled by the divide that has erupted in America, separating neighbors and family members.

On Thursday, most of us will come to the table as families, friends, communities and a nation to celebrate our blessings. What people may not think about is that it’s the family farmer who brings us all together. We will gather over a meal that represents the year-round hard work of often-forgotten Americans — our family farmers. Farmers are working to stay on their land, all the while knitting communities together by providing healthy food and an economic bedrock for rural communities. This is an important time to recognize their efforts and do all we can to strengthen them.

In 2017, along with their neighbors, family farmers were hit hard by devastating natural disasters. With recent wildfires across the West and three devastating hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, farmers in these areas experienced extreme if not complete loss of their businesses and homes — and, in many cases, a legacy of generations.

We’ve been uplifted by the outpouring of generosity for farmers who experienced these natural disasters, allowing them to tackle the immense recovery effort ahead. It means that fellow Americans understand their value not only as food providers, but as the heart of our communities.

Even before these disasters struck, family farmers faced an onslaught of policies that increase the corporate control they’ve battled for decades. The prices farmers receive for the fruits of their labor have been down for four years, and they are not expected to rise anytime soon. Meanwhile, expenses keep going up. New, young farmers are facing tough barriers to getting started on the land, even if they have the will and drive to try.

Farm Aid hears from farmers every day on our hotline and through our online Farmer Resource Network. Then, we work with our advocate partners to navigate the challenges of these farmers. We see a greater impact when people work together. We all have a role to play in creating a system of agriculture that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities. It is inspiring when people come together in celebration of a common, worthy purpose. In sharing our victories as well as our struggles, we find strength and hope.

Thanksgiving is the perfect backdrop for a family conversation about the folks who grow your food. It’s a chance to spend some time learning about the farmers in your community, and to dig in to see how you can participate in your local food system. It makes you feel good to help somebody. And once you get that feeling, you can't stop, you know. It’s true, the old saying that you get 10 times back what you give.

I hope you’ll join me on Thanksgiving by saying a word or two of thanks — not just for the food on your table, but for the family farmers who woke up early that day and every day to ensure that we have a food system that is good for us, our communities and our country.

Willie Nelson is president and co-founder of Farm Aid. Farm Aid’s mission is to keep family farmers on their land in order to guarantee an agricultural system that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities. The annual Farm Aid concert celebrates farmers, eaters and music coming together for change.