FEDERATION OF SOUTHERN COOPERATIVES GATHERING
CFA Staff Tiffany Bellfield and Nathan Flynn traveled to Epes, Alabama in August for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Gathering. CFA Board Chair, Wayne Riley, and his wife Salena, accompanied our staff there to represent the organization. They traveled with folks from Kentucky State University, where Tiffany shares this reflection “the KSU bus was filled with black people who were connected to both KSU and Kentucky agriculture. Many great conversations around black cooperatives and the image of Kentucky Ag. I had no idea the journey I was beginning.”
Upon arrival, Nathan and Tiffany really had no idea what to expect. Tiffany says “We socialized and began building relationships that Friday. I met folk that knew my family, all the way in Epes, Alabama. The way people gather and talk from the south is like going to school, I was getting educated. It was so interesting to see how different region’s view local food systems and farm to table, even down to the way we describe our products.” Saturday began “with praise and worship, thanking God for our growth. Then we went into the dedication and remembrance of Sister Mattie Mack, The Queen of the Federation. Also, a grand elder of Kentucky black agriculture” and long-time CFA supporter and advocate. All happening before my time, and others at CFA, we had no idea. Outside of Mattie Mack, Kentucky was never mentioned the whole weekend. I questioned why aren’t we being acknowledged? I came to find out that when “Mattie Mack became sick, our connection as an organization to the Federation, also faded. The Kentucky Minority Farmers Inc. Cooperation also ceased to exist formally. I sat and listened as framework was voted on, Kentucky not being able to participate beyond discussion. I kept thinking about this through a larger lens: this is symbolic of black agriculture in Kentucky. Lost, confused, displaced, and searching for the remains of our elders’ teachings and power. I also was reminded that there are not a lot of us who are making it our mission to save black land, black farms, and black businesses. It’s truly up to us.”
Another season in the books, another Farm Aid on the stage. On September 21st, for the 34th time Willie Nelson and company rocked a crowd of 36,000 people, gathered to raise support and awareness for family farmers across the nation. CFA staff Cathryn Forester and Nathan Flynn traveled 10 hours with CFA Leaders Anne Bays and James Barrett to support family farmers at the Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin. Having been partners with Farm Aid since it’s inception, CFA participated in the “HOMEGROWN Village” with dozens of organizations across the country, including Farmers Market Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition, and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. If Farm Aid’s stage is the heart of Farm Aid, the HOMEGROWN Village is the hands! While large topics of interest were soil health, water access, and the future of Wisconsin dairy, organizations were exhibiting about every aspect of our agriculture system. The ASPCA was advocating against large scale “factory farms”, Farmers Market Coalition urged people to shop at their local farmers market, and the American Psychological Association addressed stress and mental health in the farming community. Alongside these great exhibits was CFA with their “Farming is a Gamble” card game and exhibit. CFA staff used stories of real-life Kentucky farmers to highlight the risk associated with running a farm business, and how Kentucky farmers are rising to the occasion and changing the way we view our food system! Participants first chose a “Farmer” card and then a CFA card explaining the programs we create to help mitigate the risk associated with farming. After engaging with the festival goer and uplifting a dedicated Kentucky farm, the participant then rolled some dice and took the gamble themselves! Through this engaging game, we were able to spread awareness for Kentucky Agriculture and build relationships with agriculture organizations from across the country! Then we would snap a picture of the gambler with our “Farming is a Gamble” picture frame. Having been the first Farm Aid for all that went, we were shocked by the sheer volume of participants, and were busy engaging folks the whole day! The card game and frame were an absolute hit, especially among the youth. We noticed that although most of the farmers who came to Farm Aid were Wisconsin dairy farmers, they face most of the same threats that Kentucky farmers are facing in 2019. It reinforced the idea that in the farming community there is more that makes us similar than makes us different, and at an event like Farm Aid 2019, you can see the strength and support for the American family farm. Anne Bays, a cattle farmer from Whitley County, connected with Wisconsin cattle and dairy farmers and was quickly whisked away into farm talk after farm talk, and it was a joy to see. Cathryn Forester, APPAL-Tree field director in Harlan, KY, shared her work of the water first GoH20 program with Words For Water, a Wisconsin organization advocating and educating on water quality. And Nathan Flynn and James Barrett got to swap ideas and share stories with farmers market managers from around the region. You quickly realize that agriculture is a strong bond, and when we come together, we have an ability to effect real change in our food system. After the HOMEGROWN village closed, the CFA Squad was able to hit the lawn and listen to classics by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Dave Mathews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and the fearless leader Willie Nelson. The sense of family was strong, and between sets, we bonded with a few dairy farmers as we tried to call out the different breeds of cow, and varieties of produce as pictures flashed on the screen! The music was special, the exhibits powerful, but the moment of the night came from Neil Young “If you’re enjoying the concert tonight, never drive by a farmers market again without stopping”. He continually reminded the crowd that it’s not enough to just care, it’s not enough to just go to a charity concert, that we inspire change in our society by first inspiring change within ourselves. We must live the mission, and we must support the family farm in practice. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Neil Young still sang Heart of Gold like he was 27. He still has it.