The Annual Farm Aid Festival Celebrates in Hartford

willie nelson at farm aid concert hartford
Willie Nelson performing at Farm Aid 2021. Photo © Brian Bruner / Bruner Photo

The Farm Aid festival, overseen by a board of notable personalities including Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews, brings thousands of people together each year to celebrate local food ecosystems, promote ethical farming practices. Farm Aid event-goers also experience legendary and up-and-coming performers in the Americana and Folk-Rock music scene.

Farm aid Hartford Connecticut 2021
Farm Aid 2021. Courtesy of Amber Clark.

Farm Aid is America’s longest running annual benefit concert. The show was originally put together in September 22, 1985 before a crowd of 80,000 people in Champaign, Illinois.

This year’s Farm Aid took place on Saturday, September 25th.

30th Annual Farm Aid Festival Highlights

Wisdom Indian dancers farm aid festival concert
Wisdom Indian Dancers performing live at Farm Aid 2021. Photo © Brian Bruner / Bruner Photo

Guests travel from around the country to join this annual celebration of farms, food, music, and community. This year, the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut was selected to host Farm Aid’s 30th festival.

The stage show was kicked off by an Indigenous land acknowledgment and drumming ceremony, followed by Margo Price and the Wisdom Indian Dancers.

Allison Russell on stage sharon carone photography
Allison Russell performing at Farm Aid 2021. Photo © Sharon Carone

The Farm Aid concert’s musical included Ian Mellencamp, Particle Kid, Allison Russel, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Bettye Lavette, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Tyler Childers, Margo Price, Dave Matthews and Time Reynolds, John Mellencamp, and Willie Nelson and Family.

One of the most laudable aspects of Farm Aid lies in its striking juxtaposition to the stereotypical excess and frivolity associated with the commercial music industry. Artists join activists and farmers to discuss the importance of pressing issues in farming. Farm Aid 2021 featured a discussion on the importance of supporting small family farms led by Margo Price, Dairy Farmers James and Tina Spaulding from Good Oak Farms in Vermont, and Jennifer Fahy from Farm Aid.

The speakers reminded us that every dollar we spend is a vote for either independent farms or massive corporations, making it critical to choose local products whenever possible.

Ian mellencamp bruner photo guitar
Ian Mellencamp and Jazmin Grace Grimaldi performing live at Farm Aid 2021. Photo © Brian Bruner / Bruner Photo

Nathaniel Rateliff and Joseph Pope III from Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats joined John Cleary from Organic Valley and Farmer Martin Beck from New England Grassfed at Cloverbud Ranch in Rhode Island for a discussion on how regenerative agriculture can reduce the effects of climate change through sustainable methods such as crop rotation and soil management.

Allison Russell, Dania Davy from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and Kama Doucoure from Sampoo Kafu farm in the Hudson Valley spoke about the importance of ending the systemic exclusion of Black farmers in the United States and ways to support and encourage the growth of new and existing Black-owned farms.

Homegrown Village Highlights

In the Homegrown Village, farmers and organizations offered education and literature on such topics as meeting local CT farmers, crop diversity, food systems, soil health, pollinators, and urban farming, among other topics.

The Homegrown Skills Tent during the Farm Aid Concert in Hartford featured seminars on topics such as mushroom and plant foraging and the restorative health properties of such foods, planting a dye garden to produce natural textile dyes with backyard plants, and making your own Lacto-fermented hot sauce.

Activities in the Homegrown Skills Tent invited festival-goers to help paint a planter box for donation to Knox Community Gardens, or create weavings with Oyster Mushroom mycelia for the ​​“Meeting Mycelia.” That display took place on October 2, 2021 at the Keney Park Sustainability Project.

Homegrown Concessions

In the spirit of sustainability and choosing to support local, Farm Aid’s Homegrown Concessions offered dining options made using local ingredients from identified family farms in Connecticut.

In addition to fresher, sustainably produced versions of festival favorites such as corn dogs, hamburgers, loaded fries, nachos, and pretzels guests could also choose from vegetarian or vegan options like the marinated beet sandwich with goat cheese and wild rice, brown rice pasta salad, Portobello burgers, and grain bowls with chickpeas, quinoa, and radish.

Several food trucks and restaurant stands were also in attendance. The food trucks served a wide variety of dishes including gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, Cuban and Lebanese favorites, fresh seafood, pork, and bratwurst, Elotes (Mexican street corn), and ice cream sandwiches.

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Amber Clark
Amber Clark is a freelance writer and wellness advisor residing in Litchfield County, Connecticut. She holds an Associate of Arts degree from NVCC, and devotes much of her time to furthering her education through literature and personal experience. Her passions include writing, reading, food, nutrition, and the outdoors.