By Amy McKeever
September 14, 2015
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It’s been 30 years since Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert, the roving annual music festival that has raised $48 million for family farms since its inception. On Saturday, Farm Aid’s 30th anniversary concert will be held in Chicago at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion with a musical lineup that includes the three original organizers as well as Dave Matthews, a board member and fellow host since 2001.

But Farm Aid is more than a concert. In the spirit of raising awareness for family farms, Farm Aid 30 will return with a lineup of sustainable, organic concessions as well as an exhibit space where concertgoers can learn about farming and ethical food production directly from the source. Both of these initiatives—known as HOMEGROWN Concessions and the HOMEGROWN Village, respectively—began in 2007 as the concert organizers noticed the soda, hot dogs, and burgers available at their venues didn’t exactly support Farm Aid’s mission.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to have products coming in that aren’t necessarily from family farms,” says Jennifer Fahy, communications director for Farm Aid. And so Farm Aid began to negotiate with its venues to bring in subcontractors such as Missouri’s Patchwork Family Farms as well as local vendors to provide concessions. Fahy says that the goal is to create a menu where everything is either local, organic, humanely raised, or sustainable—and, hopefully, to encourage each venue to continue working with these farmers or food companies after Farm Aid leaves.

The full menu hasn’t been released yet, But Fahy says this year’s concessions in Chicago include organic corn dogs made with hot dogs from Organic Prairie as well as organic grains. There will also be sparkling honey water from Bella Beez, a Chicago-based company that uses honey raised by the Westside Bee Boyz. The latter will also be on hand in the HOMEGROWN Village to demonstrate how to set up a beehive and harvest your own honey.

Though people might come for a chance to see Willie Nelson or Dave Matthews, Farm Aid wants them to get involved. That’s the idea behind HOMEGROWN Village, where you can talk with a local Chicago forager about urban edibles, learn how hard it is to make butter and cheese through a dairy demo, and witness the reality of food waste from a butchery demo. Concertgoers also get hands-on by creating seed balls they can use in renegade urban farming, testing themselves on farming and food trivia, and spinning a Price Is Right-style wheel to learn about how much farmers earn from the retail cost of food.

“It becomes personal for people,” Fahy says. “At Farm Aid, people are able to make that connection and it has a great influence on them.”

Performers, too, have made that connection. Fahy says that many of Farm Aid’s returning artists do already have connections to farms, such as country artist Jamey Johnson whose family lost his childhood farm. Folk rock musician Jack Johnson is also a regular on the Farm Aid lineup; Fahy recalls that in 2012, Johnson dressed up in a cow costume so that he could go spend time in the HOMEGROWN Village without being swarmed by fans.

The rest of the lineup for Farm Aid 30 on Saturday includes Imagine Dragons, Kacey Musgraves, Mavis Staples, Old Crow Medicine Show, Tim Reynolds playing with Dave Matthews, Willie Nelson’s sons, and more. Check out the full lineup and get your tickets online.