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Gifts from a
|Texas outlaw and country music star Willie Nelson was raised in
farming and ranching. Ive been around it all my life, he says,
and knew that it was a pretty rough way to make a living. But
I didnt think it was any rougher than it had ever been until
I heard Bob Dylan say on Live Aid, Wouldnt it be nice if some
of this money that we are sending out all over the world could
stay here in America for our family farmers?
When Willie got back home he talked to some of his friends in agriculture. They said that it wasnt too bad around Texas then, but that it was really bad in the Midwest.
A few months later, Willie was playing a concert in Chicago and he had beer and a bowl of chili with Jim Thompson, Illinois governor. Big Jim told me it really was a problem, so I asked if we could maybe do a show and call attention to it and help the situation.
The first Willie Nelson Farm Aid concert was in Champaign, Ill., in 1985. Weve been doing them ever since and the problem hasnt gone away. In fact, its gotten worse. (For the 2000 concert in D.C. call 1-800-FARM-AID.)
Willies used to playing concerts in urban communities. When someone mentions farmers problems its just natural to say, well, I wish him luck but I got problems of my own in town. The sad truth is that the only ones who can do something are the politicians and theyre inclined to go the other way. Nothings happening in Washington. They all think its better that fewer huge conglomerate farmers, factory farmers, do all this stuff.
|It bothers Willie that a young couple cant farm a few hundred
acres and make a living. All the raw producers in this country
are screwed. Everything is being done overseas cheaper and brought
in. The idea is to take all the farmers off the land, move them
into big cities. When they are out in the rurals they become a
political problem. When you move them into town and you put them
in with the work force, not only do you take away their political
power but you also make them part of a cheap labor force.
|Willie has done a lot of research and believes very little of
the nation belongs to you and me any more. I think the people
who own this land now, from Europe and Asia, could care less.
Where there used to be eight million small family farmers, now
there are less than two million and we are losing 500 a week.
You dont have to be real smart to figure out the mathematics.
When Willie got involved with Farm Aid there were already non-profits set up to help families in trouble. We started funding existing organizations who knew the problems in their areas. We have given them a couple of bucks to spread around, but thats only been a Band-Aid.
To date, Willies Band-Aid has been close to $14 million, and he says quietly, Its a drop in the bucket. I dont know that its saved any farms but it may have helped prevent a few tragedies.
The generous Texan says he didnt know what caused the problem until a few years ago when he read a speech by Eddie Albert. He talked about the time when there was 100 percent parity, meaning a fair price for the producers in this country. Back during the war we geared up for it by making sure that all raw producers in this country got their production costs and labor guaranteed. Hitler was doing the same thing in Germany and thats why they got so strong. Their raw producers got government guarantees that they werent going to lose money no matter what the market did. Over here our farmers, our oil producers, our iron producers, everybody was being took care of pretty good with their 100 percent parity.
Unfortunately, he adds, after the war they decided, hey, wait a minute, we got eight million people out here in the farm areas, they are getting organized and becoming a problem. We have all these people in Detroit getting unionized, labor is high lets move a couple of million out of the country and into the city. And thats exactly what happened. Its all documented. You can check it out.
Many Hollywood stars and musicians are helping causes that are destroying U.S. food producers. Willie stands pretty much aloneindependent, soft spoken, earnest, modest and intelligent, much like the folks he is trying to help.
There are lots of people trying but they dont have the power to do anything about it. We are a very generous country. With the world bank, we just forgave millions of dollars worth of debt from dozens of foreign countries. I think that was a wonderful idea but to follow that up Clinton should do the same thing for our raw producers. It would be great if President Clinton on the way out would sign a piece of paper where all U.S. raw producers would get 100 percent parity. I think he would save the country by doing it and the country is in big trouble if he doesnt.
Outlaw Willie runs horses on his own ranch in Texas close to Austin. Hes clearing out cedars, which take a strong hold on his 700 acres. Hes going to call Slick Willie, whos still got a peculiarly strong hold on the country, to ask for his help before its too late and we become a weaker, food importing nation.
I like to think that I was raised to be somewhat of a cowboy myself, Outlaw Willie says, so my heroes have always been cowboys. I guess Ill be singing about them until its all over. Thats about all I can do.