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This Land Is Our Land

Posted: 09/11/11 12:59 AM ET

The attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred just a few weeks before Farm Aid's annual concert. In the midst of our fear, mourning and uncertainty, the organizers of Farm Aid had to make a difficult choice. Farm Aid 2001 was scheduled for September 29 -- could we proceed with it as planned? Would folks be ready by then -- to sing, to dance, to smile? John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, myself and our staff decided that the show should go on.

Farm Aid is a celebration of the unique resource we have in our family farmers. After 9/11, in that time of grief and shock, we wanted to remind folks of our country's strength through the strength of our family farmers -- the backbone of this nation. We were determined to send a message of hope. We felt the strength, resiliency and ingenuity of our family farmers could serve as a model for the nation.

That Farm Aid stands out for me among the 26 years of Farm Aid concerts. I could see looking out at the audience that this was not just a concert, but a coming together around all that is right and true in the United States. Gathering at Farm Aid 2001 was a statement of our solidarity, our belief in each other, our faith that we would carry on, stronger than ever. We opened the show with Arlo Guthrie and the whole Farm Aid 2001 lineup singing "This Land Is Your Land", and the audience sang along. Through our tears, our hopeful strength, our determined smiles, we were together -- one voice.

First responders who had been on the ground in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania were there with us at Farm Aid 2001. They joined family farmers in the spotlight as crucial resources and pillars of strength for all of us. Following the concert, family farmers drove from Indiana to New York to donate food they had raised to feed firefighters, policemen, EMTs and volunteers at Ground Zero. The destruction of the World Trade towers sparked a treasured relationship between Farm Aid and the organizers and farmers of New York City's Greenmarkets.

Through the farm crisis of the 1980s that gave Farm Aid its start to the natural disasters affecting farmers and ranchers across this country right now, family farmers have always been the first to lend a hand to their neighbors. In Vermont, where roads and bridges have been washed out by unprecedented flooding, farmers have arrived at their neighbor's farms on foot, shovels in hand and ready to help clean up. In Wisconsin, family farmers have donated tons of hay to help feed the starving livestock of drought-stricken farmers in the South.

This generosity, this solidarity, this willingness to work hard together was something we all shared in the weeks after September 11. As we face the challenges before us now, it is my hope that we all remember that spirit, take a cue from family farmers and their know-how, and come together again to rediscover our strength.


Willie Nelson is the president of Farm Aid.