Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews: Most of us know these guys. To some, they’re like family. But as many times as you’ve seen Dave in concert, or sung along to “Jack & Diane,” or played “Harvest Moon” or “On the Road Again” on the guitar, as well as you know these guys’ lyrics by heart, you might not know that they’re the original HOMEGROWN members.
You might not know that Willie, Neil, and John organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms—or that Dave joined the board in 2001. You might not know that these iconic musicians have helped raise more than $40 million to keep American farmers on their land. And you might not know that this year’s Farm Aid concert, September 22 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is sold out—a boon for family farmers nationwide in this drought-stricken year.
Or maybe you know all that and more. But, as a lover of all things HOMEGROWN, you still want to celebrate it. In advance of next weekend’s raucous, rocking, and rollicking tribute to family farmers, we thought we’d take a minute to pay respects to the big four who make it happen. Without further ado, ten HOMEGROWN things you might now know about Willie, Neil, John, and Dave:
1. Forty varieties of heirloom apples grow at Best of What’s Around, the organic farm owned by Dave and his wife, Ashley. The farm is also home to a 300-head herd of cattle raised for grass-fed and -finished beef.
2. That cattle gets processed at True & Essential Meats, a family-owned Virginia facility established in 1939 that works with some 50 area farmers to help rebuild the local food system and provide high-quality meats to local eaters, farmers markets, restaurants, and shops.
3. Neil’s son Ben runs Coastside Ranch, a certified-organic egg farm in La Honda, California. His flock of 250 Red Sex-Links, a chicken breed closely related to Rhode Island Reds, lays more than 100 eggs a day. All of the hens in the flock are named Georgette, and all of the roosters are named George.
4. Neil is the master of HOMEGROWN lyrics: “You gotta tell your story, boy / You know the reason why / Are you ready for the country / Because it’s time to go.” See his original manuscript (among a treasure trove of other artifacts) for the song “Are You Ready for the Country?” recorded on September 26, 1971, at Broken Arrow Ranch in Redwood City, California—part of his seminal 1972 album, Harvest.
5. On the subject of songwriting, John agrees HOMEGROWN is best. As he told an “Entertainment Tonight” reporter at his Indiana homestead in 1987 (two years after the release of his unforgettable song “Rain on the Scarecrow”): “I’ve learned that I can’t create anything except from here. You know, you’ve got to have perspective from where you see the world.” Watch the full vintage interview (complete with huge Nina Blackwood hair) here.
6. Human Wheels, a fan discussion board devoted to all things Mellencamp, once published a cookbook called Human Meals: C.O.O.K.in’ in the U.S.A.—a culinary ode to John’s 1985 sing-along anthem, “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”
7. John is a fan of hard work. As he told Dan Rather in 2009: “This I believe: That we can all do better, and that people give up too early. Those are two things I’m pretty certain of. . . . I guess [I learned that from] my grandfather. His whole point in life to me was, ‘If you’re gonna do it, and you tell somebody you’re gonna do it, you have to do it.’”
8. Willie is as fierce as ever when it comes to family farming. As he told Time Magazine in 2010: “I think the farmers can pull us out of our economic problem just by growing our food and our fuel for us. And I think it needs to be the small family farmer, because he grows food that he feeds his [own] family.”
9. Willie likes gardening—and comedy. In 2010, he swapped growing tips with Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show. Below is Willie’s opinion on manure as fertilizer, and click through for his thoughts on the value of wearing a hat.
10. Willie comes from farming stock. “If we didn’t grow it, we didn’t eat it,” Bobbi Nelson reports in Joe Nick Patoski’s 2008 biography of her brother, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. “Ol’ Reddy, our first cow, was part of the family. We kept one of her calves. We had another cow and hogs. . . . My grandmother [pictured with Willie, below] and grandfather, they had to be their own butchers. That’s one reason we didn’t eat any of our chickens. Our chickens had names. We raised them from eggs. We ate the eggs and sold the eggs for money to buy groceries. That’s the way we survived.”
(For more on raising animals, watch the animated Chipotle commercial “Back to the Start,” featuring Willie singing a heartbreaking rendition of Coldplay’s “The Scientist.”)
See Farm Aid 2012’s full lineup—also featuring Kenny Chesney, Jack Johnson, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and more—and watch videos of Willie, Neil, John, and Dave onstage at past years’ Farm Aid concerts at FarmAid.org.