A Look Back at Farm Aid 2007: A Homegrown Festival on Randalls Island

On this day in 2007, the first ever Farm Aid was held in New York State, with the annual benefit concert for farmers held on Randalls Island.

farm aid 2007

The official announcement came on June 11 with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp making the official announcement in New York City alongside then-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and farmers and food buyers at Union Square’s Greenmarket.

Mayor Bloomberg welcomed the Farm Aid co-founders, saying “The City strongly supports sustainable family farming through our Greenmarket program — which has nearly doubled its locations over the past five years — and it’s an honor to be hosting Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Farm Aid for their 2007 concert.”

Willie Nelson shared “Farm Aid is coming to New York because your enthusiasm for family farm food is keeping family farmers on the land. We are thankful to Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council and the many activists here who are leading efforts so that every New Yorker has access to more food from family farms” while John Mellencamp said of the importance of the event, “Things change when we all take personal responsibility for our food and where it comes from. Farm Aid is a force for change that works hard to keep farmers on the land so that we’ll have good food on our tables.

Photo By Greg Allen/Shutterstock

Why did Farm Aid take so long to get to New York? Nearly the first two decades of Farm Aid (1985-2003) brought the festival to states whose economies are strongly based in agriculture – Texas, Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, and South Carolina. In 2004 the festival moved to Washington State and headed east for New Jersey in 2006. Given the quintessential urban setting of New York City, bringing a festival promoting support for local farms and farmers doesn’t seem like the right fit at first, but five boroughs of 8 million people need to eat.

It took being invited to The Big Apple, per executive director Carolyn Mugar, by environmentalists, politicians, Mayor Bloomberg’s office as well as chefs, that finally brought Farm Aid to the Empire State. “Farmers are never going to survive if they don’t have as allies the people who want this good food,” Ms. Mugar told the New York Times. “New York has a huge density of eaters and a density of people who are doing excellent things. There are restaurants, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture programs, even people who are growing food in the city and teaching people how to grow it.”

farm aid 2007
photo via @ceefar74

The lineup for the day included Farm Aid staples in New York, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews, the latter of whom was joined by Merle Haggard. Also on the day long festival-style lineup were the Allman Brothers Band (along with Derek Trucks Band and Gregg Allman performing solo), Counting Crows, Matisyahu, Ray Price, Guster, Billy Joe Shaver, Tim Reynolds, Montgomery Gentry, Supersuckers, Pauline Reese, Danielle Evin, The Ditty Bops, Jimmy Sturr, Paula Nelson, 40 Points, and Jesse Lenat.

poster by Leigh Kosloski

farm aid 2007
poster by Leigh Kosloski

The day was hot and quite dusty, part of the unkept nature of Randalls Island (which was prone to flooding at the time) prior to more events being held on the grounds. Thus, there was straw/hay laid down to keep the dust to a minimum. Much has changed over the past 15 years, as Randalls Island has become a destination for concerts and music festivals, among them Governors Ball, Panorama and Electric Zoo.

farm aid 2007
photo via @ceefar74

Farm Aid 2007 was “A Homegrown Festival,” was the first major music event that served local, organic and family farm food at concessions stands around the venue. The Homegrown Village featured interactive exhibits to educate concert-goers on soil, water, energy, food and farmers. On the heels of the 2007 Farm Aid, the next year Homegrown.org was launched, creating an online community for those interested in growing, cooking, crafting, brewing, preserving, or making anything Homegrown.

The announcement for Farm Aid was momentus, being the first time the traveling single-day multi-band event would make its way to the Empire State.

Can you believe it?!?! Farm Aid in NYC! I have been working on a pun that references the movie “Babe: Pig in the City” but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. We are so pumped about Farm Aid 2007: A HOMEGROWN Festival at Randal’s Island. 100% delicious family farm food, good tunes and a summer of events in a huge urban food and farm hub. On the DL, this show has been in the works for a few years and we are just thrilled that the time has come to bring Farm Aid into the lives of New Yorkers, to work with upstate farmers and urban growers and to show all of our concert growers that even after 22 years we have a few surprises up our sleeves!

Farm Aid Blog

The idea for Farm Aid originally grew out of a remark that Bob Dylan made at Live Aid in 1985. The Bard said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America?” This inspired Willie Nelson to contact Neil Young and John Mellencamp, who was about to release Scarecrow, which includes a song about a farmer losing his land to a foreclosure.

Press Conference – photo by Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve Inc.

Six weeks after those calls, the trio put together what became the first Farm Aid, on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Ill. While they expected the event to be a one-off, the inspiration that came from raising money for family farmers to preserve their land and push for laws that support family farms over Big Ag.

Dave Matthews joined the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001, and Margo Price joined in 2021. To date, Farm Aid has raised more than $64 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture. A nonprofit organization, Farm Aid holds dear their mission to keep family farmers on their lands.

While the Randalls Island Farm Aid was the first held in New York State, it was only six years later that the event headed Upstate to Saratoga Springs with a performance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). The day was highlighted with the unexpected arrival of Pete Seeger, who sang “This Land is Your Land” with the audience, in addition to some new lyrics referencing fracking. The 2022 edition of Farm Aid will take place on September 24 in Raleigh, NC at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek.

While there was no live broadcast of Farm Aid, video from the concert was available on-demand on September 19, 2007, via Farmaid.org. A good deal of video from the day exists, as seen below. Setlists via ConcertArchives.org

Montgomery Gentry setlist: Hillbilly Shoes, Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm, What Do Ya Think About That

farm aid 2007
photo via @ceefar74

Supersuckers setlist: Paid, Breaking Honey’s Heart, Roadworn and Weary

Warren Haynes setlist: Indian Sunset, Fallen Down, One, Soulshine

The Derek Trucks Band setlist: Soul Serenade, Sailing On, Key to the Highway

Guster setlist: The Captain, Manifest Destiny, Satellite, Amsterdam, Airport Song

Matisyahu setlist: Tzama L’Chol Nafshi (Psalm 63:2-3), Beat Box, Indestructible

Counting Crows setlist: Rain King, Thunder Road, Recovering the Satellites, Washington Square, A Murder of One, A Long December

Gregg Allman setlist: Midnight Rider, Melissa

Allman Brothers Band setlist: Trouble No More, Revival, Who’s Been Talking, Black Hearted Woman, Statesboro Blues, One Way Out

Billy Joe Shaver setlist: I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train, Live Forever, Try and Try Again

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds setlist: Lie in Our Graves, Gravedigger, Crush, The Maker, The Dreaming Tree, Ants Marching

Neil Young setlist: Human Highway, Silver and Gold, Beautiful Bluebird, Too Far Gone, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Heart of Gold, Homegrown, Four Strong Winds

John Mellencamp setlist: Troubled Land, Rain on the Scarecrow, If I Die Sudden, Paper in Fire, Our Country, To Washington, Small Town, Pink Houses

Willie Nelson setlist: One Day at a Time, Jackson, A Peaceful Solution, Whiskey River, Stormy Weather, I Saw the Light, Superman, You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore, I’ll Fly Away, On the Road Again

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