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MILWAUKEE (Reuters Life!) - Thousands turned out on Saturday for the 25th anniversary of "Farm Aid," the benefit concert for America's family farmers headlined by the charity's founders: Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young.
This year's hours-long concert, dubbed "Farm Aid 25: Growing Hope for America," was held at Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.
The founding musicians, who gathered under a canopy outside the stadium to meet with reporters before the concert, praised family farmers as practitioners of sustainable agriculture while portraying corporate-run farms as greedy polluters contributing to the nation's obesity problem.
"We should be interested in knowing where our food comes from. If it comes from soil that is organic, that is grown by our family farmers, we know that it's more healthy than the food grown by big corporations that saturate the soil with chemicals and pesticides and fertilizers," said Nelson, sporting a trademark cowboy hat and a jacket in the chilly air.
"Thank you for those farmers who are doing their part, doing organic farming, and who need our support. That's why we're here, 25 years in a row," he said.
Concert vendors at the accompanying "HOMEGROWN" village adjacent to the venue sold fresh produce from local farms and displayed sustainable agricultural practices such as small-scale livestock raising, beekeeping, and composting.
Young railed at what he said was the "poisoning" of the environment by corporate-run, confinement hog farms, and urged government to regulate what he said was a chaotic biofuels industry.
Mellencamp decried the greed that he said was hurting the nation's farmers, and expressed concern America was becoming "more tribal ... almost a Third World nation."
"As the family farm goes, so goes America, and what then will this country be, and how proud are we going to be of ourselves?" Mellencamp said.
Inspired by the 1980s farm crisis that gripped America's heartland, the inaugural "Farm Aid" concert was held on September 22, 1985, in Champaign, Illinois, where 80,000 gathered to hear a stellar lineup that featured Johnny Cash, B.B. King and Bob Dylan.
"Farm Aid" has since raised a total of more than $37 million, each year responding to a different need ranging from dairy farmers in trouble to farmers hit by flooding.
Dave Matthews, a Farm Aid board member, was among the performers donating their talents to this year's show, which organizers said was expected to draw more than 30,000 people.
Ticket prices ranged from $40 to nearly $100 each.
The proceeds do not go directly to for-profit farmers because of tax rules governing charities. Instead, the money is used to donate necessities like groceries to struggling farmers, operate a hot line for farmers and hire advocates for them, organizers said.
Though crop prices have been at historically high levels the past two years to the benefit of many farmers, those with livestock are contending with high feed costs.
Editing by Andrew Stern and Jonathan Oatis