Farm Aid, the annual concert to benefit American farmers, held its 25th concert last weekend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Miller Park, the home for Milwaukee Brewers baseball games, was transformed into a massive concert hall for 30,000-plus guests.
The music, as usual, was incredible with performances from Norah Jones, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, among others.
But sharing the stage with these music superstars was none other than Clevelander Michael Symon, an award-winning chef, restaurant owner and Food Network’s season-one “The Next Iron Chef” winner. He currently hosts the show “Food Feuds.” Symon is the owner of downtown Cleveland restaurant Lola, among others.
Symon was the first person viewers on DirecTV saw during the six-hour telecast. He provided commentary in between performances and introduced video segments that depicted the struggles of today’s farmer and the negative impact of factory farms.
During the broadcast, Symon revealed that the first concert he attended was John Mellencamp and how the song “Rain on the Scarecrow” (1985) had a major impact on his life. The song is about a man having to foreclose his farm and the ensuing problems. It includes the line:
“There’s 97 crosses burning in the courthouse yard and there’s 97 families who lost 97 farms. I think about my grandpa, my neighbor and my name, some nights I feel like dying like that scarecrow in the rain.”
Regarding the song, Symon said, “When I was a very young cook, ‘Scarecrow’ came out and it was unbelievable. It’s what kind of inspired some of my farm-to-table thoughts about food. I was a young kid and a young cook but when I heard John sing that song it affected me, you know, and then to hear it again tonight, it’s a song with attitude–here are the problems and we need to take care of it.”
Tavis Smiley of PBS, who served as moderator, interviewed Symon at the end of the broadcast about his role in Farm Aid 25.
Symon told Smiley: “My whole culinary career is built on this premise. You know for 15 years I’ve owned restaurants and done the farm-to-table movement, and on Food Network I’ve tried to teach the farm-to-table movement to people that are watching and how it’s OK to go to your farmer’s market and grab food and cook it in a simple way. It’s better, it’s healthy for your kids–you don’t have to worry about the growth hormones, the pesticides and all that junk that they put in food.”
Symon then echoed the sentiments expressed by Neil Young during his performance when Young kept repeating to the crowd: “Read the labels, read the labels, read the labels.”
“People spend six months a year when they are going to buy a car or a stereo system, and then they go to the grocery store and throw bananas in the cart without any thought process at all.”
Symon, who got to meet Mellencamp and Young for the first time, said that he’s seen a lot more awareness about farm-fresh foods from the public in his own restaurants.
“When people go to a restaurant they ask, ‘what farm did it come from, is it organic?’ 15 years ago they’d come into my restaurant and they wouldn’t care, they’d just say ‘give me the steak.'”
As far as co-hosting a live event like Farm Aid 25 goes, Symon said he’d never done anything like it before.
“We’re live off the wire, no grid, no safety net, but to me if I messed up 100 times I didn’t care because I feel so passionate about Farm Aid.”