Editorial: Heat and drought are reminders to support CT farmers

Wakeman Town Farm in Westport, Conn. on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

Wakeman Town Farm in Westport, Conn. on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

Bob Dylan may be one of the most quoted songwriters on the planet, but he tends not to talk very much while on stage.

Back in 1985, he did utter a few words that drew international blowback, yet inspired decades of support for the American farmer.

Dylan was one of dozens of performers in London and Philadelphia raising money for famine relief in Ethiopia during Live Aid. From the American stage, he tossed out a notion that is reliably misquoted: “I hope that some of the money … maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe ... one or two million, maybe ... and use it, say to pay the mortgages on some of the farms.”

Bob Geldof, the mastermind behind Live Aid, deemed the comments “stupid and nationalistic.” He wasn’t alone in his criticism. But the offhand remarks planted a seed. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young were inspired to organize the first Farm Aid concert that was held just six weeks later. That first show raised $7 million for the American farmer, considerably more than Dylan contemplated. It has remained as reliable an annual tradition as a fall harvest.

From the first show in Champaign, Ill., Farm Aid has barnstormed the country in locations such as Texas, Nebraska, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kansas.

It has only made return visits to a few venues, but Hartford’s Xfinity Theatre is among them, in 2018 and again last September.

It’s easy to forget how important local farmers are in our daily lives in Connecticut. Farm Aid offered a reminder, but so do this week’s blistering temperatures atop Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent declaration of stage two drought conditions in all eight of our counties.

For many, the heat and water shortage can mean nothing more than a signal to crank up air-conditioners and turn off the sprinkler. It can also fuel anxieties about potential blackouts from an overload on the power grid.

But for Connecticut’s farmers, it can mean the difference between profit and loss.

We may enjoy the blueberries, tomatoes, strawberries, etc., but it’s easy to take for granted that they don’t grow in supermarket bins. Local farmers were enjoying a promising season during June’s mild temperatures, but now see their products overheating along with members of their staff.

“All of the corn is point straight up, begging for rain,” said Karen Kalenauskas, the operator of a livestock farm in Watertown. “Normally, the leaves on the corn would have a nice curve to them. Everything is crying for water.”

Which means the heat and drought have an impact on vegetarians and carnivores alike.

It could also affect quaint annual New England traditions such as autumn apple picking and the pies they produce, and decorating homes with annuals and perennials.

While we respect the drought by conserving water, we should also pause, as Bob Dylan did, to contemplate the importance of farmers. In the meantime, let’s hope a hard rain’s gonna fall soon.