Janesville farmer explains how Farm Aid 2019 helps him

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There’s not just one thing to love about Hughes Farm.

With sunflowers, soybeans and two types of corn, there are almost as many crops as generations involved, and the family’s story is one that fifth-generation farmer Whilden Hughes is happy to share.

On Friday, he hosted a group of about 20 guests as part of Farm Aid’s farm tours, explaining the struggles and successes his family deals with on a daily basis.

“Part of my job as a farmer is to promote agriculture,” Hughes said. “That’s why I’m happy about what’s going on with the whole thing with Farm Aid, because that’s what they do. We’re 1 percent of the population, and we just don't have a very big voice, so when we can get our word out just like any other industry we like to.”

Hughes’ farm is one of many the group would get to see, but his stands apart with its focus on organic crops. The family started growing organic in 1991, before the trend took off, he said, but it’s kept them viable while other parts of the industry fall on hard times.

“The dairy industry has just been beat up and beat up and beat up,” Hughes said. “And it’s not just the price of the dairy products. They’re farmers too, so they’re feeling all the pain that I’m feeling and turning it into more pain when they milk the cows. It’s just, it’s horrible for them.”

His farm has struggled this year too. His son, also named Whilden, explained how the summer has still felt like a wet spring, making the window to plant their staple crop, corn, very difficult.

Whilden Hughes, the older one, is not one to dwell on the wet season his farm has had, realizing other farms in Wisconsin and across the Midwest have been hit worse by storms this year.

“You can’t market your way out of that,” he said. “You can’t stay up late and farm a little extra. You can’t do anything to come out of that one when Mother Nature deals you a hand like that, so my heart goes out to those guys. They’re the ones that need the help this year.”

The struggles he’s seen his family and others go through make him especially grateful Farm Aid chose to come to Wisconsin this year. When in town, the organization makes an effort to buy local products to feed its guests and stock its vendor tents. This year, Farm Aid bought organic blue corn chips from Hughes Farms along with products from other Wisconsin growers.

Perry Brown runs Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, an organization that helps small farm operations. He coordinates with Farm Aid to help it find local farmers both for tours and for products.

He said it’s great to be a part of the event, especially because of what it does for awareness of issues that many don’t realize farmers have.

“It’s that hidden thing,” Brown said. “You know agriculture, we all eat, but we don’t think about the farmers that produce that food and what they’re going through and what’s happening with agriculture right now with the farm crisis, and so if nothing else it just brings attention to these issues.”

Along with awareness, Hughes appreciates the boost to the local economy the event brings. Tourists buy local food and stay in local hotels, he said.

The fact Farm Aid buys from him while it’s here is just a bonus.

“I was happy that they cared, that they are finding some little guy like me and buying my product when they could have had anything," Hughes said. "There’s probably some national sponsor that would love to have their name on their trailer and handle their product every time they go to a place, but they don’t do that. They’re in there helping the little guy, and I’m the little guy.”

Farm Aid starts at noon Saturday and ends around midnight. You can stream the concert live here.