How Farm Aid Transforms Huge Concert Venues into Destinations for Food Lovers

Farm Aid brings together musicians and family-owned farms for an annual benefit concert. Photograph by Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews all headline at the 31st annual Farm Aid concert this Saturday. Even more impressive than the musical lineup—at least from a food lover’s perspective—is the concert fare. Each year, Farm Aid transforms huge venues that fit 20,000-plus people into sources for food from local and independent family farms.

“We make it a deal point when we come into a building,” says Glenda Yoder, associate director of Farm Aid. “All the food has to come from a family farm, has a fair price for the farmer, and is held to an ecological standard.”

Requiring concessionaires to swap out ingredients isn’t an easy task. Local partners are sought out, though a national lineup of producers is enlisted for the task. Meats must be humanely raised, and everything from the potatoes to frying oil must be non-GMO and come from an independently-owned source. Farm Aid spends months connecting venues and their concessionaires with a new chain of suppliers—relationships that often extend past the one-day event.

This year, the “homegrown concessions” is run by chef Sara Kazmierski of Legends Hospitality, the group that services over 30 Live Nation venues like Jiffy Lube. An eclectic roster of dishes include crowd-pleasers like chicken tenders from Shenandoah Valley Organic farm alongside soba noodle salads and Chesapeake-style crispy potatoes wedges with Maryland crab. Concert-goers can also grab cheese and charcuterie plates from Virginia’s Bonnyclabber Cheese Co. and Olli Salumeria. In addition to the food, patrons can visit the “homegrown village” for agricultural demonstrations and workshops (i.e. fermentation 101), and a youth market farm stand. Kazmierski says the Farm Aid experience has influenced the way she approaches the concessions. 

We’re working to change people’s idea of food and the quality you can get at an amphitheater,” says Kazmierski. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to surprise people.”

Farm Aid 2016. Tickets are available for purchase at Live Nation,  the venue box office, or by phone at 800-745-3000. Individual ticket prices range from $49.50 to $189.50.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.