Frankly, we have it so good in Richmond, sometimes I wonder why I would ever leave. But last weekend, I did leave, to drive all night to St. Augustine, Florida. What could lure me out of my utopia in good ol RVA? It wasn’t just the Florida sunshine. Harvest of Hope Festival was happening for the second year. I didn’t make it last year, but had heard enough from friends to entice me into attendance in 2010.
Harvest of Hope combines two things that Richmond clearly loves- music and food. Richmond is known for its thriving music scene. We have a plethora of local bands that are known and loved internationally. Richmond is also developing its own food culture. From the ever growing Farmer’s Markets, CSA’s, and general increasing consciousness around local food movements and food politics, to our many amazing local restaurants, Richmond has food on the brain. Aside from seeming like a really fun event, Harvest of Hope was a Richmond relevant event.
The festival is a three day event that takes place on St. John Country Fairgrounds, outside of St. Augustine. There is camping, rides, food vendors, and lots of music. Over 100 different bands on 5 stages. Then there are all the people who come to hang out and camp and see music from across the country. The excitement and enthusiasm are tangible, even though the diverse crowd is clearly excited about different things. The genres of music included hiphop, punk, folk punk, rock, rap, pop punk, marching bands, bluegrass, folk, and the uncatagorize-able. The hairstyles included bright mohawks, mullets, dreads, crew cuts, crazy bangs, and even some ‘regular’ hair.
There is something special about seeing a Richmond band play in another city. It is exciting to realize that while we are unique here, we aren’t crazy. These bands are good, really good. Richmond bands that played at Harvest of Hope this year included Strike Anywhere, The Riot Before, The Itchy Hearts, Smoke or Fire, and others. Dedicated fans could be seen throughout the weekend, wearing a Richmond band shirt or just screaming along at a Richmond band’s show. Music from Richmond definitely represented and showed how amazing this place is. Strike Anywhere played midday Saturday, in the bright Florida sun. And they tore it up. I saw folks from up and down the East Coast jump and scream and hold each other all in awe of what was happening on stage.
The organization which puts on the festival is Harvest of Hope. I got a chance to talk to the two brothers, Phil and Ed Kellerman, who run the group, and was thoroughly impressed with their appreciation of music as well as their dedication to providing care for migrant farmers and their families. Not only that, but Phil and Ed were both amazingly friendly. They remembered my name and were genuinely excited to meet my friends and shake hands and take pictures whenever I ran into them throughout the weekend. Though both middle aged and not what anyone would consider punks, Phil and Ed would enthusiastically introduce many bands on stage, and off stage enthusiastically praise the music and musicians.
The organization provides funds to migrant workers in need. The fuse of the funds run the gamut, including security deposits, gas money, car repairs, medical bills, and even funeral expenses. Phil explained that many states have residency guidelines which automatically disqualify many migrant farm workers, because of their transiency.
I asked Phil and Ed what the organization’s stance on the legal status of migrants was and whether they would support folks who were not legal residents or workers. They said yes, they do support migrant farm workers, without questioning their legal immigration status. They pointed out that these folks do back breaking work that most of us would not want to do. And if they are not legal residents, it is actually even more important and significant that they have access to direct financial aid. For Phil and Ed, providing help and taking care of people is the right thing to do, and borders and immigrant status do not change their ethics.
The Harvest of Hope fund gives the most money to Florida, Texas, and California. But much of that food will end up in grocery stores in Virginia. Buying local food, or trying to support local farmers is a great step in terms of living in a more environmentally friendly and socially just way. Harvest of Hope gives all of us who eat (all of us) a way to make sure we are giving back for the many advantages our economy gives us in regards to food. Supporting Harvest of Hope supports the people who make sure there is food for us to buy. Because not everyone can afford local food. We eat many things not even available locally. That is just a situation created by the global food systems. However, Harvest of Hope foundation shows us that we do not have to feel completely stuck participating in an economy who’s practices we do not support. Donating to Harvest of Hope is one way to somewhat change how you interact with food and agricultural economy in our country.
Food costs in the United States are some of the lowest globally. The low wages that migrant farm workers are paid are one of the ways in which the cost of food is subsidized- subsidized at the expense of these workers. Without healthcare, insurance, and forced by crop seasons into a transient life, these folks do not have much in the way of resources to fall back on in hard times.
The Harvest of Hope festival combined a love for music with prevalent issues in politics. Phil and Ed really hoped that the concert attendees would come away thinking more about where the food they eat comes from, and who grows and picks that food. In Richmond, we are clearly passionate about food and music. It is inspiring that so many Richmond bands took the time to use their reputations to further this cause. And the Harvest of Hope foundation adds another aspect to the food issue that Richmond often seems wrapped up in. Richmond has plenty to learn, and sometimes it might take leaving the city to get new ideas.
Harvest of Hope seems to have the potential of developing into another East Coast phenomena, similar to Kollapse Fest, Death Fest, Best Friends Day, or The Fest. These events broaden the community from one town or state to feel more regional. Harvest of Hope manages to create an exciting, successful musically and socially, event that is about more than just having fun. Fun for a reason, fun because we can all take part in creating a more just world.