LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Only a small portion of the millions of dollars raised by the annual Farm Aid concert has been directed to Kansas farmers since the event began more than two decades ago and that is unlikely to change after this Saturday's event in Kansas City, Kan.
In its 25 years, Farm Aid has made more than $36 million but has given only $71,000 — or 0.2 percent of all funds — to any of Kansas' 65,000 farmers, the Lawrence Journal-World reported Monday.
In 2009, Farm Aid spent $525,341 on grants and $633,503 on salaries and compensation. But Farm Aid organizers said part of the reason Kansas farmers have received so little help is that they have not asked for it. Kansas farm advocates say that's because the state does not have an umbrella organization organized to help small family farms.
Farm Aid can distribute its funds only through nonprofit groups that apply for them. In Kansas, the only group currently receiving funds is the Juniper Gardens Farm Business Development program, which supports urban farmers in Kansas City. It received $9,000 in the past two years.
That has not always been the case. Several Kansas groups received Farm Aid grants in the 1980s and early 1990s. But in the mid-1990s the groups stopped asking for the funds or didn't receive them. The largest recipient was the Kansas Ecumenical Ministries in Topeka, a council of most of the state's church denominations, which received $31,000 from 1990 to 2000.
No organization or farmer in Kansas received direct state-level help from Farm Aid for nine years until Cultivate Kansas City received its first Juniper Gardens' grant — $5,000 — from Farm Aid in 2009, the Journal-World reported.
One of the early recipients, The Kansas Rural Center hasn't asked for Farm Aid funds since the mid-1990s, says Mary Fund, acting executive director.
"Gosh, I can't even remember the last Farm Aid grant that we had, it was so long ago," said Fund, who has been with the organization for the better part of three decades. "We just haven't applied to them. I'm not sure quite why. I think we got turned down on one and then you just kind of get out of the cycle."
But the biggest factor in the loss of Farm Aid help was a reorganization of KEM, the church group that had been a primary source for distributing help to struggling farmers. The group used to work through pastors in Kansas churches to reach in-need farmers.
The pastors would contract someone like Linda Hessman, who was a liaison for a division of the KEM, Interfaith Rural Life, which granted farmers $250 for household needs and $500 for medical expenses.
"It was $500 a family, they could apply more than once, and it was used to help with medical needs," Hessman says. "Now, that could also be like to cover fuel or whatever it would take to ease that piece. You could also use that money to pay your health insurance, because that was, very consistently, what we all saw across the board — that was one of the expenses that was just dropped to help out with the cash flow."
But KEM is reorganizing and without it, the state doesn't have an umbrella organization to seek the funds or distribute them to struggling farmers, said Charlie Griffin, an assistant research professor at Kansas State University and longtime farm advocate.
Griffin said other states have stronger aid networks, either through churches, extension services or the state's department of agriculture.
"Having that contact is a vital doorway into the many, many sources of assistance that are available," Griffin said. "After that, I would say that since we do not currently have that here in this state, our system is quite fragmented. I wouldn't hesitate to say it's difficult right now for people to have assistance."
Without a central group, it's nearly impossible to help those farmers with Farm Aid grants because Kansans don't have a nonprofit web though which to funnel the money.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.