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The plight of the migrant farm worker seems to get caught up in controversy in the US. “Migrant” is often confused with “illegal immigrant,” and the issue becomes lost in politics.

What really lies beneath the politics and the issues is a problem- families struggling to support their way of life, moving from town to town, following whatever harvest or work they can find.

Harvest of Hope, created in 1997, is moving forward to becoming a solution to that problem.

“In 1995, I began work at the State University of New York at Oneonta, responding to calls from migrant farm workers to a newly-established National Migrant Education Hotline.  A good percentage of the calls were requests for financial aid for car repairs due to breakdowns while traveling, gas, medical services, rent, utilities, food, clothing and funeral expenses. However, the federal funding for the Hotline did not provide money to provide emergency financial aid. I soon discovered that federal, state and local financial aid to migrant farm workers was often limited or not available at all,” Harvest of Hope founder Phil Kellerman said in an email interview.

With inheritance from his grandmother Dr. Helen Zand, Kellerman founded Harvest of Hope. The foundation provides emergency financial support to migrant families for needs such as utilities, medical bills, and car repairs.

Harvest of Hope also works to be an advocate for migrant workers and raises awareness for their struggles.

“Before the Harvest of Hope Foundation can solicit donations it has to make its mission clear to people, and that includes explaining who harvests and produces our food and why migrant farm workers and their families earn our support.  Due to the rural nature of their work migrant farm workers are often invisible to most Americans, and there is very real disconnect between the food we eat and those who work the soil.  Thus the Foundation is continually an ‘active voice’ for migrant and seasonal workers.  On behalf of HOH, I take every opportunity to give talks, workshops and participate in fund-raisers to generate awareness of the contribution migrant farm workers make to the food chain,” said Kellerman.

How do they raise awareness? Well, one amazing way is the Harvest of Hope Fest.

The Harvest of Hope Fest is a family-friendly all ages punk rock fest held at the St. John’s County Fairgrounds  over March 12-14, 2010. No Idea Records’ Ryan Murphy paired up with HOH founder Phil Kellerman and friend Ryan Dettra to put together this spectacular punk rock affair, all in the name of the charity.

Murphy and Kellerman met while working in Gainesville at the “Libros de Familia” afterschool literacy program, which was funded by HOH. They discovered they had mutual friends and hit it off- and then got talking about making a difference.

“The more I got to know Phil, the more I got to discover the amazing work that he does with the foundation.  I also got to know more about how much support the foundation needed and I started thinking about what I could do to help out.  Since I’ve worked at No Idea for so long, and I know a ton of bands, the most obvious thing that came to mind was to throw some benefit shows.  The idea really caught on with bands I’m friends with and a lot of great bands really embraced the idea and the foundation.  During this process, my long-time friends in the band Against Me! really got behind me in doing this and offered to do a string of shows to support HOH foundation.  They raised over $18,000 for the foundation, and Phil was absolutely blown away!,” Murphy explained in an email interview.

From there, Murphy called up Dettra (Dettra runs shows at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and St. Johns County Fairgrounds) and asked if he could help set up a benefit show with Against Me! Together, with a $50,000 grant from St. John’s County and working with the team at No Idea (the same folks who pull off The FEST every year), the Harvest of Hope Fest was put together.

Since this was born out of Gainesville and No Idea records helped to put it together, naturally, it became a huge punk rock festival, featuring Billy Bragg, Anti-Flag, Broken Social Scene, and Strike Anywhere, among hundreds of other alternative and punk acts.

“Working at No Idea for 10 years and being heavily involved in the punk rock community in Gainesville of course affects my end of things as far as reaching out to bands and getting them to play HOH,” Ryan Murphy said. “There definitely is a huge response in the punk rock community to help support the cause and that helps as well. Having been in the FEST every year here in Gainesville too, which is a primarily punk oriented festival, that helps who we can reach out to.  I feel that Ryan Dettra also does an amazing job bringing in a lot of the bigger indie acts, as well as hip hop artists.  It seems that our festival’s main demographic is college age kids, so we definitely try to plan accordingly.”

Both Kellerman and Murphy tout the importance of being aware of crises that affect our nation- especially for today’s youth.

“I think people are afraid to get involved with things that seems bigger than them…and that’s fair.  But getting involved in just the smallest ways can make really huge differences.  People becoming aware of issues that affect the world, and the little things they can do is very empowering.  We seem to be moving little by little towards a more aware world, whether it be environmental issues, the importance of our health, the political process, our nation’s effect on other countries in the world,” said Murphy.

With events like this, it’s hard to think that people could come away from them anyway but inspired and moved to be more aware.

“Festivals such as the Harvest of Hope Fest give me hope.  Last year we met many great youths who love diverse music and were receptive to the message about migrant farm workers.  A result from the Fest has been bands all across the country who have put on their own local shows for the Foundation. We have also had a slew of students from around the country contact us to express interest in doing service learning and fund-raising projects for HOH,” said Kellerman.

One can even see the change created in the rowdiest of concert goers- “Last year at the festival, even the drunkest and most seemingly apathetic concert goers I would occasionally catch talking to Phil Kellerman… and walking away with a more inspired and aware look on their faces,” said Murphy.

The power of knowledge, community, and music, coming together to benefit others- what could be better than that?

The 3-day festival will feature hundreds of musical acts, various information booths, a Saturday Kids Matinee (with Kimya Dawson, Justin Sane, and bouncy houses), camping, education, and environmental awareness.  Harvest of Hope Fest ticketing info, information on the organization and its partners, and anything else you might want to know can be found at Harvestofhopefest.com.

–Caitlin Elgin