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“Clap your hands, clap your tits, clap your balls… watch out for the clap… it’s coming to get you… in the bathroom or some where…” said King Khan of King Khan and the Shrines at the St. John’s Fairground in St. Augustine, Fla. on a cool March night.
The self-proclaimed “psychedelic erotic gospel music” was one of 141 performers that gathered March 6-8 for the inaugural Harvest of Hope Festival to benefit migrant farmworkers. The eclectic line-up included the likes of Girl Talk, Against Me!, Murs, KRS-One, Bad Brains, The National, This Bike is Pipe Bomb, the Bouncing Souls, Propaghandi, and Kool Keith just to name a few.
The weekend had all the components to make for an excellent festival. The line-up was insane and the weather was perfect for the weekend – in the 70s and sunny.
Todd Kowalski, bassist of Propaghandi, a veteran of the punk world said, “It’s the middle of winter in Winnipeg so here we are in Florida! Just like all the seniors from Winnipeg, which we’ll be in about two years.”
But the weather and the line-up weren’t the main reason for the festivities; the whole shebang was to benefit the Harvest of Hope Foundation.
Founded by Phil Kellerman, the Harvest of Hope Foundation gives direct financial aid to migrant workers and their families. There’s no bureaucratic red tape. There are no long processing applications and fees. Money raised by the foundation goes directly to those in need and it can be monitored by the expenditure sheet on their Web site.
Phil became an advocate of migrant farmworkers in 1989 when the former school teacher saw an ad for a job for a bilingual grants writer for Eastern Stream on Resources and Training (ESCORT) as the University of New York in Oneonta, NY.
“I just kind of fell in love with the field and the people I worked with were so progressive; so forward thinking,” said Phil. “In 1995 we set up the first national migrant toll-free hotline and we worked with AT&T for how the calls were routed depending on where the migrants were calling from.”
However, due to constraints from the grant received from the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., the money they had could not be used for direct financial aid to the people calling the hotline.
“Basically we soon became a referral agency like any other agency and I discovered there wasn’t much help out there — especially for immediate financial need that migrants have,” said Phil.
Inspired greatly by his grandmother, Dr. Helen Zand, the first female law student at Cornell in the 1920s and lifetime social activist, Phil decided in honor of her memory, to use some of his inheritance money from her to start the Harvest of Hope Foundation and in 1997 the foundation was officially born.
“[We now] have a vehicle to help the callers that were calling the hotline,” said Phil.
In 12 years, they’ve given out over $714,000 in emergency and educational aid to migrant farmers and their families all over the country.
Phil explained, “I get calls from migrant advocates and migrant social workers and migrants themselves and if I have the funds I try to help them out.”
A third of all expenses go towards transportation issues. Being a migrant farmworker family often requires a massive amount of driving from state to state depending on which crop is harvesting in any given month. Harvest of Hope helps out with gas money, new tires for safe traveling and basic car repairs. Another third goes to housing related issues. For instance if the fields aren’t ready yet and a family needs help with rent. Or if they are falling behind on their utility bills aid is provided.
“If there are kids involved and the families are trying to do the best they can, I don’t want to see the gas or electricity cut off so we’ll provide aid for that,” said Phil.
With only a third remaining about 10% goes to medical expenses, another 10% for food and clothing and another 10% for scholarships and the rest for things like funeral expenses. Harvest of Hope doesn’t have any organizational rent and utility costs because the small operation is ran out of Phil’s home.
An example of where the money goes:
“A couple days ago I got a call from the National Center for Farmworker Health. They called me to say that they had a 34-year old migrant farmworker from Georgia whose parents had died when he was 15 and he had traveled to several different states working as a migrant farmworker and apparently he hit himself with a hammer inadvertently last year and developed testicular cancer,” explained Phil. “The doctor contacted NCFH and said this guy needs immediate surgery. So this is how we work the system. The doctor said, ‘I’ll give you my minimum cost with is $3500.’ So we got him to agree that if we could come up with half he would do the surgery and then bill the patient after that. NCFH said they could chip in $850, and asked, ‘What can you chip in?’ I said we can chip in $900. So together we chipped in the $1750 so he could have the surgery and afterwards, if we raise enough money from this festival, we’ll pay off the bill. That’s what we do.”
In terms of the actual festival, the name that came up time and time again through talking to various people throughout the weekend was Ryan Murphy.
Murphy has two worlds he’s heavily involved with – one, through his masters in bilingual education at the University of Florida, he does literacy outreach with migrant families; two, he is one of those crazy punks at No Idea! Records.
“I met Phil Kellerman and was blown away by how amazing all the work he’s doing is and how amazing the foundation is. So I was thinking what can I do to help more than literacy outreach and what can I do to help the foundation? And I realized well one half of my world is crazy punk rock No Idea! world and the other half is this; so what if I put the two together?” said Murphy. “I started doing benefits for them and Against Me! played a bunch of those and they’ve raised over $18,000 so far.”
What originally started out with having Against Me! play a sixth benefit show in St. Augustine quickly turned into a full-weekend festival. With Ryan representing the No Idea! Camp, Tony Weinbender from Southern Lovin’ PR and Ryan Dettra from the St. John County Fairgrounds the three pitched to Phil, “Why not make it a whole weekend thing?”
The county supported the idea and gave the non-profit a $50,000 grant to make it happen.
“So once that started rolling I said, alright, I’m going to call all the bands that I’m friends with and say, ‘Please you have to play this thing,’” explained Murphy. “Once bands started jumping on, especially when Propaghandi signed up, everyone was blown away and we just got the craziest acts to come together.”
Over 500 bands applied to take part in this inaugural fest.
Ed Kellerman, a senior lecturer at University of Florida and Communications Director of Harvest of Hope Foundation (and also Phil’s brother), described the selection process of narrowing that list to the final size of 141 performers.
“Number one, they have to be good and Ryan Murphy is the ultimate decider on that. Number two, you have to be available the date of the festival. And number three, you have to be into the cause,” explained Ed.
Andrew Seward, bassist of Against Me! said, “This is very intense. This inaugural fest is fucking great so far. It’s a little overwhelming. And our friends are running it, so you know it’s good because I’ve seen Ryan Murphy and how stressed he is, so you know it means something is going right.”
Richard Minino, aka Horsebites, designed the logo for the festival. He too was tagged by Murphy to get on board. He previously has done work for the past two Fest’s in Gainesville and two of his bands were also on the roster – None More Black and Gatorface.
“I wanted to make it clean and simple because it wasn’t all punk bands, there are indie bands and rap bands too, so I decided to make it a little more professional looking and put some grains in there to get that whole vibe going. It’s pretty simple but bold,” explained Minino.
It was simple yet bold enough for two concert goers’ to get it tattooed on their bodies at the on-site tattoo tent by a local shop based in St. Augustine Beach.
Brian Fallon, guitarist and frontman of the Gaslight Anthem, was also feeling the good vibes of the weekend.
“It’s awesome. We’re on tour so much that we never get to see anybody, and you get to meet people from all over different walks of life and I think that’s the coolest thing. You’re all here for the same reason, no matter what you think in your own life on any particular subject, the fact that you’re all here for one reason kind of puts a friendly vibe to everything,” said Fallon.
The Gaslight Anthem is pretty selective with who they do benefits for. Other than Shirts for a Cure benefitting the Syrentha Savio Endowment (SSE), Harvest of Hope is its other main beneficiary and they’ve been involved with them for two years now.
“My father worked in a factory and it’s a little different, but it’s still working with your hands and doing what you can to get by,” Fallon explained, “This is a worthy cause and there are a lot of causes out there that are just blind and you don’t ever see where it goes, you don’t see the people that it affects and you don’t know anyone involved. It’s just a corporation asking for you to donate this much and you’re like okay fine, but you don’t ever really know anything.”
In addition to doing shows as the Gaslight Anthem, Benny Horowitz, the drummer, throws shows in New Jersey to benefit the foundation even when he’s not playing.
“For us it’s just like, of course we’ll do it. We would always do it,” said Fallon.
Other bands such as Gainesville’s the Grabass Charlestons also felt compelled to get involved.
Dave Drobach, bassist, said “There are 1000s of people out there that do care and this weekend people are getting together without giant multi-national corporations telling them what they should be doing, people can think for themselves and have their own brains and operate for things as simple as paying people who harvest your food.”
Dina Sevayega, who is a former migrant worker and sits on the board of the Harvest of Hope Foundation with the Kellerman brothers, came down from upstate New York with her son Mario, a musician who was performing, for the weekend’s festivities.
Growing up, by the time Dina was 6-years old; she had already lived in about 32 different places.
“It’s very hard sometimes for families – and I know there are laws about children working – but if you’re trying to feed your family, the whole family works together. Although I was 6-years old I could take care of the baby under the tree while the adults were picking the cherries or the cotton or whatever. It is a family that has to work together in order to survive,” she said.
Throughout her childhood, because of the constant moving, she had a hard time keeping up with her studies.
She explained, “I was Arkansas, I was all over Texas, I was in Michigan. Part of the problem was that if the work wasn’t done or if there wasn’t enough money to cover expenses to return home to the valley of Texas [I couldn't get back] to start school on time. I failed the sixth grade because of this. We got back late and I could never catch up. It’s hard work, it’s moving a lot and never knowing how your children are going to do education wise because you’re busy working to survive.”
One of the biggest challenges for the Harvest of Hope Foundation and for migrant workers everywhere is the plight of misconceptions.
Dina said, “It’s interesting because yesterday we were talking about the disconnect between farmworkers, migrant families and those of us that sit everyday at a table and enjoy all the harvest that these migrant families have worked so hard to provide for our nation.”
Mario added that a huge difficulty, “[is] that migrant workers are often fighting the belief that they are taking these great jobs away from the American labor force. I was just talking to a farmer here in Florida that has a 600-acre potato operation and he was saying that can’t get Americans to work, nevermind anything that you’ve heard — they won’t do the work. In upstate New York, I knew a woman that owned a blueberry orchard they were trying to pay high school kids up to $9-$10/hour and none of them would even take the job because it was too hard for them. They said they physically cannot get most Americans to do these jobs. So when people say that migrant workers are taking these jobs, they’re taking the jobs that nobody wants to do.”
“We wouldn’t eat without their labor,” responded Dina.
“Or a salad would cost like $25,” concluded Mario.
In addition to raising funds, the weekend was also a great chance to raise awareness.
Ed explained, “As you can see, actually, you don’t see them. You probably came in on US-1 or I-95 or 207, you go by the fields but you don’t see [migrant farmworkers] because they’re working the fields in the back and if people would just be more aware and spread the word and counter some of the misconceptions that all migrants are illegal, or involved in crime, or destroying the economy – no, they’re helping the economy, without migrant farmworkers our economy would be even worse than it already is.”
Of course, migrant farmworkers are not just limited to one area of the United States.
Mario added, “Migrant workers are all over. They’re in Maine, New York; anywhere there are farms they are working. Any kind of agricultural going on, they are there working. ”
But after the dust settled on Sunday night, the four stages rang silent and the 6000 plus people make their way back home, there is still work to be done.
“The problem is with a lot of benefits is that the cause and the reason to do a benefit are remaining after the benefit is over. That’s a tough thing for people to remember. People in need don’t go away after a festival shuts down and the campgrounds get cleaned up,” said Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem.
Kowalski and his band (Propaghandi) are no strangers to politically fueled themes and causes. He personally does a lot of work with refugees from Africa in Canada in his hometown of Winnipeg. But to him, the most important thing he thinks you can takeaway from them is to, “Think about things as much as you can and not just accept them. Try to always imagine what it’s like on the other side of things.”
His band mate, David Guillas added, “Whatever interests you, just get involved. But make sure it’s a true interest, like if you like drawing; someone was making benefit posters for women from Afghanistan because they like to draw.”
Phil’s biggest advice to people once they get back home is to “Get out there and try to make a difference in the world for whatever interests you. Open your eyes to who harvests their food and be a little more connected.”
For more information on the Harvest of Hope Foundation please visit: http://www.harvestofhope.net/