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The Agribusiness Examiner Issue #459

THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER
"Monitoring corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective"

October 3, 2006         Issue #459

Editor\Publisher: A.V. Krebs
E-Mail Address: avkrebs@comcast.net
To receive: Send name and e-mail address to avkrebs@comcast.net

EDITOR'S NOTE:

* A limited number of inscribed copies of THE CORPORATE REAPERS: The Book of Agribusiness (Essential Books: 1992) are now available from the author. Checks for $25.00 (which includes postage and handling) should be made out to A.V. Krebs and mailed to P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98213-0201.

OVERVIEW:

A FARMER FEARS HIS WAY OF LIFE HAS DWINDLED DOWN TO A FINAL GENERATION By Charlie LeDuff

SPINACH CRISIS REFLECTS NEED FOR SMALLER FARMS By John E. Peck

THE ULTIMATE AGRICULTURAL EFFICIENCY Editorial - New York Times

CONAGRA SELLS BUTTERBALL TO CAROLINA TURKEYS FOR $325M By Jonathan Vuocolo

SUIT AGAINST CONAGRA IS DISMISSED By Joe Ruff

TYSON PAYING $1.5 MILLION TO SETTLE BIAS ALLEGATIONS By Jeannine Aversa

SMITHFIELD FOODS BUYS CONAGRA MEATS FOR $571 CASH By Gabriel Madway

PILGRIM'S PRIDE SETS HOSTILE BID FOR GOLD KIST By Scott Kilman

EU COURT UPHOLDS CARTEL PRICE FIXING FINES By Associated Press

PEPSI PLANS 20,000-ACRE FRUIT ORCHARD IN PUNJAB By Press Trust of India / Ahmedabad

FISH FARMS KILL WILD SALMON, STUDY FINDS By CBC News

FARM AID: HEADING A CALL TO HELP FARMERS By Daniel Rubin

A FARMER FEARS HIS WAY OF LIFE
HAS DWINDLED DOWN TO A FINAL GENERATION
By Charlie LeDuff         New York Times
October 2, 2006

LEBANON, Kansas --- The heart of the heartland, the exact geographic middle of the continental United States, is owned by a middle-aged Kansas man named Randall Warner. He exports wheat, beef and soon his second grown son to the city. He stands in his boots in his field and wonders what’s become of his way of life.

“I drive through the city and I wonder what all those people do for a living,” says Mr. Warner, a sturdy, square-faced man. “I see that, and it makes me sad that my children see it too and think that there is something better there for them.”

Lebanon, the nearby town where Mr. Warner learned to read and write, has lost nearly 25% of its population over the last 15 years.

Large corporate farmers are taking over. Mr. Warner doesn’t understand the ins and outs of the international trade policies and government subsidies that are changing the landscape, only that to make it nowadays “you work harder — sunup past sundown.”

Next year, Mr. Warner believes, there will be even fewer farmers here, in part because of fuel costs. And he wonders what will become of his legacy and his land.

His son Travis, 18, wants to know more people besides his dad and the salesman at the John Deere dealership. The nearest pretty girl is 20 miles away.

He wonders if there isn’t something better than stumbling out to the fields with sleep still in your eyes and working past midnight. The summer air here is as stifling as corduroy drapes. Travis hasn’t spoken about this to his father, but his father suspects it just the same.

Travis is a state wrestling and hog breeding champion. He is going off to college soon and doesn’t know if he’ll ever come back. His brother, Dustin, left for good. “I like to work with people, I guess,” Travis says. “Be around people. And we come out here every day. It’s Dad and myself; that’s not working with people.”

He says this while sitting in the cab of his blue pickup, a dirty older model, eating the sandwich his mother made him. His father is far off in the field, unable to hear the gloomy truth of the matter.

“I told my dad he could retire and cash-rent the land to the big farmer, but then what’s he going to do with his time? This is all he knows. Come out here and work daylight to dark. “I don’t want that.”

The father says he would have to hire an old hand from down the road to help him work his 3,000 acres. He’ll have to do that and, if that doesn’t work, then start selling off the farm in pieces to the big farmer down the way.

This is how a town like Lebanon dies. The old Lebanon bank has caved in. Main Street is a peeling veneer. It’s a common scene across the Great Plains. People are losing their optimism.

Everything about Mr. Warner speaks of work. At 52, he stands erect, with skin as weathered as cattle hide. He is frugal, does not smoke or drink coffee or liquor. His home is average, a stolid two-story ranch at the edge of a wheat field with a barn outside the door. He is hardly ever home, mostly to eat and sleep, taking a half-day off for church. His wife, Linda, complains about the isolation. Is it too much to stop home while supper’s warm? Or go to town occasionally to see a motion picture? His wife talks of throwing it in sometimes too.

“My whole life is wrapped up in this,” Mr. Warner says while baling hay. “To tell you the truth, it can get a little monotonous. I’ve had four vacations my whole life.” Still, it is a good life, he says. “The best kind of life there is.”

No political party seems to care much about the working man’s life, Mr. Warner feels. Stick a Republican and a Democrat in a sack, shake it up, pour it out, and the same rapacious thing crawls out. Creatures from a smoke-filled room.

Mr. Warner, a Pentecostal Christian, believes in miracles. He believes in speaking in tongues. He believes that abortion is taking a life and that gay marriage is an abomination. So he voted Republican.

What crumbs do the Democrats offer him? Two men in tuxedos on the steps of City Hall with a marriage license in hand? Handouts for those who won’t work? Mr. Warner says he could be peeled away from the conservatives if the liberals would talk to him about his values: “God. Family. Work,” he counts them on his fingertips and adds them up. “Heritage.”

Do something to stop the corporate takeover of farm country. Give his son a reason to stay and you could have his vote. “F.D.R. was the greatest president this country ever had,” Mr. Warner says. “He provided security for the farmer.”

Father and son have moved on to spraying fly repellent on the cattle. The sun is going low, the sky is growing golden. The father’s gotten to thinking. The boy will soon go away to college. His voice shows no trace of his natural confidence. “Do you think you’ll come back to rural America? And farm? Raise cattle? Raise pigs?” He talks obliquely, toward his son.

The son mumbles. “Depends if I find something better in the next couple years.”

“What could be better?” the father asks. “What could be better than life on the Great Plains where the wind blows and you catch fresh air every day?”

“That’s what I’m going to look for,” the boy says.

The boy turns his back. He returns to his work. The father watches after him.


SPINACH CRISIS REFLECTS NEED FOR SMALLER FARMS
By John E. Peck     Capital [Madison, Wisconsin] Times
October 2, 2006    

When Tommy Thompson gave his farewell speech as outgoing secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bush in December 2004, he shocked many by admitting he couldn't understand why terrorists had not attacked our food supply yet, since it would be so easy to do. Little did he realize that the worst threat to U.S. agriculture is homegrown.

After a decade of repeated outbreaks and warnings, vegetable growers in the Salinas Valley of California are now reaping a deadly harvest. More than 183 people nationwide have fallen victim to the deadly O157:H7 strain of E. coli bacteria, with one death confirmed in Wisconsin, and a voluntary recall of bagged spinach is now under way.

While distant D.C. officials say it is still OK to eat suspect spinach after cooking it at 160 degrees for 15 seconds, those California health experts on the ground are telling consumers to throw it all out. Recent budget and staff cuts at the federal level have left the majority of food safety inspection and enforcement in the hands of city, county and state agencies. Ironically enough, the Bush administration is now trying to railroad through Congress the National Uniformity for Food Act, which would take away this local control over food safety and labeling.

Infectious disease specialists such as Professor Lee Riley at the University of
California-Berkeley are right on target when they remark that such food-borne outbreaks do not occur in Africa or Asia, since this type of disaster was basically created by corporate agribusiness practices.
                   
Academic studies have shown time and again that livestock force-fed grain in confinement have up to 300 times more pathogenic bacteria in their system as compared to cows allowed to freely graze on grass outdoors.
 
And one of the dirty little secrets behind California's new-found status as the No. 1 dairy state is that it is literally awash in factory farm manure, which enters as runoff into channels designed to irrigate vegetables and blows as clouds of dust onto nearby produce fields.

It was actually under President Clinton that food safety began to take a real
nosedive in the United States, as genuine public oversight shifted to ineffectual feel-good self-policing programs. Demoralized federal inspectors derided the new Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Points(HACCP) proposal as "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray."

Under Bush, this dangerous deregulation of our food/farm system has only accelerated. Attempts by agribusiness lobbyists and government insiders to downgrade federal organic standards to allow the application of sewage sludge were only narrowly driven back by a massive grass-roots outcry.

Unfortunately, proper manure disposal rarely occurs in large-scale livestock confinement operations. The upshot is a nightmarish landscape of leaking lagoons, tainted wells, fish kills, debilitated farm workers and poisoned food all too reminiscent of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," written a century ago.

Whether it is bacteria lurking in the salad greens, genetically contaminated long-grain rice or a T-bone steak with mad cow disease, sitting down to dinner in the 21st century should not be such a gauntlet. When consumers in more than 20 states get sick from spinach grown in just one California county, it should serve as a wake-up call that we all need to reclaim and re-localize our food dollar by investing in sustainable small-scale agriculture instead.

Both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture deserve a reminder that their public mandate is to safeguard our nation's farming system and natural heritage not to guarantee agribusiness profit.

Our entire agricultural system deserves a thorough democratic cleansing with consumer right-to-know labeling, tough antitrust action, corporate liability measures, and serious incentives for viable alternatives.

Consumers and farmers should be able to know, trust and support one another again, rather than having to dwell in fear of just what reckless free trade and filthy factory farming will bring next.

John E. Peck is executive director of Family Farm Defenders, a national grass-roots organization based in Madison.


THE ULTIMATE AGRICULTURAL EFFICIENCY
Editorial       New York Times
September 23, 2006

Any American history of pork --- the meat, that is --- shows a steady concentration of more and more hogs in the hands of fewer and fewer producers. That is what modern agricultural “efficiency” looks like. It’s good for the bottom line of the big industrial players, but bad for farmers, hogs, the environment and, ultimately, consumers.

That history took another step in the wrong direction when Smithfield Foods
--- the biggest pork packer --- agreed to buy the second biggest pork packer, Premium Standard Farms.

This is a deal that deserves to be closely examined by antitrust regulators. It would mean fewer markets for farmers and fewer choices for consumers. Already, packing giants like Smithfield and Premium Standard Farms use their market power, when buying hogs, in ways that violate the spirit of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act, which prohibits undue price discrimination. Their power in the marketplace allows them to negotiate price premiums that smaller packers can’t offer.

The public should also understand what the deal would mean for the future of American farming. It would push farmers still farther down the road to becoming nothing but contract laborers.

There is little or no role for the independent farmer in this landscape. The logic is simple: Why bother to buy pigs from farmers when you can own them yourself? If this deal closes, more than half the pigs Smithfield kills would be pigs it already owns, a percentage that is sure to increase.

The hog farmers’ job would no longer be farming. They would be janitors in confinement barns across rural America where the packers’ huge herds of pigs are crammed in stalls to live out their short lives.

And that would be the ultimate efficiency of American agriculture --- doing away with the farmer by doing away with competitive markets.


CONAGRA SELLS BUTTERBALL TO CAROLINA TURKEYS FOR $325M
By Jonathan Vuocolo       Dow Jones Newswires
October 2, 2006

ConAgra Foods Inc. finalized its $325 million sale of Butterball Turkey to Carolina Turkeys.

Carolina Turkeys said with the acquisition of Butterball, it will be the largest turkey producer in the U.S., with expected production of 1.4 billion pounds, or 20% of total turkey production in the U.S., in 2006.

Effective Monday, Carolina Turkeys is now known as Butterball LLC.

No layoffs are planned as a result of the acquisition.

ConAgra had $11.58 billion in sales for the year ended May 28.

Carolina Turkeys is a joint venture of Maxwell Farms, an affiliate of the Goldsboro Milling Company, a feed, poultry and pork business privately owned by the Maxwell family of Goldsboro, NC; and Smithfield Foods Inc., of Smithfield, Va.

The Maxwell family owns 51% of Butterball LLC and Smithfield owns 49%.


SUIT AGAINST CONAGRA IS DISMISSED
By Joe Ruff           Omaha World-Herald
September 28, 2006
 
A federal judge in Lincoln dismissed a shareholder lawsuit Wednesday that accused executives of ConAgra Foods of mismanagement.

Three ConAgra shareholders filed the lawsuit on behalf of the company, arguing that they should be allowed to circumvent the board of directors' authority to manage corporate affairs because demanding the board to do it would be futile.

U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom dismissed the lawsuit, saying the shareholders failed to show that ConAgra's board of directors was aware of accounting irregularities or alleged problems with streamlining efforts.

The shareholders also failed to show that the board did not have the best interests of the company in mind, Strom said. ConAgra spokesman Chris Kircher said the company was pleased that the judge dismissed the case. "It is consistent with our view that it had no merit," Kircher said.

David Domina, an attorney for the shareholders, said through a spokeswoman that the ruling will be studied before a decision is made on whether to appeal.

In April 2005, ConAgra said errors it had made would increase income tax expenses by about $105 million from fiscal 2002 through the first half of fiscal 2005. The lawsuit alleged that members of the company's board either knew about or should have provided better supervision to prevent the tax errors.

The lawsuit also alleged that ConAgra officials misled investors as steps were taken in an effort called "Project Nucleus" to improve efficiency. The lawsuit alleged that efficiency efforts led to an inability to produce accurate financial statements and projections.

"Plaintiffs cannot successfully claim that the board members were aware of or should have been aware of these problems," Strom wrote. "These facts support the conclusion that the directors were 'blamelessly unaware of the conduct leading to the corporate liability.'"

Several other shareholders have filed similar lawsuits that are pending against ConAgra over the April 2005 restatement. The company says the lawsuits are without merit.


TYSON PAYING $1.5 MILLION TO SETTLE BIAS ALLEGATIONS
By Jeannine Aversa        Associated Press
September 28 2006

Tyson Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle allegations that it discriminated against women and minorities in hiring, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The money will be sent to more than 2,500 people affected by the settlement, the department said.

The allegations of hiring discrimination involved six facilities in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The allegations emerged during government compliance evaluations conducted from 2002 through 2004.

Tyson Foods, in a statement, said company officials had denied the allegations and had stated there were legitimate reasons for not hiring the applicants. The company said it entered into the settlement to avoid costly and protracted litigation. Tyson Foods remains "committed to treating all job applicants fairly," said Ken Kimbro, senior vice president of human resources.

The Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs had alleged that Tyson discriminated against 1,354 female applicants who were rejected for entry-level laborer positions at three Tyson chicken-processing plants in Arkansas: Van Buren, Clarksville and Berryville.

The department also found that Tyson discriminated against 998 rejected minority applicants for entry-level laborer positions at chicken-processing plants in Grannis, Arkansas, and Broken Bow, Oklahoma.

The government alleged also that the company discriminated against 225 rejected
minority applicants for long-haul driver positions at Tyson's trucking terminal in Springdale, Arkansas, which also is the location of the company's headquarters. In its statement, Tyson Foods said it will make employment offers to some of the people affected by the settlement who are still interested in working for the company.

Tyson Foods, the world's largest meat producer, also agreed to correct discriminatory practices and to conduct extensive monitoring for two years to make sure that its hiring practices comply with the law, the Labor Department said.


SMITHFIELD FOODS BUYS CONAGRA MEATS FOR $571 CASH
By Gabriel Madway    Dow Jones Newswires
October 2, 2006 2:12 p.m.

Smithfield Foods Inc. on Monday said it completed its acquisition of the branded meats business of ConAgra Foods Inc. for $571 million in cash.

When Smithfield originally announced the deal in July, the company said $100 million of its stock would be part of the deal. Smithfield and ConAgra later amended their agreement, reducing the purchase price by $4 million and making it an all-cash payment.

The deal includes the packaged meats and turkey products sold under the Armour, Butterball, Eckrich, Margherita, Longmont and LunchMakers brands.


PILGRIM'S PRIDE SETS HOSTILE BID FOR GOLD KIST
By Scott Kilman         Wall Street Journal
September 29, 2006

Poultry giant Pilgrim's Pride Corp. is launching a hostile tender offer of $1.03 billion, or $20 a share, for rival Gold Kist Inc.

While the move wasn't a surprise --- Gold Kist management has scrambled to find other suitors since the U.S.'s second-largest chicken processor went public six weeks ago with a $20-a-share "bear hug" offer --- it increases pressure on Gold Kist executives to quickly find a white knight or pull together a higher-value arrangement for its investors if they want to stay out of the orbit of Pilgrim's Pride.

The cash tender offer by the Pittsburg, Texas, company for Gold Kist's 51.4 million shares begins today and is scheduled to expire October 27.

Gold Kist, the nation's third-largest chicken processor, issued a statement asking its shareholders not to tender their shares to Pilgrim's Pride "at this time" and said its directors will make a recommendation by October 12 about what its shareholders should do.

While the tender offer represents a 55% premium over where Gold Kist shares were trading six weeks ago, many of the Atlanta company's shares have since flowed into the hands of arbitragers, who already have pushed the price of Gold Kist shares above the level of the Pilgrim's Pride offer.

At 4 p.m. yesterday in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading, Gold Kist shares edged up five cents to $20.98. Pilgrim's Pride shares eased 25 cents to $27.97 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Some Wall Street analysts have issued reports valuing Gold Kist at $22 to $24 a share, but Pilgrim's Pride remains under little pressure to raise its price.

Pilgrim's Pride Chief Executive Officer O.B. Goolsby Jr. said "$20 is a very full offer" and that the company initially had approached Gold Kist management privately with an offer of $17.50 a share.

What's more, it is unclear if Gold Kist can find a stronger suitor. The U.S.'s biggest chicken concern, Tyson Foods Inc., Springdale, Arkansas, is in austerity mode under a new CEO. And such a combination would give Tyson Foods more control of the chicken market than the 30% limit that antitrust regulators seem to be imposing in the meat industry.

At the same time, the other poultry companies mentioned by industry executives as potential suitors are smaller than Gold Kist, or closely held, both of which limit their financing capabilities.

The takeover offer by Pilgrim's Pride is designed to create a business that would rival the size of the poultry operations at Tyson Foods, a diversified meat concern. Pilgrim's Pride controls 16% of the U.S. chicken market, and Gold Kist controls nine percent.

While the U.S. chicken industry is plagued by price-depressing gluts, Mr. Goolsby said in an interview yesterday that Pilgrim's Pride would keep all of Gold Kist's processing plants in operation.


EU COURT UPHOLDS CARTEL PRICE FIXING FINES
By Associated Press
September 27, 2006

BRUSSELS, Belgium --- A European Union high court on Wednesday confirmed cartel fines levied on three companies because they were found guilty of fixing prices for a chemical cleaning product.

The cases against U.S.-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Dutch companies Akzo Nobel NV and Avebe BA were upheld, while the European Court of First Instance reduced the fine of France's Roquette Freres SA to €8.11 million ($10.3 million) from €10.8 million.

In its judgment, the court said it had reduced Roquette Freres' fine because the Commission had included one product in the calculation of the fine that wasn't part of the cartel.

The EU head office ruled in 2001 that five companies had set up a cartel in the specialized sector of sodium gluconate, arguing that the companies had agreed on sales quotas and fixed prices.

ADM was fined €10.13 million, Akzo Nobel €9 million and Avebe €3.6 million.

Japan's Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co. was fined €3.6 million but was granted a reduction of 80% of the fine for having provided information to the Commission. Fujisawa was the only company that didn't appeal against the Commission's penalty.

Sodium gluconate is a chemical used to clean glass and metal.


PEPSI PLANS 20,000-ACRE FRUIT ORCHARD IN PUNJAB
By Press Trust of India / Ahmedabad
September 27, 2006

Pepsico is developing a 20,000 acre citrus fruit orchard near Punjab through its Indian arm Pepsico India Holdings.

"We are currently working with the state government on a project wherein we will set up an orchard near Jalandhar in Punjab," Abhiram Seth, external affairs director of Pepsico India, said.

"Pepsi will implement Phase-I of the project in Punjab, and will set up the orchard on about 20,000 acre of land," Seth said adding that 32 different varieties of citrus fruits like orange and lemon would be planted.

Drip irrigations systems and modern agricultural practices would be employed in the orchard. "The company is looking to plant about four million trees per year," he said.

Most juices, including orange juice, is currently imported to cater to the company's requirements, he added. Pepsi sells fruit juices under the brand name Tropicana


FISH FARMS KILL WILD SALMON, STUDY FINDS
By CBC News
October 2, 2006

Commercial fish farms must change the way they operate to ensure the survival of wild fish stocks, says an author of a study that found parasites from the farms kill as much as 95% of wild young salmon that pass by them.

“We’re going to have big problems if we’re losing 95% of fish,” Martin Krkosek, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta Centre for Mathematical Biology, who led the study, told CBC. “We’ve got to protect the wild fish from these fish farms."

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, found that sea lice from fish farms are killing large numbers of wild juvenile salmon that migrate past the facilities.

Farms typically contain their fish in net pens that are open to the water, making it possible for the parasites to be transmitted to the environment around them, Krkosek said.

In the absence of the fish farms, the juvenile salmon would normally have between three and five months to grow before they would be exposed to sea lice, which are typically carried by adult salmon, Krkosek said. The juvenile salmon would enter the ocean without lice months before the adult salmon return.

But the farms artificially concentrate large numbers of sea lice near salmon migration paths, forcing the juvenile salmon to pass through clouds of the parasites, the study found.

The mortality rates rise from a low of nine per cent early on in the spring season to the peak of 95 per cent as more juvenile salmon have increasing exposure to rising numbers of sea lice, according the study. Biologists and mathematicians in coastal British Columbia conducted the study.

The findings suggest that the fish farming industry needs to make dramatic changes to the way in which it conducts its operations if wild fish stocks are to survive, initially by getting the sea lice infestations under control, Krkosek said.

"In the short term they can start by increasing the amount of drugs, adding them more frequently, using more heavy doses," to kill the sea lice on the farmed fish, he suggested. "But there's a problem with that, because parasites can build resistance to the drugs, so you have to use more to kill them.

"That's a problem, too, because the drugs can be harmful to humans, so you can't eat the fish for a month after it's farmed." The only workable solution to ensure the survival of wild fish stocks is to keep the fish farms and their byproducts physically separated from them, Krkosek said.

"It doesn't make any sense to put them in the corridor where they're near migrating salmon," he said. "We need to move fish farms to places where they're not near migration paths and move to a closed containment system, where there's an actual physical barrier between the farms and the open water." Such a system would see the water used by farms treated before it is pumped in and out of containment tanks to protect both the farmed and wild fish, he said.

Despite the urgency of the problem, Krkosek said he expects the study to come under fire from some quarters.

"There are a few people who are going to be severely critical of the paper," he said. Asked who he was referring to, he responded: "People who are funded by the fish farming industry or who work for the industry."


FARM AID: HEADING A CALL TO HELP FARMERS
By Daniel Rubin      Philadelphia Inquirer
October 1, 2006

Farm Aid '06 rolled into the Garden State yesterday, turning the gritty city of Camden's waterfront into a green swath of organic veggie burgers, zero transfat potato chips, and good-time rock-and-roll.

Organizer Willie Nelson, facing the press and some legal uncertainty since his drug bust September 18, hadn't lost his sense of humor: "I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be anywhere at this moment. And Camden, New Jersey, looks wonderful to me."

In its 21st year, the annual benefit for family farms sold out in the city. Twenty-five thousand music fans came for the marathon show, which included perennials Neil Young, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp and Nelson, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis, Los Lonely Boys, and a dozen other acts.

Farm Aid has raised more than $28 million since it grew out of comments Bob Dylan made in Philadelphia at the end of the Live Aid hunger benefit in 1985. Organizers say 85% of that money has been spent on programs for family farms, such as credit counseling, disaster assistance, and advocacy for fair pricing.

So what brought people to the show?

"Basically, the music," said Greg Dinsmore, 49, a bearish, gray-bearded man wolfing down an organic hamburger with his wife, Karen, who was trying the grilled veggie patty. "It's just a fantastic lineup."

They were particularly interested in seeing Lewis, but they were in tune with the whole idea of the benefit.

"We buy a lot of food from local places in addition to the grocery store," said Greg, a computer operator with McGraw Hill, who took his wife to a Farm Aid show outside Pittsburgh in 2002.

When she learned by e-mail this summer that the show was coming back to the East Coast - and just a 45-minute trip south from their Hightstown, New Jersey, home via public transportation --- it sounded too good to be true. "I thought we'd have to go to Nebraska," she said.

An 18-hour truck ride from Columbia, Missouri, brought Roger Allison to Camden.

He was standing by the grill at the Patchwork Family Farms area, as a row of pink pork chops awaited a lathering of Show Me BBQ sauce. He's executive director of a collective of 5,500 Missouri hog farmers, and wore a red T-shirt that read "Stop Factory Farms."

Allison talked about what he hoped people took away from the show.

"What most Americans don't know --- those who live in towns --- is that the problem is one of policies," he said. "This country could have any kind of agricultural system that it wants. But now policies benefit the biggest of the big, and have driven family farmers off their land. We need policies that will ensure that our kids and grandkids will have access to good, wholesome food. And that they'll be able to afford to eat it."

Most of the speechifying was contained to a morning news conference. Matthews owns a farm in Virginia, and talked about greed.

"Real capitalism is a healthy mom-and-pop sort-of-philosophical way of running a community," the performer said, "and I think that starts at the farm. And it's a healthy thing. And it's very inspiring to see young people going into farming now... .

"Giant corporation farms are monsters... . Corporatism doesn't care about what it creates. It cares about the profit. It doesn't care about what it destroys. But small, mom-and-pop organizations can't think like that, because they love what they do."

Organizers celebrated the family roots of Philadelphia-area farming in several ways, such as taking traveling farmers on tours of local agricultural spots and working with Philadelphia restaurants such as Johnny Brenda's and Fork to showcase menus from area producers and giving the profits to Farm Aid.

The food available at the Tweeter Center, both backstage and at the concession stands, reinforced Farm Aid's message.

This year Aramark Corp. designed a menu that emphasized local and organic food. Chef Terrence Sheehan created a veggie burger from a dozen ingredients, said Farm Aid's associate director, Glenda Yoder. Also on the menu: portobello mushrooms, organic hot dogs and popcorn, plus organic frozen fruit frappes and chocolate-dipped fruit kabobs.

Backstage, Sonya Dagovitz Kugler organized meals for the bands, roadies and crew from the same sort of foods --- and provided none of the sorts of crazy items that rock bands are known to demand. "They don't want to cause us any problems," said Carolyn Mugar, Farm Aid's director. The requests "are very non-fussy."

As Lewis was attacking the piano keys on "Great Balls of Fire," Patrick O'Connor, 38, a police officer from Whitesboro, New York, was admiring the easy feeling of the event.

"It feels like everybody's a little more upbeat," he said. "It's not so much about the performers. It's more about the cause. I paid $4 for a hot dog. But my money here is going to a worthy cause."