Jack Johnson is one of this year’s Farm Aid performers.
Jack Johnson is one of this year's Farm Aid performers. (SUBMITTED)
Don't let Jack Johnson's laid-back surfer attitude and mellow guitar grooves fool you.

The singer/songwriter pays close attention to politics and agricultural issues.

"As much as a beach bum from Hawaii can," he added with a laugh during a recent phone interview.

He listened to speeches from the Republican and Democratic national conventions. He tries to keep up with the news. It's necessary, he said, considering the nation will elect its next president in less than two months.

But before it's time to enter the voting booth, Johnson made a trip across the country. His activism, he said, is making it hard to take the year-long break he had planned.

Wednesday, Johnson played the Rock the Vote concert at Penn State. His reason: Pennsylvania has a new law that will require voters to show an acceptable photo ID on Election Day. He hopes to educate people - especially young and first-time voters - about the law.

On Saturday, he'll head to Hershey to play Farm Aid - a concert he's been hoping to play for years.

"We communicated with them every year," he said of Farm Aid organizers. "But we've been across the globe when they hold it. I said no too many times."

Farm Aid boardmembers Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Dave Matthews have supported Johnson's Kokua Hawai'i Foundation, a nonprofit that that encourages environmental education in the schools and communities of Hawaii.

With his schedule more open this year, Johnson, who lives near Oahu, was able to return the favor.

"Neil Young and Willie Nelson are two of the most influential people," Johnson said. They inspired him to tour on a bus that runs on biodiesel. They inspired him to become more involved in his community.

And Farm Aid's focus on family farming and sustainability are right up Johnson's alley.

"It's about the music, and it's about something bigger," he said. "The topics and conversations ... are bigger."

As an island cluster, Hawaii has different environmental challenges than the continental U.S. The islands rely on monoculture crops, including sugar cane and pineapple, which are then shipped away, Johnson said. About 80 percent of food in Hawaii is imported, which makes a large carbon footprint.

That's why Johnson's foundation tries to encourage young people to take advantage of The Aloha State's fertile soil and tropical climate. His mission is to get Hawaiian farmers to grow food for their home state. But he worries that more and more fields are being eaten up by development.

Like most voters, Johnson said he tries to look at the big picture of where the country is going. But since he focuses on environmental education, he focuses on candidates' track records in that area.

"I thought it was interesting that during the RNC, the crowd laughed when Romney mentioned climate change," Johnson said. "(At the) DNC, Obama said it was no hoax. To me, that's a pretty ... important thing to look at. Being a father of three, the health of the earth is something that matters quite a bit."

Johnson admitted that it's hard not to be partial towards President Obama, since he also hails from Hawaii.

"My high school football team whooped his high school football team," Johnson joked. He was able to meet Obama and was stoked when the Commander in Chief pulled him in for a hug instead of offering a stiff handshake.

Still, Johnson said he tries to be realistic about the challenges America faces. He said people on both sides of the ticket and from farms in Hershey to surfboards in Hawaii need to work together.

- ERIN McCRACKEN,
FlipSide staff

Online

Jack Johnson: jackjohnsonmusic.com

Farm Aid: www.farmaid.org

Rock the Vote: www.rockthevote.org

Kokua Hawai'i Foundation: kokuahawaiifoundation.org

Read more celebrity interviews: www.yorkblog.com/flipside/celebrity-interviews

Agriculture 'at the root' of Farm Aid in Hershey.