Crop Mob: Getting Together for the Future of Farming

Crop Mob supports local farmers through community gatherings photo

Image credit: Trace Ramsey at Cricket Bread
Community Gatherings Give Hands-on Support to Farmers
While loss of farmland to development remains a major concern — it's not all bad news on the agrarian front. As the New York Times noted, there are plenty of young people looking to take up agriculture — if only they can get access to the land, equipment and know-how they need. While the rise in organic agriculture degrees will undoubtedly be a boon to this movement, many folks just want to get stuck in and start farming. But farming isn't easy - enthusiasm and ideals can easily turn to isolation and despair without a community of likeminded individuals to support you. That's where the newly founded "Crop Mob" in the Triangle area of North Carolina is seeking to make a difference — assembling willing groups of farmers, would-be farmers and otherwise enthusiastic amateurs to go where the work is needed and dig, harvest, weed or do whatever is needed to lend a hand.
The idea was born from a discussion group of young farmers, who realised they would be much better off getting on and doing things, rather than simply talking about it. This from Durham-based edible landscaping collective Bountiful Backyards (whose work with permaculture, edible landscaping, vermiculture and more I've posted about previously):

Now we need to repopulate small farms and rebuild that sense of community as we transition from fossil fuel based industrial agriculture toward a more intensive hands-on system. We need to grow food not only on farms, but in our backyards, front yards, porches and alleys. Urban, suburban, and rural communities will all have to come together to plant, harvest, and put up the fruits of their edible landscape.

The group of young farmers decided to do just that. Instead of coming together to sit around a table and talk, we would come together and harvest, plant, or weed. This "Crop Mob" as it came to be called is about working together, co-creating the world we want to live in. We build much deeper relationships working side by side rather than sitting stiffly around a table. We can address the challenges and embrace the opportunities presented to us, we can feel a sense of purpose, and we can build the community that we yearn for so deeply, all while we grow food.

Nice idea, but how did it turn out? If my friend Trace Ramsey's blog entries about Crop Mob over at Cricket Bread are anything to go by it was a huge success, with ambitions for more:

I wonder how much the Crop Mob is about agriculture and how much is simply about enjoying the company of like minded people? We came from all over to dig beds and spread mulch for someone most of us had never met, yet we did it with skill, enthusiasm and the efficiency of seasoned laborers. This is only the second time the Crop Mob was used; for a third of this group of 24 this was their first experience with the group.

An outsider would question our motives as would some cynical old-timers or jaded sustainable agriculture veterans. I wouldn't even bother with those folks. My main thought is not on convincing the skeptics that our agenda is one of filling a need, but rather my main thought is Where do we go from here?

Trace also candidly acknowledges historical precedents for the crop mob — looking at the itinerant farm worker movements both past and present — and at the somewhat privileged, though not wealthy, position many participants find themselves in:

So what makes it different this time around? For one thing, the idea of economic hardship as the driving factor has been removed. Most everyone involved is likely enduring some sort of financial or structural ruin in their lives. I don't have running water, but I own land and make a mortgage payment; another lives in a tent, but lives rent free and worries very little about buying food.

Looks like an interesting crowd at Crop Mob — I'm hoping I'm around for the next one.

Bountiful Backyards and Cricket Bread

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