Volunteerism as Backbone of Farming: Return of the Barn Raising

crop mob rice paddy construction photo

Image credit: Trace Ramsey/Cricket Bread

Conceived originally as a means for landless farmers to get farming, Crop Mob has grown and flourished in little over a year. Volunteers get together once a month and descend on a local farm or garden, and work together to get a big job done. No money exchanges hands. And everyone shares a meal at the end of the day. I may have once worried that volunteerism is the cheap oil of permaculture, but a new video about Crop Mob has sent my thinking on a different path. Created by UNC TV, and brought to my attention by my friend and colleague TAO, the video explores a February Crop Mob that convened to build rice paddies in North Carolina. Besides the obvious joy and energy in peoples' faces as they get together for collective work—which should be reason enough to dispel any doubts about the utility of such volunteerism—an old farmer in the community provides some perspective on why this phenomenon matters.

Far from being a fun pass-time for volunteers to 'play' at farming, or a new form of 'serfdom' as one cynical commenter once wrote, Crop Mob is really a return to a tradition that has been absolutely central to viable, sustainable farming in regions all across the Globe—and that tradition is community participation.

As old-time farmer and community member Don Buckner remembers in the video, there was a time when wheat thrashings, corn schuckings and barn raisings were common place in every farming community. Nobody back then questioned the viability of farming, just because it relied on the good will and hard work of others. In fact, it was taken as a given that many hands make light work—so why the heck wouldn't you pitch in to help your neighbor?

Thanks once again to Crop Mob for helping us remember that life is best lived together.

(As usual, in the interests of transparency, Crop Mob started in my community and I know many people involved. Maybe one day I'll even leave my computer and attend one...)

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