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Crop Mobs Are Farmers’ New Allies

September 22, 2010

Something a little lighter for news


At 8 a.m. on a Saturday under a blue summer sky, Denise Sharp, co-owner of Sharp’s at Waterford Farm in Brookville, Md., is preoccupied with a sick goat. On top of that, she’s preparing for visitors.

“Usually there is pandemonium the first time a volunteer group comes here, because they don’t know what to do or how to do it,” she says.

Neither Sharp, 55, nor her husband, Chuck, 62, whose family started farming in 1903, should be worried. The DC Crop Mob’s 22 members arrive wearing sunscreen, work shoes and clothes in which they can get down and dirty.

The group, one of dozens nationwide, is a fast-spreading variation on the ageless activity of communities uniting to help farmers. Mobbers or mobsters, as they are called, volunteer to spend one day a month doing whatever a farmer wants. Mobs operate independently, but all desire to make food something beyond a supermarket purchase.

At the Sharps’ 530-acre farm, mobsters find a field with goats, pigs and a huge Scottish Highland bull. There are barns, a chicken coop, rabbit hutches and greenhouses. Among the things grown there are pumpkins, sweet corn and popcorn, as well as specialty herbs, heritage vegetables and cutting flowers. Three full-time workers tend to it all—Denise, Chuck and 22-year-old handyman Stephen Brookfield. They certainly welcome the free help.

Planting the seed

In fall 2008, the initial crop mob idea germinated in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area. Young farmers were discussing sustainable farming practices such as avoiding heavy mechanization and rejecting chemical pesticides or fertilizers, which means more hand weeding.

Someone suggested that young farmers would be helped more if they farmed as part of a community. So once a month they began to work on each other’s farms. By last February, the first mob had assisted 15 farms, and the New York Times published their story.

That sent the idea viral among socially networked foodies supporting small-scale farming, and crop mobs began sprouting nationally. Many mobbers already belong to the slow food movement, which supports healthy agriculture, or are “localvores,” who prize locally grown or raised food.


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