Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ithaca Crop Mob takes shape, first event April 11

A group of people interested in helping out at farms and getting their hands dirty are forming a "crop mob" in Ithaca.  According to the Google Groups website FAQ, "Crop mobbing is an event held once a month at a different farm each month. Members of the 'mob'- which includes community members and other farmers- receive a time, date and location in advance, and on that day, they show up prepared to lend a hand to the host farm for a morning or afternoon (generally about 4 hours). At the end, a meal is provided by the host farm, and farmers and mobbers eat together."

As of this morning, 108 people have signed up to be part of the Ithaca Crop Mob, and the first event hasn't even happened yet.

Why are so many people interested in volunteering their labor to farms?  Rachel Firak, one of the organizers of the group, explains:

"There are many answers to this question. A passion for sustainable agriculture- a desire to support our small-scale local farms. A desire to build community- to rally people around Ithaca's food web in a way that directly benefits farmers and educates people. Optimism- The belief that citizens will come together to support one another if they are only given the opportunity to do so. The rising numbers of our Google group seem to suggest that this optimism isn't unrealistic.

Rachel continues:

"Today, between 2 and 3 percent of the US population is involved in agriculture as a career. In the 1870s, that number was 70-80%. Agriculture is a very foreign thing to most people, and the fading family farm has acquired a certain romanticism, as a relic of a bygone era. Farm and vineyard tours are very popular with residents and tourists alike. Couple the sentimentality and unfamiliarity of farm life with the recent explosion of interest in food over the last decade, evidenced by the rise of documentary films like The Future of Food, Food, Inc., and Food Fight; the popularity of Michael Pollan's books The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food; the bestseller status of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. People want to know where their food comes from and how it is made.

"Crop Mobbing is a variation on the "farm tour" model that allows people to become more intimately acquainted with agriculture. Our advertising flyer asks, "Have you ever wanted to work on a farm for just one day?" Most people interested in agriculture and food will not go into farming as a career. They have other jobs, families, busy schedules. The Ithaca Crop Mob allows those people the opportunity to try out farming- to see what it's like- in a highly social, low-pressure context that only requires the commitment of a morning or afternoon. The Crop Mobbing concept also appeals to those who may be interested in starting a career in agriculture, but lack experience and knowledge. The rotational schedule of Crop Mobs allows these people a cross-sectional look at different farming techniques and styles while also affording them the opportunity to network. For other people, Crop Mobbing is just something new and fun to do with your friends, neighbors, and family. It facilitates community togetherness. Plus, there's free food."

The crop mob idea was recently publicized widely with a NY Times article about a group in North Carolina, but Ithaca's group was already forming, thanks to Joann Green, Director of the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming.  "I learned about Crop Mobs about a month before the NY Times article came out when my cousin in North Carolina sent me an article about the North Carolina crop mob, the first one in the nation," she wrote in an email.

The first Ithaca Crop Mob event will be at the Good Life Farm on April 11, 2010.  Anyone and everyone is invited to contribute, regardless of age and skill level, including farmers, college students, CSA families, local foods enthusiasts, gardeners, farmers-market-goers, school volunteer groups, aspiring agrarians, and the simply agricurious, along with their friends, neighbors, siblings, parents, grandparents, and kids.  Depending on the farm, crop mobbers might do weeding, rock picking, "gleaning," tree planting, putting up fencing, and setting up a hoop house, etc.

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