Crop Mobs: Sharing the Work and Reaping the Benefits

Are you a landless, wannabe farmer? Do you want to support local farms? Do you dream of getting your hands dirty working side by side with like-minded people? You might be a crop mobber. Are you the owner of a small, sustainable farm or community garden with more work than time or hands to do it? If so, maybe you need to be mobbed.

What is Crop Mobbing?

The crop mob movement started in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina in 2008 when members of the agricultural community, including farmers, apprentices, and others, joined forces to harvest sweet potatoes at Piedmont Biofarm in Pittsboro, an event that has since become an annual tradition.

The movement gained momentum with the publication of a New York Times article in 2010, and now there are more than 50 crop mob groups around the country.

The community aspect of the movement brings to mind Amish barn raisings, or threshing parties in bygone days of farming in America; the resurgence of small, sustainable farms is bringing back the need for communities to come together to do the work that is done by machines on larger farms. For a small farm, having even 10 to 15 volunteers for a Saturday morning can make a huge difference in completing tasks.

The crop mob events themselves take place on small-scale, sustainable farms and gardens. No money is exchanged, although there is a meal, often provided by the host. Volunteers are asked to bring tools, if they have them, and work gloves.

Crop mob events are geared toward the whole family, with age-appropriate tasks for children--it's never too early to teach kids how to tend a garden and where their food comes from!

Crop Mobbing in the Upstate

Crop Mob Upstate got going in 2011, crowd-sourcing farm labor at farms like Bio-Way Farm in Ware Shoals, Red Fern Farm in Gray Court and at community gardens at Triune Mercy Center, Greengate Community Initiative,  and A. J. Whittenberg Elementary School.

Originally, Crop Mob Upstate was spearheaded by three people: Kelly Byers, Paul Greathouse, and Meredith Mizell. Byers says, "Paul had spent a lot of time interviewing farmers, and they said they needed help and couldn't afford to hire extra help. He had heard of crop mobs, so he contacted them and we started a chapter--very informally."

Since Greathouse moved away and Mizell is busy with other responsibilities and projects, it's left to Byers, a fundraiser for a local nonprofit who has a master's degree in agriculture, to keep things going. In the early days, the three of them did a lot of reaching out to farmers, but Byers ruefully admits that she's let the farmers come to her recently. "I'd love for the word to get out that we're still doing this, though," she says.

Though the crop mob events so far have mostly been in Greenville County, there have also been some in Spartanburg, Laurens, and Greenwood Counties.

In addition to being a great way to get the work done for the farms and other organizations, crop mobs allow community members to  learn about the variety of farms and gardens in our area and the work they do--from an educational community garden to a farm that raises culinary and medicinal herbs--and that raises awareness about supporting local farmers and eating local food.

Crop Mob Upstate's Facebook page promotes a variety of gardening-related events, many in conjunction with Gardening for Good--from winter gardening workshops to a screening of the documentary film, "A Community of Gardeners." To keep up with crop mobs and other farming and gardening-related events, like their facebook page. If you are a farmer who needs to be crop mobbed, contact Kelly Byers.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.