Crop Mob delivers for Cornercopia

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Rain water dripped off ponchos and smiling faces Saturday morning, June 12, as 27 Crop Mob volunteers made their way inside the “greenhouse building” on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus. Many had a thick layer of mud on their pants, shoes and hands from kneeling to plant the last of nearly 1,500 tomato, onion and shallot seedlings for the organic, student-run Cornercopia farm. 

“Trying to make volunteering a learning experience,” explained Cornercopia Volunteer Coordinator Michael Pursell, is one of the farm’s objectives, and also an objective of the Crop Mobs that are popping up all over the country. Recent stories by the New York Times and National Public Radio inspired some of Saturday’s participants to seek out local opportunities. Crop Mobs offer people who are interested in learning more about growing food, local food systems or sustainable farming practices a chance to get hands-on experience and a hearty lunch while providing local farmers with the help they need.

“We need help or a lot of this is not going to happen this summer,” was the call Crop Mob organizer Barth Anderson said he heard from local farmers. For simple tasks from planting and weeding to baling hay and repairing broken down fences, they simply need extra sets of willing hands.  A board member of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Anderson said he selected locations by asking members if they had a full day’s work to be done, how many people would be needed for the tasks, and when they would be ready to go.

Want to know more about what to expect?

Read an account of recent a Crop Mob at Living Song Farm in Howard Lake, Minnesota

Find out about or sign up to participate in upcoming Twin Cities Crop Mob events:

Lighthouse Farm, Princeton, Minnesota

Saturday, July 17, 2010 – 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Zweber Farms (organic dairy) , Elko, Minnesota

Saturday, July 31, 2010 – 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m

Cornercopia was chosen because it relies heavily on volunteers and has trouble meeting the need for planting and maintenance between the end of the spring semester and the start of summer courses. With delays caused by all the recent rain, Pursell said having the Crop Mob’s help was, “an opportunity to get a big push of planting done.” In only two and a half hours, the group planted seedlings, weeded pathways and mulched them with cut alfalfa from an adjacent field before succumbing to increasingly heavy rain. The work they accomplished would have taken the current Cornercopia staff at least three full days.

Though sustainable small-scale farming may be seen as a return to low-tech methods of growing food, Anderson is organizing Crop Mobs using very contemporary mediums. One third of Saturday’s volunteers signed up through his Fair Food Fight website or follow his Twitter feed, Anderson said, another third came through the Twin Cities Crop Mob page on Facebook, and the rest were students.

Fair Food Fight started as an online blog and conversation sponsored by Equal Exchange, an employee owned cooperative committed to fair trade relationships with farmers for crops like coffee and chocolate. River Cook, an Equal Exchange sales representative who participated Saturday, said that Fair Food Fight and the Crop Mobs are “our way of making a local connection to the work we’ve done internationally.”

After cleaning up, the Cornercopia Crop Mob air-dried while eating lunch donated by the University of Minnesota’s Campus Club in a classroom. The mostly urban twenty- and thirty-something volunteers filled up tables and talked with those around them. Conversations ranged from the mainstreaming of organic products to farming experiences and plans to attend future Crop Mobs.

Of course, communities coming together to help farmers when they need it most is nothing new – so why the sudden interest?

“We were trying to get work groups together two years ago and nobody wanted to do it,” Anderson said. He has since learned, he added, “you call it a Crop Mob and 30 people come out in the rain.”