One man’s work is another man’s fun. I remember my father once remarking that if you told a bunch of grown men with reasonably high incomes that they had to spend the afternoon out in the hot sun trying to knock a little ball across a big lawn with metal sticks, golf would be a tough sell.
That makes me wonder about the recent popularity of recreational farming. I don’t mean planting a few tomato plants in the backyard; I’m talking about people spending their weekend leisure time as volunteer labor on working farms.
Crop Mobs, sometimes called Farm Mobs, offer the experience of sustainable community farming to the landless. These groups have sprouted up all across the country and have been featured in articles by Christine Muhlke in the New York Times and David Zucchino the Los Angeles Times. There’s a thriving Crop Mob organization in the Chapel Hill area and another in Atlanta. You’ll find a group in Cleveland, in the Twin Cities, and in towns scattered from Oregon to Maine.
Participants are generally in their 20s or 30s, college educated, and the majority of them show up at office jobs during the week. But once a month, the mob descends on a nearby farm and spends the day weeding, seeding, picking or whatever else the farmer needs them to do. If they have their own shovels and hoes or other farm implements, they’re usually encouraged to bring them, but no previous experience is required.
Sometimes they’re also asked to bring their own forks and knives for lunch, which might be catered by a local farm-to-table restaurant. For the Atlanta group, that restaurant is often Miller Union, named one of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants in this month’s issue of Bon Appetit magazine.
Lindsay Podrid, creative director at Tribe, recently participated in an Atlanta Crop Mob event. The farm they mobbed was Burge Organic Farm in Mansfield, Georgia. and half the group was assigned to weed the asparagus while the other half picked squash. “Living in a city and working on a computer all day, it was nice to be able to go out and do something in a more physical sense,” Podrid said. “It’s pretty cool to see so many people volunteer their time in order to support local farming. I’m not sure who gets more out of it, the farmers, or us mobbers.”