Any reader of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books is familiar with the pattern of a new family moving to the area, settling on a piece of land and beginning the process of making it operational. It would require the construction of a house and a barn, both of which would cause a large turnout from the surrounding neighborhood. While living in the western part of the state, I had the privilege of participating in an old-fashioned “barn raising.” Forty-some people turned out, and in the course of the day, with the help of several draft horses, the frame, loft floor and main ridge beam of the barn were raised. The siding and most of the roof came over the next few weeks.
Skill levels included real carpenters, strapping young men with brute strength (very necessary for maneuvering and positioning heavy lumber), draft- horse trainers and people like me—who mean well and are happy to do the fetching of tools, steadying of boards and picking up of dropped items. It was one of the most fascinating and enlightening days of my life, if for nothing else to see the trainers work with the draft horses to maneuver the lumber up to the loft and set the ridge beam. It wasn’t just an engineering feat, but, from where I stood, a mystical encounter.
Besides the broadening of my horizons and a remarkable lunch, the insight into the complexities of life and the skills I was exposed to that day have carried with me. Also, for one new to the area, it was an incredible introduction into life in the mountains. I met people I likely would never had met, and was welcomed into the close world of farmers which I probably would not have penetrated otherwise.
The idea of collective work for large projects on farms is as old as farming itself. Bringing in harvest can be such a monumental task that additional laborers must be hired and resources shared. Jock grew up homesteading in northern British Columbia. Their family had one draft horse named Duke. The next farm over also had one draft horse, when twice a year, heavy and intensive work required two horses, and each farmer would take his turn at the other farm, bringing his horse to help.
In recent years, as the reclamation of our local agriculture has taken root, people interested in learning more about farming, and connecting with other gardening and farming enthusiasts, have started organizing “crop mobs.” Essentially, they consist of meeting during afternoons and volunteering at a farm to work on a specific project in exchange for education, fellowship, and a good meal.
The coining of the term “crop mob” is credited to 2008 in the Triangle, though the idea is far from new. Several have been held in our area, including work at both Shelton Herb Farm and Red Beard Farm. A local group, Cape Fear Crop Mob, even has a Facebook page for updates.
Cape Fear Crop Mob started thanks to two Wilmington foodies, Brittany Taggart and Nicole Carpenter. With Taggart’s day job working for Feast Down East, as well as putting in time at Shelton Herb Farm, the upstart seemed natural with mob partner Nichole, who also worked at Shelton’s and was growing shiitake mushrooms. Taggart feels strongly about the role of farming in our world and community, pointing out that it touches every person’s life on the planet. “It is an incredible thought to know that no matter what you are eating, someone somewhere grew it!” she says.
Both Taggert and Carpenter are aspiring sustainable farmers, currently without land. In a very community-spirited and sustainable mindset they decided to work with farmers who did have land so they could hone their skills and invest in their values. They held the first planning sessions in late summer of 2012 and pulled off the first crop mob on Septemebr 29th at Shelton’s Herb Farm.
“We try to organize it so that the farmer who needs us next has the opportunity to announce his or her project to the group and propose the subsequent event,” Taggart explains. “Farmers have to participate in the mobs to benefit from them; it’s all about community.”
encore recognized the opening of LINC’s (Leading Into New Communities) new facility last year as one of Live Local’s major achievements. The organization works to help people transition from life behind bars to meaningful, sustainable civilian life. That’s a tough transition at any time; in a struggling economy, it is harder than usual with few jobs to go around. As part of the expanded service mandate of their new facility, LINC has added a sustainable growing operation.
“Our connection with LINC seemed to grow organically,” Taggert continues. “So when LINC members came to lend working hands at [the second mob] at Red Beard Farm [on November 4th in Castle Hayne], the wheels started turning. We thought mobbing LINC would be a unique opportunity to help them get started, with things as simple as clearing brush and moving soil, which require a lot of manpower.”
The mission of LINC’s Urban Farm Project is threefold: 1. to develop entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals returning from incarceration; 2. to increase access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food; and 3. to generate sustainable income for LINC, Inc. and program participants through education and training in urban, community farming systems. According to Taggart, “This is the perfect opportunity for us. It’s a great chance to leverage working hands to help launch a project that will benefit Wilmington for years to come.”
“I will be attending because the crop mobs are usually a lot of fun,” participant Andy Myers, who founded Port City Swappers, says. “You get to work side by side, meeting new people and learning new skills. This project with LINC will be especially rewarding because we will be helping them break ground. If we get many hands on this, the before and after images of the farm will be incredible. When I participated in the last mob, I took away new skills, new friends and a belly full of great local food.”
LINC’s executive director, Frankie Roberts, acknowledges they are at the beginning. With a chuckle, he asks participants to bring any tilling machinery they might have: “Bring whatever you’ve got; we’ll put it work.”
The Cape Fear Crop Mob is scheduled for Saturday, January 19th, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at LINC’s new urban farm located near the airport at 222 Division Drive. Besides providing an opportunity to learn about sustainable urban farming, literally from the ground up, the crop mob will truly fulfill the mission outlined in LINC’s name: Leading Into New Communities.