Volunteers swarm like locusts (only friendlier to crops)

Field Notes
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What do farmers love almost as much as a sunny day after a soaking rain? A crowd of eager volunteers showing up on a weekend morning, ready to work. Hard. For free.

That is the token of respect and appreciation offered by Crop Mob, a loose collection of  groups around the country that sprouted two years ago in North Carolina. Rooted in the early American tradition of barn raisings, crop mob events draw community-minded volunteers to assist farmers with whatever needs doing. Just like with the barn raisings of yore, the recipient farmer is expected to pitch in at crop mobs at other farms.

Crop Mob–Atlanta cropped up this past spring, when founders Kimberly Coburn, Mike Lorey and Darby Weaver pooled their talents (copywriting/organizing, marketing/social media and farming/teaching, respectively) to get local, sustainable farmers a little extra help.

The farmers don’t mind at all.

“We have so many people wanting the help, it’s hard to prioritize,” says Lorey, who in his spare time works a day job, owns a creative services firm and teaches about historic brewing methods through his company, Folksy Brews. “We try to help out the farms that come out and help other farmers. Because they’re small scale, they don’t have the money to invest in the machinery. But they still need to be large enough to have 50 people come out in one day.”

So far, the mobs have cleared land at Skip’s Garden in Douglasville, harvested winter squash at Burge Plantation in Mansfield, and erected hoop houses at Tewksbury farm in Morgan County, among other jobs. Partner Miller Union has provided lunch at several crop mobs. “Most of the people who are coming out to do the events are sitting behind desks all week, and they want to get out and do some manual labor and see some physical payback for what they do,” Lorey says.

Next up: Whippoorwill Hollow Farm, near Walnut Grove, to help set up for the fifth annual Field of Greens festival on Oct. 3. Crop mobbers will converge the day before on the certified organic farm to tidy up for the big event, which features a farmers market and educational expo, tastings from dozens of farm-to-table restaurants, cooking demos, live music and a kids’ activity area. The $15-$20 tickets raise money for local farmers through Slow Food Atlanta.

Both the crop mob on Oct. 2 and Field of Greens on Oct. 3 will be well worth your time. Sign up for the mob at cropmobatl.com. Learn more about Field of Greens (and find a link for advance tickets) at fieldofgreensfestival.com.

This week at the markets: Most metro farmers markets are still up and running. This week look for the end of the summer crop–peppers, eggplants, okra, muscadines–as well as the beginning of the fall crop: sweet potatoes, winter squash, lettuces and radishes, greens of all kinds (try peppery-floral sweet potato greens, if you can get your hands on them), pears and apples. Not sure your neighborhood farmers market is still operating? Browse our listing.