Crop Mobbing: A First Attempt At Urban Farming
Emily Morgan Apr 16, 2010 Farmer Beat 3 comments
I was a little nervous about what my Sunday afternoon would be like when I got a message on Facebook that included the instructions, "Eat a big breakfast, this ain't your 9 to 5 desk job! We'll be doing physical labor!"
I was gearing up for my first ever Crop Mob--a volunteer phenomenon that took off in the New York City area after a New York Times magazine article about the initiative ran in late February. The concept, as detailed on the Crop Mob website, is simple:
“Crop mob is primarily a group of young, landless and wannabe farmers who come together to build and empower communities by working side by side. Crop mob is also a group of experienced farmers and gardeners willing to share their knowledge with their peers and the next generation of agrarians. The membership is dynamic, changing and growing with each new mob event.”
For me, a Crop Mob sounded like a great way to meet like-minded people, learn about the food system and the unique challenges of urban farming firsthand, as well as help an important cause. I was sold.
Shortly after the February New York Times piece ran, I did a quick search on Facebook for "crop mob" and found a New York City chapter had recently been organized. In two days, the group had over 60 members. My confidence was boosted reading the group description: "For aspiring farmers or the merely ag-curious." Since watering houseplants was the only way I had ever challenged my green thumb, I consider myself to be on the ag-curious side of the spectrum. I joined. In less than a month, the first round of Crop Mobbing was set-up, with four farms requesting volunteers. I signed up to participate on April 11th at the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Other mobbers (approximately 100 in total) took on the Youth Farm at the High School for Public Service, the Red Hook Community Farm and the Brooklyn Rescue Mission Farm. The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 square foot organic vegetable garden planted on the roof of a warehouse that houses a film production company. The farm, which overlooks the Manhattan skyline, is in its second planting year. It also boasts the first rooftop-based CSA in the country, an on-site farm market and farm education workshops. This year, they will introduce chickens and an apiary.
The farm is an active part of New York City’s farm to table movement, delivering produce via bicycle to nearby restaurants: Eat, Marlow & Sons, Manducatis Rustica, Anella and Paulie Gee’s. My Crop Mob group was under the direction of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm’s co-founder Annie Novak. Annie, an energetic and highly knowledgeable farmer, is the program director at the farm’s partner organization Growing Chefs, which provides classes and workshops on farming and gardening for all ages. She also is the children's gardening coordinator at the New York Botanical Garden. After a brief introduction to the farm, and a warning not to clump together in large groups of people so the roof wouldn’t cave in, Annie split us into groups of three to be led by more experienced Eagle Street volunteers.
While other Crop Mobbers worked on building the structure for the apiary, composting and planting lettuce, my team worked to gather loose dirt that due to high winds had blown into the gutter area that surrounded the garden. The soil, Annie told us, is made up of compost, fungi and brick debris. We prepped a section of the garden for planting, removing wood chips and building up the bed that would be home to a salad mix and three varieties of sunflowers—all grown with seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds, in Wolcott, Vermont.
Under Annie’s direction, we learned how to properly space and plant the seeds for the salad mix and the sunflowers. Later this spring, beans will be planted in the same bed. The idea is they will twist their way up the sunflower stalks as they grow. I’ll definitely return to the Eagle Street Farm. I feel connected to the garden, even though I only contributed a few hours of work on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. The farm is open for volunteers every Sunday, and I want to buy the produce I planted to cement my new role as an urban farmer. See the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm’s website for details on volunteering. To find a local Crop Mob chapter, check out their website or their Getting Started guide to organize a Crop Mob in your area.
Visit our Flickr album for more photos of the Crop Mob at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm.