Peer producing agriculture with Crop Mobs

The idea is bigger than barn-raisings, more technical than workshops, more thoughtful than textbooks. It is guerrilla agrarianism in the information age. Maybe that isn’t an apt description, but when I watch shovels hitting dirt on a foreign farm with a crew assembled using email, social networking and word of mouth, it surely feels like it.

This indeed seems like an extraordinary and significant initiative:

“Crop mob is a group of young, landless, and wannabe farmers who come together to build and empower communities by working side by side.

In the past farming was much more labor intensive. Activities like planting, harvesting, processing, and barnraising often required the collective effort of entire communities. This interdependence fostered strong communities. As farming became more mechanized and reliant on petroleum based inputs, it became a more independent and solitary career. Today in the industrial farming system a few people may manage hundreds or even thousands of acres.

While nationwide the number of farms and farmers has dwindled, right now in the Triangle area of North Carolina there is a surge of new sustainable small farms. These farms are growing diversified crops on small acreage, using only low levels of mechanization, and without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. This is a much more labor intensive way of farming that brings back the need for community participation.

Many crop mobbers are apprentices or interns on these sustainable farms. The need for community participation matches a desire for community among young people interested in getting into farming. The crop mob was conceived as a way of building the community necessary to practice this kind of agriculture and to put the power to muster this group in the hands of our future food producers.

Any crop mobber can call a crop mob to do the kind of work it takes a community to do. We work together, share a meal, play, talk, and make music. No money is exchanged. This is the stuff that communities are made of.”

6 Comments Peer producing agriculture with Crop Mobs

  1. Derek

    This is indeed wonderful. The same thing is happening in Western North Carolina as well. I think we can expect this type of small-scale agriculture to flourish in the years ahead.

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  4. John Q. Galt

    Just a quick reality check: the overwheming percentage (by weight) of food crops are already cultivated and harvested in “labor intensive” ways. You can’t mow mesclun or combine baby corn or bale green beans (until, that is, we eventually build AI-agribots). Those crops we typically harvest mechanically (thankfully) are the energy-dense grain and root crops that provide far more output per input than the mostly water and fiber luxury fruit and leaf crops. King Corn absolutely puts lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers to shame on utility measures. I’d also like to point out that machinery is actually, ultimately, human labor. Anxiety over cost barriers to entry seem to engender anti-technology sentiment these days. Well, not just these days.

    That being said, here’s an idea to mix equity and strategies: grow hand-cultivated crops under those millions of acres of mecha-plantations. Several crops can be grown and harvested even before, say, corn is knee-high. An additional crop of climbing sweet peas can be harvested by the time the corn is tasseling. Then plant some late season crops if local conditions warrant or if you can leverage luxury inputs like irrigation. Let the hand-labor perform scouting (field inspection) and precision hand-weeding for the corn while they’re doing their primary work farming “thier” crop. In this way the Big Boy Farmers and Eco-Nauts can get the best of both worlds and synergize. Call it “Intrafarming” or something. (Neologism is fun.) When you can grow an acre’s worth of one crop on the same acre’s worth of another crop during the same year, when Malthusian alarmists are predicting food shortages, well, that pretty much illustrates the idea of artificial scarcity doesn’t it?

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