The letting go – Crop Mob in the Wild

The original message of crop mobs has changed as the idea became a “thing” on its own.  The idea changes a bit in each new area, and, for better or worse, adds new pieces to the developing visage of a developing model. In Seattle, the focus is primarily on the creation of new community gardens. In Atlanta there is a cap on the number of folks who can participate. In Minneapolis there is a “no kids” policy.We set out with a few simple but necessary guidelines, and for the most part these ideas remain intact. As we work on some more specific guidelines for both attendees and the host farms, we must be conscious of more than just the ideals of the original nineteen farmers; we must be conscious of the needs of several thousand individuals.

To date there are active Crop Mob groups in 22 states in the US, 99% of which formed after the end of February of this year. At some point the originators of this new model of agrarian community building have to let go, get back to our work in the present – in our own community – and let evolution do its thing. And it is evolving; it is debatable how much leadership this idea needs on a national level. There is no doubt that a solid foundation and at least a minimum operational framework is needed. After that is established, all we can do is look on as the roof goes up and the furniture is moved in.

Crop Mob is a very sexy idea right now. As such it is subject to an intense scrutiny of its methods, its participants and its goals. “White, hipster slackers participate in a real life Farmville” might as well be the new media headlines. From what I have been reading lately, you would think that what started as a way to get young and landless farmers together has turned into just another urban fad for the fixed gear bike crowd. This is untrue and utterly ridiculous. Is there anything that a group of young people can do that can’t be turned into something that it is not?

Some recent comments on the online version of a story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (‘Crop Mobs’ thrive in farmville):

Hipster doofuses. Your parents play Farmville now, on to the next thing.

…there is more to experience than diggin’ in the dirt in a garden. I am just wondering why this hipster/feel-good activity is news.

Farmers do not get enough freebies from the government, they also get FREE Labor from the idiot taxpayers that subsidies them in the first place….WEIRD. People are stupid.

The best part is they do it once and they never come back. Instead, they run back to their homes in the city and wait for more government handouts. There is no such thing as hard work anymore.

Small farms are great, but do we really need a story about hipsters who have never done real work in their lives going on a feelgood, look-at-me fieldtrip? There are great stories of small produce farms (many of them owned Hmong, Mexican or Somali immigrants) who are providing much of our local produce…

Look at me! I’m “farming”. More hipster douchery.

…typical nonsense from the fringe that will disappear when the next fad is discovered.

WOW. I wish I had so much time on my hands that I was so bored I wanted to go work on a farm.

I honestly don’t know where the hate for this idea comes from. I wonder if the detractors tear apart every other volunteer activity that is discussed in the media? Are we really the only group that has to examine our privilege every time we set out to do a crop mob? Do we really have to take note of every participant’s motivation for showing up?

No, we don’t have to answer to anyone but the farmers we are working for and the community we have formed. The media eye will move on but we will not.

In mobs we trust…


About Trace

Trace lives in Durham, NC with their partner Kristin. They were joined by baby Tennessee Lynn in April 2012 and baby Hazel in May 2015. Trace is not a talker. Trace also thinks it is a little weird to talk about himself in the third person.
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10 Responses to The letting go – Crop Mob in the Wild

  1. It is kind of funny how this has mutated and changed. I have been reading here for a while and also have been watching things blossom up here in Minnesota. I can tell you that what you guys do and what has started up here has been different. But that is evolution for ya. New ideas beget newer ideas and they all adapt to their environments.

    Don’t sweat the monkeys in the comment section of our local paper. Honestly I have no idea where they come from but most of us are not like that. Seriously reading the comments section costs you IQ points.

    Also remember,
    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    Mahatma Gandhi

  2. Trace,
    Don’t let the detractors get you down. They’ll always be there, and you know it. That’s life. What’s much more important is how many silent people you are inspiring and helping. People almost always seem to criticize louder than they praise. We started a similar group/project in Japan last year based on the principles of WWOOF. Cricket Bread has been there as an inspiration, even across the pacific.
    Thanks and keep up the good work!

  3. Trace says:

    Rick and Lawson –

    It goes beyond the local paper, but I understand your point of ignoring the comments. I do think that the media has really helped give this idea a kickstart. Something that may have taken quite a few years to spread has blossomed in just a few months. We may get to a certain maturity in just a short amount of time, building a strong network with hundreds of thousands of hours of work behind it.

    I do admit to being pretty sensitive on the subject of Crop Mob simply because I feel that it is a huge part of my present life. There is a bit of selfishness, but at the same time – as the title of this post indicates – at some point we have to let go of it, mainly because this is what we wanted all along…

  4. Ali says:

    Oh jeez. If only they knew you.

    I certainly see you as a hard working guy who has held many respected jobs & am grateful for your motivation & determination to put your ideas into action.

    Only acts of douchebaggery I see are of the ignorant comments. Wonder if they have ever gotten their hands dirty. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is there are wonderful people in the world who see the value in coming together to help where & when they can. Who see the connections with our food sources are vital & that they go beyond paying a cashier.

    Thank you for all you (& the others) are doing.

    Better to be hated for your honesty than loved for lies. :)

  5. je slvr says:

    Meh, they’re just responding to an aesthetic sort of amplified by those kinds of articles. What we’re all trying to do in small farming really is put some fuckin value into labor again. If we can do that then we’ll till up the whole motherfucker.

  6. Anthony says:

    I offer a critique, as an old and dear friend. Many, many times now, both of us have learned the lesson the hard way, that the media is a fucking disaster, and that if they convey context, it is purely by accident. I understand perfectly the desire to share crop mob with the world, but have secretly thought for a while now that being involved with the “media” was a tremendous mistake. Admittedly, I probably would have done the same thing. The allure of sticking it to the bastards in there own fish wrapper is enticing as hell, but the results are predictable, and the effect on you and the things you hold dear is not worth it.
    Trace, you and K are literally expert in the alternative media scene. You have been doing this shit since it involved scamming free photocopies from work, scissors, and fucking Brother word processors. Do it your way, keep it real as real, and for god sake FUCK THE MEDIA. They sure will fuck you. Snarky jackass bastards.

  7. Trace says:

    Anthony – I may have not expressed this very well but I don’t think it is the media, but rather it is the people reading or watching that media who are turning out to be the touchholes in this scenario. The stories about Crop Mob thus far have been 90% accurate, which I think we can attribute to the requirement that they actually participate in the process and not just phone it in.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Hey Trace,

    I have to say I get where you’re coming from. And I’m not surprised at all that there are some growing pains related to Crop Mob becoming a national movement over which there’s little control. I guess you just have to hope that each group will to the best it can for its community. I can see how the media outlets can warp this a bit, but ultimately if it’s really helping local farmers – even if the hipster douchebag moniker gets thrown around – it’s probably worth it.

    I know that the group in Atlanta is really focused on the farmers and are doing our best to create a resource for them as well as help people newer to agriculture learn the ropes a bit. And the caps are set by the farmers; we’d love to have one with as many people as would come and are hoping to do so soon, but a few farmers have been less than thrilled at the idea of 75+ folks wandering around their property (and bathrooms).

    I’m sure there’s a unique quality to the NC Crop Mob that nothing will equal, but I still thank you for putting the wheels in motion, even if sometimes you wonder at where the various carts are headed.

    All the best,

  9. je slvr says:

    the success of local food depends on people who read these media outlets hearing about it. For every whiner that reads these stories and comments about it based on aesthetics they don’t like, there are 10 regular people from middle america who have never been exposed to this idea and probably think it’s cool. If you want to poop out a zine about crop mob then isn’t that cute. if you want to nudge things an inch in the right direction .then you try to talk to as many people as possible. Good thing this idea was picked up by the media, good for you. As a farmer it gets much more pleasant every year when a middle class person like me shows up at my stand because they heard michael pollan on npr or saw Food Inc. Thank god for popularity of good ideas.

  10. Marlow says:

    I could totally hear Anthony’s voice as I was reading his comment!! Now, said in my very best Jessica voice “Oy vey!” Those comments are just….perplexing. And since those comments were so ill-informed, I don’t feel bad saying…those comments were left by buttholes.