• Publishers' Note Fall 2011

    Publishers' Note Fall 2011

    Recently we saw The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary by Werner Herzog. The film takes the viewer on a visual journey exploring the 30,000-year-old paintings inside the cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, in southern France. Powerful images of long-extinct animals, crafted by torchlight, transported us back in time. In the film, Herzog explores the very nature and origins of humanness and our urge to communicate; it’s astonishing to realize that at our core there is a need to convey meaningful information. And 30,000 years later, we’re still hard at work connecting with each other, trying to share what is meaningful.

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  • Crop Mobsters

    Crop Mobsters

    Barley is furry. It is, in the eyes of Nick Cowles, “…golden and beautiful and furry…and it might tickle.”

    Nick was preparing a group of Green Mountain Crop Mob volunteers to enter his fields at Shelburne Orchards this past July. He was responding to a question about appropriate clothes for that morning’s work. The furry warning, and a gesture to the bathroom (recently cleaned in our honor), were all we needed before setting off through the orchards toward the five acres of barley we’d signed on to weed that morning.

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  • Thinking Outside the Bordeaux

    Thinking Outside the Bordeaux

    Folks have been fermenting things for as long as there have been reasons to get drunk. Okay, crop preservation was probably more of a reason for fermentation, but I’m sure that inebriation was an added perk for many early consumers. Before refrigeration was an option, people needed to either dry, ferment, or culture foods to carry them through the lean months. When Vermont was more rural, each farm needed to produce food for their own winter larders, so fermented fruit, honey, and maple drinks were common.

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  • Learning at the Market

    Learning at the Market

    Shop, Learn, Connect— that’s our market’s slogan, and this summer we emphasized the second word “learn” with 15 teaching demonstrations held during market hours. Intended to match the spirit of the market (local, seasonal, and affordable), the demonstrations helped customers learn how to preserve foods to enjoy year-round, how to prepare a variety of dishes from local produce, and how to stretch their food dollar. We partnered with Montpelier-area chefs, our market vendors, and food educators to lead these almost-weekly demonstrations.

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  • Humane Heft

    Humane Heft

    Chalk up another “first” for Vermont.

    The state was the first to outlaw slavery, the first to legalize civil unions, and the first to pass a single-payer health care law, among other singular achievements. It may not be as significant, but the fact that Vermont recently became the first state to require local slaughterhouses to file a written humane handling plan falls in line with the state’s tradition of leading the way on moral issues.

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  • Classroom, Cafeteria, Community

    Classroom, Cafeteria, Community

    From the First Lady to the USDA and Governor Peter Shumlin to celebrity chef Jaime Oliver, there is a growing national interest in improving the health and nutrition of our schoolchildren. Vermont will be among the last states to appear on Oliver’s Food Revolution, a television program meant to save America’s health by helping kids and adults change the way they eat, but perhaps that’s because our state has been leading the way by developing Farm to School (FTS) programming for more than a decade.

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  • Having Both Lives

    Having Both Lives

    Why anybody would want to be either a farmer or a poet when there were spools turning in factories was beyond the grasp of the old man. That his grandson should desire to be both was almost enough to bring on a stroke.”

    According to the grandson’s biographer, “Determined in his course, Robert laid the whole matter before his grandfather. He would have a farm, live on it, produce his food with his own labor, and write poetry.”

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  • Hooping it Up

    Hooping it Up

    For much of the summer, the sun rises too early for even early birds to see it. But you probably noticed the nights arriving earlier when August rolled around. Perhaps you walked outside at dusk and felt the absence of the swallows. By the time this article hits the stands in September, you’ve probably had your first light frost(s). Maybe even a killing frost, although with climate change it’s all less predictable now.

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  • Set the Table with Sweet Potatoes

    Set the Table with Sweet Potatoes

    In prehistoric cave sites in Peru, scientists have found remains of sweet potatoes dating back to the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest vegetables grown by humans. Yet even with that amount of history in every velvety, sensuous mouthful, the sweet potato is also a plant of the future, and may be a very important plant indeed for Vermont’s future. We are witnessing the arrival and adaptation of a new staple food crop to the Northeast—a rare and exciting event.

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  • Packing Local Lunches 101

    Packing Local Lunches 101

    Packing your child’s lunch every day can be a challenge. Below are some tips for cutting down on costs, time, and the energy you put into your child’s brown bag lunch—and adding some locally grown goods!

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Tomatillo Tamworths

    Farmers' Kitchen—Tomatillo Tamworths

    Yankee and Doodle squealed in the crate in the back of the Subaru. We were as shocked by the piglets’ lung capacity as we were by the fact that we, two former vegetarians, were about to start raising and selling meat! Once we got them home, they settled in quickly in the barn, scratching against the hand-hewn beams and eventually burying their noses in sweet-smelling hay.

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  • A Tasty Tour

    A Tasty Tour

    Year One: A Good Cause. Managing our farm, my wife and I try to respect a Sunday off, cultivating diversity in our lives as we do in our fields. So in September 2008, a neighbor and I chose to ride the first annual "Tour de Farms," an Addison County bike-to-farms ride of various lengths, organized by Rural Vermont, the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), and the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition. Having chosen the 30-mile loop, the rolling hills of Addison County on that clear morning were stunning.

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  • Vermont Wine & Spirits Guide

    Vermont Wine & Spirits Guide

    Vermont is home to a thriving spirits industry. Our in-state distillers are producing a wide variety of products from vodka and maple liqueurs to gin and rye whiskey. Many of them are winning national acclaim and international awards for their fine quality and appealing flavor. A number of the distilleries have their own tasting rooms where the products they make can be sampled and purchased. You may also find local distillers at farmers’ markets, special events, or festivals around the state.

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Crop Mobsters

Crop Mob
Crop Mob

Written By

Helen Labun Jordan
Helen Labun

Written on

September 01 , 2011

Barley is furry. It is, in the eyes of Nick Cowles, “…golden and beautiful and furry…and it might tickle.”

Nick was preparing a group of Green Mountain Crop Mob volunteers to enter his fields at Shelburne Orchardsthis past July. He was responding to a question about appropriate clothes for that morning’s work. The furry warning, and a gesture to the bathroom (recently cleaned in our honor), were all we needed before setting off through the orchards toward the five acres of barley we’d signed on to weed that morning.

The Crop Mob concept is simple: volunteer workers of any experience level come together to put in a half day of light labor on local farms. In return, the farmer provides food and a morning of tasks that are useful but, in the words of one organizer, “not tedious.”

Crop Mob events are part work party, part field trip. As co-founder Rachel Schattman phrases it, “This is a low stress learning environment…farmers put a lot of effort into making it fun.” Or, said another way, everyone knows that the number of volunteers corresponds directly to the quality of the promised lunch. The best attended mob featured a pig roast.

Rachel, from Bella Farm in Burlington, and Emily Curtis-Murphy, from Fair Food Farm in Calais, began the Green Mountain Crop Mob in 2010 after reading about the idea in the New York Times. The newspaper profiled a group in North Carolina, which inspired volunteer groups across the country to try their hand at crop mobbing. One growing season later, the Crop Mob Blog, which links any mobs that want to be listed, shows 66 different mobs.

Rachel and Emily chose the first group of participating farms through word of mouth, e-mail lists, and some early coverage in Seven Days and the Burlington Free Press. They helped with general marketing, figuring out liability, and passing on lessons learned from previous events—such as the importance of having activities to occupy small children (moving dirt is popular), paying a professional farm worker to help supervise, and offering a tour and an opportunity to sample a farm’s products. Farmers are expected to spread the word in their local communities and to manage activities once the mobsters get to their farm.

Even though the organizing was simple, Rachel and Emily found it difficult to spend precious summer hours coordinating workers for other farms when they had their own farm work to do. So this year, organizing duties shifted to the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture (where Rachel also works as local foods coordinator) and AmeriCorps member Jessica Longobardo took over for the 2011 season.

Crop Mobs add another dimension to the Center’s goal of building relationships between local farmers and consumers. A hands-on experience at a farm is different from an interaction at a farmers’ market or CSA pick up. “In any group activity with four hours of pretty mundane work, new dynamics definitely emerge,” says Rachel.

“It’s slower and you don’t have to talk…or you don’t have to talk about anything in particular,” Emily explains. “There’s just something about working hard and being hot and sweaty and tired. I think farm work is really fun…I can’t think of anything more fun than picking cases of kale or weeding acres of carrots.”

Some of us can, in fact, think of something more fun than picking a case of kale, but we don’t mind getting out in the fields on occasion and broadening our Vermont food experience. Crop Mobs are a good match for that audience.

The mob that I attended at Shelburne Orchards was advertised as a morning of weeding, but as the organizers had promised, it offered more of interest than “weeding” implies. For example, we began with brandy making. (Nick is currently experimenting with apple brandy.) On the 80-plus degree morning when we arrived, the wood-fired still was in action—which was a great demonstration, even though it created a sauna corner in the packing house.

Once we reached the fields, we learned that the volunteer rye (the weed) was left over from when Nick raised the grain for the local Bread & Butter Farm. (Their rye bread was on sale that same morning at the Shelburne Farmers’ Market, where I stopped on the way home.) The barley (what the rye was being weeded from) would go to a new malting facility in Massachusetts and provide the basis for brewing local beer. A nearby airplane hangar-turned-storage shed gave evidence to local history lore that the orchards were once an airstrip.

Rye turned out to be the world’s easiest thing to weed. It stands a good foot higher than barley and comes out with only the lightest tug. “It’s a bit like a treasure hunt,” one volunteer observed, a path of uprooted rye extending behind her. Looking ahead to the field stretching in front of her, she added “It’s beautiful, it’s all gold—it glows.” And tickles.

Communities of volunteers are a long way from becoming a major part of Vermont’s agricultural workforce. Only two mobbers showed up at Champlain Orchards that day, although other local events have drawn dozens. What’s more impressive is how these crop mobs highlight the distinctive character of agriculture in Vermont. This year’s Crop Mobs have planted 1,200 grapevines at East Shore Vineyard, inoculated shiitake mushroom logs at Dana Forest Farm, and recycled parts of a damaged greenhouse at New Leaf Organics. The most interesting thing that Jessica Longobardo remembers from the 2011 lineup is learning that camels and llamas are guard animals and farmers grow the hair on the animals’ necks long to make them look scarier.

Rachel remembers a work day at High Mowing Seeds where they taste tested 15 different types of carrots, each with a very different flavor. “I know wine tasting…I just hadn’t ever sat down with so many varieties of a common vegetable,” she recalls. Those types of experiences are easy for High Mowing Seeds to provide, with their abundance of different trial plots, but not for the average consumer or home gardener.

Although many Vermonters want to know more about their local farms, it’s also easy to spend summer wrapped up in our own chores; sometimes we need an organized expedition like Crop Mob to break out of our routine.

Looking back on her own experience, Emily hopes the Crop Mobs grow into a network that can build statewide momentum, while also encouraging individual farmers to mobilize their own neighbors to come out and participate. When that happens, Vermont farmers won’t just have a few extra sets of hands bringing home the potato harvest or putting up a hoop house —they’ll have a community that’s fully engaged in what they’re doing.

To find out more about Crop Mobs, visit the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture website at uvm.edu/~susagctr/.

Photo by Rachel Schattman

About the Author

Helen Labun Jordan

Helen Labun Jordan

Helen Labun Jordan lives in Montpelier, where she works for Bear Pond Books. Read more of her work at her website, discoveringflavor.com.

Helen Labun

Helen Labun

Helen Labun runs Hel’s Kitchen takeout restaurant in Montpelier (helskitchenvt.com). She also coordinates events (and reviews many cookbooks) for Bear Pond Books, also in Montpelier.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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