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Guest post from Washington – Taking lessons from a killer crop mob

A lot of folks have gotten in touch with us about coming up with practical ways young farmers (and their communities!) can help each other out.  One amazing – and simple – solution is to use crop mobs to focus a large group’s energy all on one specific project.  

Put simply, a crop mob is a group of farmers, farm interns, or community members who come together on a specific day to tackle a specific labor-intensive project, whether it be reclaiming a field from weeds, harvesting sweet potatoes, or tying up garlic. 

It can seem overwhelming for a farmer, especially one already swamped with work, to think about planning such an event.  We are happy to have Jacqueline Cramer from the Tilth Producers of Washington guest post today to report back from a crop mob last month that was sponsored by the Tilth Producers and the Washington Young Farmers Coalition, an NYFC-affiliate.  This post also ran on the Washington Young Farmers Coalition website.

Got a young farmer community that’s looking for ways to work together?  Read the following reportback for some great inspiration!

Summary of Crop Mob on Skipley Farm on May 11

by Jacqueline Cramer

Inspecting the crops at the Skipley Crop Mob, photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cramer
Inspecting the crops at the Skipley Crop Mob, photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cramer

More than 20 people came out to Skipley Farm in Snohomish for a Tilth Producers and Washington Young Farmers Coalition–sponsored, hands-on, all day workshop on May 11, 2013. Drawn to the event to learn farming techniques and to collaborate with other farmers, participants also expressed a desire to help out the farm. On a warm day, a variety of folks joined the Skipley crew to learn about perennial and annual food production while putting their hands in the soil.

After introductions and learning that some people came from as far away as Royal City and Everson, and some had not yet farmed, experienced and new farmers joined in for a ‘mob walk’, where Gil described aspects of the farm and led us to areas needing attention. Then we dropped to our hands and knees to weed as a ‘mob.’ In short time, we covered great swaths, allowing perennial berries and rhubarb breathing room from the rapidly-approaching May weeds. He showed that leaving pulled weeds (without seed heads) around the plant bases serves as mulch to slow down weed growth, and trap in moisture.  Intern Tesla Gift shared his appreciation and exclaimed a number of times throughout the day, “Thank you guys; this is SO helpful!”

The farm lay-out is varied and diverse. An irrigation pond is centrally located on a rise. Nearby, Gil explained an ongoing Hugglekulture project, laying down great amounts of wood debris to create more habitat, receive on-farm organic debris, affect the terrain, and create a future planting area that will be nourished by the decaying matter beneath.

Trellising at the Skipley Crop Mob, photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cramer
Trellising at the Skipley Crop Mob, photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cramer

Skipley Farm is host to innovative techniques everywhere we turned to look:  propagating practices where they graft their fruit trees for performance;  planting  many varieties for resilience to varying conditions; utilizing space among the young orchard for heat-sensitive crops; raising fish in an aquaponics set-up, and more.  Gil’s many years’ of experience as an educator, landscaper, horticulturist and permaculturist are evident in his mere five years of farming at Skipley.

For the bulk of the day, we broke into smaller groups to rotate among ‘action stations’ including working in the nursery, managing strawberry beds, prepping planting areas for vegetable production, and tying up apples. Farmers Vince Caruso and Chris Homanics provided expertise and inspiration.  Gil explained that the dwarf varieties of apples are ready to produce a crop for a good return on capital. Tying their branches into a horizontal position encourages more fruit production, utilizing the phenomenon of apical dominance.

Crop inspection at the Skipley Crop Mob, photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cramer
Crop inspection at the Skipley Crop Mob, photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cramer

While ‘potting on’ blueberries, currants and jostaberries, participants learned Gil’s potting soil recipe and techniques to care for the roots of blueberries: in the Ericacea family, they do not like to be disturbed, and he advised not tugging on roots when re-potting. We shared ideas while keeping our hands busy.

Strawberry farmer Deborah Lubbe came from Everson to see how Gil grows his berry varieties, and shared information on her crops and techniques. Petrina Fisher, a newer farmer from Snohomish came ready to learn about fruit production, as her farm moves into more perennial crops. Despite the heat, people plugged on and accomplished a great deal of working while learning. When we finished our work and settled into a delicious pot of soup cooked by Tea Lopez, farmer Gil was still climbing around his green house rafters. When I asked his intern Sam what Gil was doing, he said that Gil was so excited by the productivity in the day that he just had to keep on going. We shared dinner and stories around a bonfire and the falling darkness of night.
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