Crowd Psychology: The Crop Mob

Cityfolk who regularly gather to help farmers weed, hoe or harvest.

Photo credit: Carole Topalian

Photo credit: Carole Topalian

Last February Deb Taft read a story in the Sunday Times about a group of green-thumbed North Carolinians who regularly gather to help a area farmers weed, hoe or harvest. They called the phenomenon a Crop Mob, and to Taft it seemed cool:

“I’d always loved those communal barn raising kinds of things,” says Taft, a New Yorker who was then in the midst of starting up her own micro-farm in Westchester as part of Mobius Fields, her urban agriculture venture.

“I know how valuable volunteer help is,” she said. “A lot of farming is tedious: just grunt work. If you can get that done by people who are excited about it,” she says of all those enthusiastic mobbers eager to weed on a Saturday afternoon—“it’s just so much more pleasant.”

So Taft (whose nonprofit experience as a volunteer coordinator armed her with the perfect skill set to organize such efforts) liased with local farms—including Added Value and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn and Garden of Eve out on Long Island—and started a Facebook group for New Yorkers who wanted to play farmer for the day. In under a few weeks, 65 people had joined. Now beginning its second season, Crop Mob NYC boasts 915 members on Facebook (plus another 30 who follow by Googlegroups).

Volunteers need no skills, but while the name might imply that the experience is a chaotic happening—“‘ mob’ makes it sound like hordes descend on a farm,” admits Taft—the afternoons are well managed and well mannered. Typically just a dozen or two mobbers convene and their duties—which range from planting, weeding and picking to brush clearing and fence painting—are organized in advance by the host to maximize mob time.

About 50 similar groups have since sprouted across the country but the ultimate sign of success might be the way word has spread not among mobbers but about them. Taft no longer has to cold-call growers and ask if they’d consider hosting a group: These days farms in the city and all around the Tristate area come to her for help.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.