Morgan Ohland loads firewood into her pickup to haul up the hill to the Berzins’ wood shed.
Karl Berzins builds an addition to Veronica Santo’s woodshed.
Rick Brown, Ella Berzins and Christy Pugh collect amaranth seeds at Vernoica Santo’s homestead.
Hari Berzins tosses wood to fellow crop mobbers for stacking after it has been split.
The crop mob in action. Christy Pugh and Amado Ohland work the wood splitter in the background. Karl Berzins and Veronica Santo are splitting with mauls in the mid-ground, and Rick Brown is working the chainsaw in the foreground.
After three hours of intense wood splitting, loading and stacking, it is time to call it quits and relax. Rick Brown hands Christy Pugh and Morgan Ohland a cold drink.
The group installs deer fencing around a new garden, a chore that would take one or two people a couple of days instead of the few hours it took the crop mob.
Cardboard is spread out in preparation for mulching in Veronica Santo’s medicinal herb garden. One of the advantages of being in a crop mob is learning a wide range of new skills.
Crop mobs teach children about the joys of working together. Here Ella and Archer Berzins and their friend Stella paint the Brown-Pugh’s front door.
Meal time after a crop mob is full of laughter. Here Ella Berzins, Christy Pugh and Rick Brown share a laugh. The family hosting the crop mob feeds the group after the day’s work is finished.
Her smile says it all as Veronica Santo digs into a delicious crop mob meal. Children and adults all pitch in to get the jobs at hand done.
It’s 1:45 p.m. on a beautiful mid-July day, and I’m finishing up a pot of stew and pulling cornbread out of the oven. Friends are showing up at 2 p.m. I run to my bedroom, throw on my work pants and head out to the garden shed with my clipboard. At 1:55, the first car drives up, and by 2:05 seven adults and two kids encircle me on the parking pad. Hugs all around, and as work gloves go on, I start reading from my clipboard.
“OK, Veronica, I’d like you to lead the work in the garden. Let’s get all the paths sheet mulched, the beds weeded and double-dug with this compost. Who else would like to join this project? The other project for today is cutting up the oak and locust limbs and splitting them for firewood.” There’s a scuttle and everyone disperses. I hear chainsaws and laughter. The crop mob is in action.
Crop Mob Defined
A crop mob is a group that comes together to work on one farm or homestead. Picture an old-fashioned barn-raising. The idea is simple and ingrained enough in our history that there is a proverb which describes it: Many hands make light work.
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The idea for our crop mob group came about three years ago after several conversations with various friends about the overwhelming homesteading workload. Morgan, the ever-diligent organizer, sent the first email. It went something like this:
We’ve all talked about it, so I figured I’d throw it out there. Who would like to get in on an organized “crop mob?” We’ll set aside one day each month during the warmer months and take turns hosting at our homesteads. Host provides the meal. Host gets all the chores done.
Let me know if you’re in,
Five households responded to Morgan’s invitation—eight adults and three children. After the first season, one household dropped out, but the four remaining are original members. Each homestead gets two mobs (work parties) a season. We work one afternoon a month, commit to attending every crop mob and take this commitment seriously.
Sunday is a good day for our group because other obligations are minimal. Work starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Those three hours are full of focused work, and when 5 p.m. rolls around we’re worn out. That’s plenty of time to get big projects completed and still have energy left for socializing. Veronica points out that we work more enthusiastically during the crop mob than we do alone at home. Working with friends is motivating and fun!
By 5 p.m. there is a beautifully stacked pile of firewood, my garden is ready to be put to bed for winter and my arms and thighs are sore from three solid hours of intense work on our homestead.
As if someone rang a bell, all seven adults and two kids appear on the deck. It’s dinnertime. I look around at today’s crop mob miracles—a weeded and mulched garden, a stack of firewood, and tidy forest. The miracle is the magic in the old adage “many hands make light work,” but that’s not all. Many hands working together build community, deepen friendships and give us a deeper investment in the land.
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We put the stew, cornbread and bowls on the table, and everyone digs in. Food tastes delicious when you work for it. The conversation is profound one minute and utterly silly the next. We laugh, ooh and ahh over our accomplishments, and continue the conversations we had while working. These friends feel like family, all thanks to the crop mob.
Friendships are but one of the benefits that come from crop mobbing. Many folks start homesteading as a way to become self-sufficient and independent from large-scale farming, but there’s a problem with independence—it can be lonely. Being a member of a crop mob fosters interdependence and also teaches us to rely on each other as a community of neighbors and friends. As we help each other, we learn from one another, and it’s fun. Here are just a few skills I’ve learned from our crop mob group: wood stacking, winnowing grain, sheet mulching and contouring garden beds. I’ve learned to tackle daunting projects, the ones I can’t ever get motivated to do myself.
Being a member of a crop mob deepens friendships. One of our members, Christy Pugh, put it this way. “My understanding of each person is deeper than with other friends. How do they approach challenges? How do they hold up under duress, heat, heavy loads, tired bodies, negotiating with others and each person’s particular creativity? This group has provided me with deeper friendships than I get from purely socializing with other people.”
Making A Miracle
Sitting on Rick and Christy’s deck after a day of mobbing their homestead, a ’70s song came on the radio—“I believe in miracles…” and from then on we coined the term “crop mob miracles.” Working hard together produces results that seem like miracles.
“The demolition and removal of our old barn was our biggest crop-mob miracle. It was not a small structure, and that made it a really daunting task for just me and Amado. It took three crop-mob sessions to get the entire thing demolished and hauled away, but it was amazing how having it gone changed the way the property felt, and how we felt!” said Morgan Ohland.
Rick Brown had this to say about his miracle. “Having the mob work on leveling a section of our sloping yard and clearing debris and briars was a happy accomplishment. It transformed our space into something that’s not only more more useful but also aesthetically pleasing.”
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For me, the biggest moment was moving our mini-barn down the hill. I mean, who else in this county moved a building in one day? With bare hands? And had fun doing it? That’s a crop-mob miracle!
- Ask your friends and get commitments.
- Decide on a leader. It’s likely going to be you for this season. Spread the workload by changing the leader each year.
- Organize a work calendar.
- Get together in late winter or early spring to plan the dates before the group members’ calendars are filled.
- Decide on how many work mobs each member will have, and plan your season accordingly.
- Agree on a plan for rain dates and missed crop mobs. For example, if a member has to miss a crop mob, will you plan a day when he can come over and work with you for three hours?
- Decide how long you will work and what time you will start.
- Send an email to the group about a week before your crop mob.
- Give an overview of the tasks on your list, and the tools you’d like the group to bring.
- Plan your group meals well beforehand.
- Gather any necessary materials well in advance of your planned work day.
- Try to keep all of the mob’s gathering’s fun!
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
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