The Dirt: Dirty Hands, Smiling Faces

Jamie and Amy Ager never imagined that 1,000 blueberry bushes could be transplanted in just a few hours. On a rainy Saturday in March, however, a "crop mob" descended on their 90-acre Fairview farm and accomplished just that.

Getting down to business: Hickory Nut Gap's Jamie Ager gets down and dirty on the farm. Photo by Mark Rosenstein

The Agers, busy parents of three young children, are the proprietors of Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, where they raise cows, sheep, pigs, chickens — and now blueberries. The Agers are the fourth generation to farm this parcel of land. They were also the first farm in the Asheville area to host a crop mob, a group that included Michael Fortune of Green Hill Urban Farm and former Market Place owner Mark Rosenstein.

Crop mobbing, a concept originally spearheaded by a group of farmers and wannabes from North Carolina's Triangle area, is now gaining ground in Asheville. The group functions like a farm-labor cooperative: The crop mobbers gather once a month at a local farm, tackling labor-intensive projects to relieve overworked farmers while forging community ties. With no formal membership, mobbers display widely varying levels of experience — it's not uncommon to find full-time farmers working next to total novices.

Xpress spoke with Jamie Ager recently about his experience hosting Asheville's first crop mob.

Mountain Xpress: What was your first reaction when approached by the crop mob people about coming out to your farm?
Jamie Ager:
My wife went to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference, where she heard about it in a class. So they approached us, and Amy said to me, "We have this blueberry planting coming up, and this might work pretty well." We always have people out here working, so we're used to the chaos.

What were your expectations heading into the crop mob?
What we planned was an unskilled task, so the more the merrier with a project like that. I hadn't thought about it a lot, to tell you the truth. I didn't have too many expectations.

How did the day go?
It was so wet we didn't want to do it. And then we thought that no one would show up anyway … everything was so wet. I decided we should cancel it, and we sent the e-mail out. But I went down to the barn at noon, because I should at least meet people if they did come out. There were about 15 people at that point. I thought, "I'll just give them a farm tour, walk them around a little bit and show them what we do." Then they were all like, "We want to work." I said, "Let's go look at the area and see." As we got over there, the rain let up, and it made more sense to do it. Twenty or 30 people ended up coming out, including the crew and a few other farmers.

It seemed like everyone had a good time.
Yeah, it's a great way to get to know and build the farm community. Farmers talk to each other at markets, but we don't interact that much — I think it's a really positive way to help each other out and learn from each other. And also, all these people from town came out, to be able to get [their] hands dirty and sweat. That's the main comment I got from people — how much they appreciated the opportunity to come out. When you work on projects like that, you always get conversations going. I think it strengthened the bond between farmer and consumer. Having a big meal at the end is really a nice way to cap the event off, because everyone can hang out and make friends.

How long would it have taken your crew to get that much work done?
A full day. It's hard to know with something like that, but I think a full day. The crop mob started at around 12:45 and we were done by four.

What advice would you give farmers who are having a crop mob come out?
I think focusing on a big project that doesn't require a lot of skilled labor is important. Although, last weekend I went over to Walter's for the second crop mob, and he was building a shed and had people running saws and stuff, and he pulled it off. I think if you're going to do that, you want to be pretty organized.

Would you do anything differently next time?
I don't think we would have done anything much differently — part of the fun is spontaneity. You need to be able to think on your feet and have plenty of things for everybody to do. You don't want to be doing something super complicated.

To learn more about the Asheville mob's doings, send an e-mail to cropmobwest@googlegroups.com.

[Asheville resident Aaron Sarver is an independent audio producer and writer.]

 

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