Getting ready for Crop Mob, my main worry was what shoes to wear. I had already had quite an internal conflict when I realized the only denim I owned was skinny jeans, not overalls, and the only hat I could find was not straw, but a borrowed baseball cap for the Carolina Tarheels. After settling for some mesh shorts and an old T-shirt, I realized I didn’t own any sneakers. My last pair, two brown Pumas that had gotten me through high school and half of college, had gone into the trash a month ago. I felt like I should call a girlfriend for an outfit counsel, but no one I knew had ever been on a farm before, much less worked on one. I would have to figure this one out solo.
Settling for my Toms (it was them or my fuzz-lined moccasins), my friend Melissa and I headed out to Friendly City Food Co-op to meet the fellow volunteers. We happened upon a rag-tag bunch at the picnic tables, and settled down after the customary introductions and small talk. I checked my bag – sunscreen, bug spray, water bottle. We had been encouraged to bring working gloves or spades, but my best substitutes would have been mittens and a ladle, so I decided to wing it au natural. Around 2 pm we divided into carpools and rode out to Avalon Acres, just west of Broadway, a 20 minute drive.
Lorinda Palin, co-owner of the farm, came up out of the lower garden to meet us when we rolled up her twisty gravel drive in a plume of dust. We all introduced ourselves, though by the time she reached me, she apologetically remarked, “I’m not going to remember all these names.” The sun was beating down on us as we stood in a circle, getting acquainted, and I was pleased to see that Lorinda was also wearing a hat and a T-shirt. My magenta shorts and pink Toms were no match for her sturdy wide-leg jeans and work boots, though.
After a while, Solly, Lorinda’s husband and fellow Avalon Acres owner, came out to meet us, and we went through our introductions again. He explained about the farm, what they grew here, what sort of farming practices they abided by, what new projects were in the works. The two farmers led us into the house to give us a tour, then back out around the land to see the four gardens, the sheep’s barn, and the chicken coop. All along, around Solly’s feet were what looked like a thick, black rubber casing that tied up all the way to his ankles after disappearing into his long pants. They seemed ominous, but seeing the animals and plants was starting to give me a feeling of vigor I hadn’t expected – I was ready to work hard.
We split into two groups, a few tending the lower garden, and the rest of us (including myself) raking up hay into stacks to add into the compost pile. Now I won’t lie about any of this: it was work. I sweat in places I didn’t know I had. I got hay in my shoes, my shorts, in my hair. Skin ripped off my thumbs from the rake after only an hour. But each hay pile gave me a sense of accomplishment, and all the while I chatted with my fellow mobbers, occasionally breaking out into boisterous Disney tunes. At one point I felt myself let go of all the attention aimed at whether my hair was up right or if sweat was bleeding through my shirt. After that it was simply sunshine and air, good companionship, and the task at hand.
Solly gave us tips along the way, but even more importantly, he shared with us his farming knowledge. The compost pile we were building wasn’t just scraps, it was carefully organized. First, we put down a layer of dry hay that had been cut some weeks before. Next we added an insulating layer of green matter, either some weeds from the garden or some fresh-cut hay from a lower field. On top we sprinkled some manure and soil, teeming with invisible microorganisms that would break down the dry and green matter into an airy, nutritious soil. Then we’d layer it up again. It was like making lasagna, but on a large scale – a 10 ft by 4 ft by 4 ft pile, which, with a few turns and enough time, would yield a dark, soft mound of fresh-smelling compost for the fall planting season.
Around 6 o’clock the dinner bell rang, though none of us wanted to leave our work unfinished, so Lorinda had to ring it a second time before we all heeded the call. Inside, our host and hostess had prepared a veritable feast. Stuffed squash, of the yellow and green variety, broccoli and red pepper quiches (3 of them), and a huge bowl filled with fresh sweet corn was waiting on the table. Sully handed out samples of their homemade kombucha as we took turns washing our hands. Plates full, the 12 of us squeezed around a picnic table on the porch to make quick work of dinner, and shortly after, a chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream dessert. The sun was making its lazy way to the western horizon, and garlic bulbs were bobbing in the breeze above us where they were hanging to dry. Our time here was clearly ending, but no one wanted to break the peace we had gained from this one day on the land.
At the dinner table, Solly jokingly told us the secret to being an excellent farmer. “First, you need a pair of overalls and a nice straw hat. But what’s really important is that you stand in a field near a road. That way, when people drive by, they can point and say ‘Look, it’s a farmer, outstanding in his field.’” We all laughed about it, but before that day, overalls, a straw hat, and a field would’ve been all my requirements to call someone a farmer. But what Lorinda and Solly are doing at Avalon Acres is much more than that. They are true stewards of the land, operating in a harmonic closed ecological loop that turns one garden or animal’s waste into another’s plenty, through composting, pasture rotations, biochar formation, and more. Crop Mob opened my eyes to the precision and know-how of our local farmers, and the huge amount of work they do to deliver the tastiest, healthiest, most responsible food to those around them. AND I haven’t even mentioned how much fun I had with the fellow mobbers all the way into the wee hours of the night!
All in all, I loved Crop Mob and can’t wait to do it again. However, next time I’m going to plan my outfit the night before.
Contact Laura Lorenz at firstname.lastname@example.org