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Crop Mobs: Building Muscle, Helping Farmers, Making Friends & Saving Heirloom Garlic

Oct. 11, 2013

By Rob Montalbano, Slow Food Member and Farmer

Slow Food Chicago is getting down and dirty. As in city folks getting their hands in the soil, boots in the mud, digging, planting, pulling, and washing. This year, Slow Food Chicago is organizing crop mobs for our area farmers. A crop mob is a group of volunteers who come together to work side by side with experienced farmers to get the type of work done that takes a whole community to complete. It’s been a rousing success and we’d like to share some of our stories.

We started the year in late April at Radical Root Farm in Grayslake, Illinois with beginning farmers Alex, Allison, Huckleberry, and River. On the farm, we planted – literally – thousands of green and red cabbage, fennel bulbs, rainbow Swiss chard, curly kale, and green, red, and speckled lettuce seedlings.

GoatsBut it didn’t stop there. Oh no, no, no.

Next, we moved on to central Illinois to Spence Farm in Fairbury, where we harvested broken branches and tree limbs to fuel their maple syrup boiler. This was a tough, cold job that we all quickly grew to love. After tasting some of the finest syrup this side of Vermont, our crew was definitely hooked on the whole crop mob concept! Farmers Marty, Kris, and Will talked with our Slow Food crew about sustainable, biodiverse agriculture and the importance of building relationships between farmers and families.

On Labor Day weekend in September, we traveled across state lines to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to help Farmers Sheri and Blair of Tiny Tempest Farm clean out their old goat and hen houses (stinky!). We combined this manure with fresh straw from a neighbor’s farm to make some lasagna-style slow compost piles. Hard work, indeed, but at the end of the day we were pleasantly exhausted.

Looking ahead, garlic planting season is quickly approaching. In late October, these city slickers will head out to see Farmers Dan and Joan of Willow Garlic Growers in Stockton, Illinois. Our task is to help them plant some Ark of Taste varietals for the 2014 season. Who would have guessed that learning about good, clean, and fair food meant building muscle, helping farmers, making friends, and saving heirloom garlic, too?

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