A lot of us, myself included, tend to hold a romanticized vision of farming. We imagine ourselves as farmers, working the land, in harmony with nature, fill our bellies and the bellies of our communities with beautiful, fresh food. In reality, it’s one thing to garden; it’s another to farm. Running a successful and profitable farm is tough work. You have to really love it to do it, and even then it’s still hard.
Which is why most farmers will never turn down a helping hand, and why those of us who are dreamy farmer wannabes, should offer one. There are lots of opportunities to do this, and it can be as simple and as informal as walking down to your local farm and pulling up some weeds. But there are also more organized ways of helping farmers farm, and they’re a bit more impactful.
Recently, National Public Radio and, subsequently, the New York Times, both featured a story on crop mobs. Crop mobs are usually composed of aspiring farmers, food activists, and community members who, with the assistance of blogs and Facebook, coordinate their efforts and “mob” a local farm. The mob descends upon the farm full of energy and with the intention of putting a big dent in the farm owner’s to-do list. Plant some trees? Lay a fence? Clear a field? Repair the barn? All of that is easily accomplished in a matter of hours by a group of 20 or more eager, and often knowledgeable, helpers. Crop mobs have been likened to a modern version of the barn raising, and the recent national exposure has incited similar organized movements all over the U.S.
If you can’t hook up with a crop mob in your area, you can still be a big help on your local farm. Becoming a CSA member at a nearby farm is a big help in and of itself because the money you pay at the beginning of the season enables the farmer to buy seeds and supplies. But at many farms you can also participate in CSA member work days, when community members who have a share are encouraged to come out to the farm and dig in and experience the work that goes in to the bag of food they receive each week. Many farms also offer work shares, for which the shareholder agrees to work a certain number of hours each week in exchange for a bag of seasonal veggies.
If you are really serious about learning more about farming, or just want to be a more integrated part of your favorite local farm, you might consider doing a farm apprenticeship. And apprenticeship is usually a full-time, full-season commitment that benefits both the farmer and the apprentice. The farmer gets an extra hand and the apprentice gains knowledge about all aspects of the farm. Apprenticeships usually provide a small stipend, or room and board, plus all the veggies you can eat.
Whichever way you are able to help, I encourage you to become more invested in your local farms, and to really get your hands dirty, in order to better appreciate all the hard work your farmers are putting in to providing their communities with good food.