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Denver Crop Mob celebrates its first season of helping sustainable, local farms

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All season, gangs of predominantly twentysomethings have been invading local farms each month, expanding vegetable beds, weeding and planting orchards. "It's like a flashmob, but for gardening," says Laurie Schneyer, organizer of Denver Crop Mob and a volunteer with Slow Food Denver.

The seeds for the project were planted when Schneyer read an article in Urban Farm Magazine about a crop mob of "wannabe farmers" in North Carolina. When she decided to set up a similar program here, she worked with Slow Food, Grow Local Colorado and Denver Urban Homesteading to come up with approximately 125 volunteers who might not be considering a career in farming, but are interested in sustainable agriculture. "We had such a reach into the foodie community," she says.

The Denver Crop Mob got under way in August, and so far has completed six projects at sustainable farms in the area, including Ekar Farms, Denver Sustainability Park and Goathead Farm. The farmers decide what they need help with, and can usually count on twenty or so volunteers for three hours; in exchange for the free labor -- Schneyer estimates it's worth about $400 -- they're expected to provide lunch and offer a short lecture on farming.

The farmers who're helped by the crop mob also have to participate in another crop mob, creating a sense of community. Says Schneyer, "It's farmers helping farmers."

The crob mobs have cultivated friendships as well as food. "Not only do you meet people who have similar interests, but you learn, too," she says. "This allows people to a hand to where their heart is."

So she's expecting a big turn-out at the Denver Crop Mob fundraiser and get-together on Tuesday, November 29. The gathering will be at 910 Arts from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; it's open to anyone who brings $5 and a dessert. The entertainment includes a screening of Truck Farm.

There are no more crop mob events planned for 2011, but come March 2012, expect at least one a month through October. They usually take place on Saturday mornings, but a few weekday evening events are planned, too. To get involved, e-mail denvercropmob@gmail.com and ask to be added to the listserv.

"Sustainable agriculture needs way more hands than big ag," Schneyer explains. "Even a small lot in Denver takes a lot of effort." Most of the farmers, especially the newer and smaller ones, can't support themselves on their harvests alone and have side jobs; the crop mob can substitute for expensive, heavy labor. "The for-profit ones are struggling the most," she adds. "They're trying to make money at something they love."

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