Sunday, April 3, 2011

March 2011 Crop Mob (Ithaca Youth Farm Project at Three Swallows Farm)- Recap & Photos!

A special thanks to Mary Brock for the wonderful picture slideshow of this crop mob!

And another appreciative shout out to Carisa Fallon of the local television show Get Foodie for visiting us and filming! We look forward to seeing the show and will post it as soon as it becomes available!

Got pictures or stories to share? Comment or email us at!

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”
-- W. E. B. Du Bois

March is the first month on the Roman calendar, and in 2011, it's is the first month on the Ithaca Crop Mob's calendar too. Representing the first sign of the Zodiac (Aries), named for Mars, the god of war, this month has a harsh reputation. Perhaps it's because winter winds seem even more brutal and cruel to those restless for spring. Epithets like "the long, hungry month of March" (Newfoundland) also remind us that by this time of year, many cold-climate homesteaders are scraping the bottom of their crocks and root cellars. And there's something sort of fierce about the determination with which the first signs of spring surface- the pungent skunk cabbage, the oniony ramp, the deceptively delicate-looking crocus.

I remember hearing when I was young that March "comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." No such luck this March- Ithaca got hit with a snow day on the 23rd and the bitter cold kept on. With the Ithaca Crop Mob's characteristic luck, though, a warm, sunny streak followed us to Three Swallows Farm on the equinox to lend a hand and learn from the Ithaca Youth Farm Project.

The Youth Farm Project is an innovative (and ingenious) collaboration between the Southside Community Center, the Lehman Alternative Community School, the Ithaca Waldorf School, the Full Plate Farm Collective and other community organizations. Here's how it works: local high school students take summer jobs farming and managing the organic, biodynamic vegetable farm at Three Swallows Farm (funding is gleaned from the Youth Employment Services, the county, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and other sources). Youth from different backgrounds meet, mingle, and bond over farming. The produce they grow goes to LACS, Beverly J. Martin Elementary's Snack Program, Congo Square Market and the Full Plate's U-pick operations. This is IYF's second year, and enthusiasm is as high as ever.

As a similarly young organization, the Ithaca Crop Mob was preparing for a burst of growth in our second year, too- and wow, we really got it! Last-minute calls were made the night before ("we got 40 RSVPs on Facebook!") as our lunch makers scrambled to prepare enough nourishment for the coming hordes. Final preparations were made in the morning. The Mob was on the move. By 10 a.m., standing outside the barn chatting were enough volunteers to found a small settlement. By noon, coordinator Katie Church traversed the four corners of the farm and counted 60! mobbers lending a hand.

Due to the size of our group, we decided to split into teams for ease of management. Some of us took to the garlic, mulching what had been planted last fall and breaking new ground to plant more garlic (finger deep, pointy end up!). Garlic is typically planted in the fall, overwinters and sprouts in the spring. The spring planting- an experiment- may not not produce traditional heads with many separated cloves of garlic, but instead a single long, garlicky vegetable that resembles a little leek or a scallion.* Mulching with organic matter (in this case, straw) is beneficial for garlic for many reasons: it protects garlic from both cold and hot temperatures (garlic quits growing when the soil temperature increases to above 90°F), suppresses weeds (weeds can reduce yields), conserves soil moisture, and prevents soil erosion.

Others of us split off to prepare the high tunnels for planting. High tunnels--plastic greeenhouses--are a northeastern farmer's season-extending best friend. They keep in a lot of heat, making them ideal for planting warmth-loving vegetables like eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes in the summer. High tunnels can also be used in the winter to keep greens from succumbing to the cold. Our group grabbed pitchforks and shovels and made quick work of the hard ground under the high tunnel's ribs, hand-cultivating the soil and pulling out weeds and rocks until the ground was fluffy, aerated and ready for planting.

The biggest tasks completed, we moved on to cleaning up equipment, laying out row covers (remay) in the sun, trashing old plastic mulch, and storing signs, tools, and anything else laying around. Some of us even broke off to help organize the shed. We had so many volunteers that at least one group (mine, anyone else?) ran out of stuff to do at one point and made up our own tasks! It was a bit hard to keep track of what everyone was doing at that point, so I'm afraid my narrative will sort of break down here, but I think it's safe to say that we got a lot done and had a pretty great time doing it.

According to Dan, by the end of the day, we had:
- planted 5000 garlic cloves
- mulched 10,000 planted garlic
- pulled all the electric fence and coiled it up for storage
- pulled and stored drip tape
- cultivated hoophouse beds
- cleaned up lots of last year's black plastic mulch from vegetable beds
- cleaned up last year's equipment from the field where turkeys were kept
- rolled out half-frozen remay to thaw in the sun (revealing some overwintered greens!)

...and possibly more. Did we miss anything? Comment and let us know!

Lunch was made lovingly by our volunteers: black bean soup, chicken noodle for the meat eaters, and baguettes, topping off our mobbers' bellies with some last-minute orders of supplemental pizza while kids played in the puddles and on the haystacks.

Thanks SO MUCH to everyone for coming and making this one of the biggest crop mobs we've ever had. Wow!

Next month we'll be going to The Good Life Farm in Interlaken and planting trees. Interested in getting updates about future crop mobs? Email us at and we'll put you on our email list!

See you at the next mob,
Kate, Sam, and Rachel 

*According to Growing for Market:
If you miss the window for fall planting, ensure that your seed garlic gets 40 days at or below 40°F before planting, or the lack of vernalization (the cooling of seed during germination in order to accelerate flowering when it is planted) will mean the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves). The garlic roots will grow whenever the ground is not frozen, and the tops will grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F. In colder areas (like Ithaca), the goal is to get the garlic to grow roots before the big freeze-up arrives, but not to make top growth until after the worst of the winter. In warmer areas, the goal is to get enough top growth to get off to a roaring start in the spring, but not so much top growth that the leaves cannot endure the winter. If garlic gets frozen back to the ground in the winter, it can re-grow, and be fine. If it dies back twice in the winter, the yield will be decreased from the theoretical possible amount if you had been luckier with the weather. When properly planted, garlic can withstand winter lows of -30°F. If planted too early, too much tender top growth happens before winter. If planted too late, there will be inadequate root growth before the winter, and a lower survival rate as well as smaller bulbs.


  1. Wow, that sounds like a really fun day, it must have been exciting to have that much energy behind the projects. I wish I had been there to be part of it!
    Well I guess there will always be more chances to work with all you awesome Mobbers.. See you Saturday at The Good Life Farm!

    Great job!

  2. It was an awesome day indeed!! I was not able to attend the entire time but getting there when I did and being able to work with a mob of people was GREAT! Can't wait to do more!!