Volunteers descend on a small Bluffton farm for a day of work, fun and food.
A crop mob sounds dangerous and ugly, like some kind of agrarian uprising – barbarians at the gate with pitchforks and scythes.
But to a struggling solitary farmer, a crop mob is a welcome sight: Empathetic fellow travelers come to join battle against weeds and blight.
Jamie Vidich is one such farmer. The 31-year-old is cultivating nearly an acre of family land on Bear Island, tucked in between the Colleton River Plantation development and the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Crop mobbers arrived early on a recent Saturday morning to help Vidich unearth spent tomato, eggplant and sunflower crops in time to replant for a fall harvest.
A couple of hours later, Vidich looked over a cleared patch that would have taken him two weeks to prepare.
“Thank you all so much,” he said. “I’m so grateful….”
Susan Giddens, who has a 2-acre farm near Savannah, has been on the receiving side of crop mobbing and gives in return.
“I know that feeling. I know that gratitude,” Giddens said.
“It really is validation for what we do,” she said. “If you have a tomato plant on your patio, you’re part of what we do.”
A crop mob operates quasi-formally on a couple of principles: Farmers help other farmers; and boring, tedious work is easier and more fun in a group.
Saturday’s crop mob at Bear Island included actual farmers, wannabe farmers, foodies, environmentalists and some all-purpose do-gooders.
It was organized by Andrea Malloy of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League and Grace Corry of Savannah Crop Mob. They met organizers of the Atlanta Crop Mob last year at the Georgia Organics Conference.
“Atlanta had been going for about a year and we went to see if it was a resource we could use here,” Malloy said. “So Atlanta spawned us.”
Corry is identifying small, sustainable farms on her side of the Savannah River while Malloy does the same in South Carolina through a Coastal Conservation League land-use survey.
That’s how she found Vidich.
Many longtime Blufftonians know Harry Cram, if not personally at least by reputation.
(Among his other claims to fame, Cram is a minor-but-memorable character in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” – the 1994 book by John Berendt.)
Vidich is Cram’s grandson.
“I grew up in Connecticut, but I’ve been coming here all my life,” Vidich said. “I’ve seen Bluffton evolving into what it is today.”
After working for a sustainable agriculture foundation in Atlanta, he decided to try farming first hand on family land owned by his mother.
“I’ve always been passionate about growing, about working in the soil,” Vidich said.
“So I’m trying to pursue my passion and fill a need as well…. Bluffton needs this more than a lot of other places because there aren’t a lot of local farms left,” he said.
“I’ve also got to try to find a happy medium between my passion and making a living,” he said.
Vidich started with about an acre of land that had been cleared for commercial tomato growing, then planted in pine trees and forested.
“There’s a well that’s been here since the ‘70s,” he said. “That’s about the only thing left that’s helped me, that and more tomato stakes than I could use in a lifetime.”
He anticipates expanding the area under cultivation to about 3 acres, which he estimates will sustain the operation.
It’s counterintuitive, but in many ways a small farm is more labor intensive than agribusiness, which depends on the economics of scale in terms of mechanization, irrigation and fertilization.
Vidich has a small tractor and a pickup, but he was out there on Bear Island Farm all by himself – until the crop mob showed up.
“When we came out to survey, we found he’d been alone since June,” Malloy said. “The idea is that farmers mob for farmers. There just aren’t enough small farmers.”
Jordan Mooney of Savannah said his siblings are involved in the sustainable agriculture movement that has flourished in western North Carolina and the Upstate of South Carolina.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of farmers and I try to help out whenever I can,” Mooney said.
Aimee Weber of Bluffton was a crop mob initiate Saturday.
“It’s my first one and it’s a wonderful experience,” Weber said, admitting she had very little knowledge of farming. “But I can pull weeds.”
Likewise, Erin Dyer of Bluffton brought little farm experience to her first crop mob.
“I’ve got a pathetic little lemon tree in a pot and some sad little herbs,” Dyer said. “But this is fun.”
Crop mobbers work without pay, but the farmer provides lunch. On Saturday, food followed a cooling swim in a nearby tributary of Mackay’s Creek.
Darren Macioszek, who bills himself as the “Cast Iron Chef,” worked with the crop mob all morning in the Lowcountry sun.
Then, under live oaks at the Cram family home at Foot Point Plantation, Macioszek catered a meal that featured produce from Bear Island Farm and other local sources.
He served veggie sandwiches on home-baked focaccia bread, tabouli and iced tea spiced with Vidich’s lemon basil.
In addition to a taste of farm life, crop mob volunteers get a better appreciation for what they eat.
“People still balk at the price of produce at farmers markets. But people who do crop mob never complain about price again,” Malloy said.
“It’s not that much work and it’s very social,” she said. “There’s no way to know how great it is until you do it. It gives people a sense of purpose.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bear Island Farm: Visit www.facebook.com/bearislandfarm
Crop Mob Savannah: Visit www.cropmobgeorgia.com/category/crop-mob-savannah/ or go to the Crop Mob-Savannah page on Facebook
The S.C. Coastal Conservation: Visit coastalconservationleague.org/ or search Facebook
Harry Cram: Visit www.blufftonbreeze.com/200504/BlufftonEccentric.html for a Bluffton Eccentric newspaper article reprinted in Bluffton Breeze magazine