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Area farmers need more hands. That’s where State College Crop Mobs come in

Volunteers with State College Crop Mobs get to work at  Phoenix Farm.
Volunteers with State College Crop Mobs get to work at Phoenix Farm. Photo provided

State College Crop Mobs connects the community and local farms for a twofold benefit. Farmers receive a sometimes much-needed helping hand on a particular project and volunteers get the opportunity to see local sustainable agriculture up close and personal.

Pioneered as a grant-funded Penn State project, student managers lead the efforts along with help from faculty, to organize volunteers and spread the word about Crop Mob events. One of the student managers, Haley Stauffer, explained how it all comes together.

“We have a website where farmers can post what they need if they would like to (host) a Crop Mob (at their farm),” she said. “The process after we find a farmer is to find volunteers. ... We have a huge email list that we send out (information) to ... we post the event on our website, on our Instagram and Facebook ... gather interest and we coordinate from there.”

A group of 10 or so participants, a mixture of students and community members, head out to the farm on a weekend and take on the designated project — whether it’s planting, weeding, harvesting or any other time-consuming or labor-intensive task. No special skills are necessary, but the volunteers often surprise farmers with just how much they can accomplish.

Last spring, Stauffer said there was a big, successful Crop Mob at Windswept Farm in Patton Township.

“They thought we’d get one thing done in the four hours we were there and we ended up doing twice that and more,” she said. “(It’s rewarding) just showing the farmers how students can work and make an impact, impressing them and (having them say), ‘Oh, we wish you guys were here all the time. You guys really matter.’ Then (we) relay that back to the participants, that it really mattered what they did.”

While State College Crop Mobs has had a big impact since its founding five years ago, there’s still room to grow. Stauffer said one of their biggest goals is to increase their reach, engage more community members versus primarily students and get the word out about what they’re doing. One way they’re doing this is with an educational booth at the State College Downtown Farmers Market.

Regardless of if you’re a student or a community member, Stauffer sees the benefits the volunteers receive from participation, whether they go on to pursue a career in agriculture or just learn a little more about the local food systems.

“I think it’s really important for us, not just students, but as a community and members of the larger network that exists here, to understand what kind of food systems are in place and where we can play a role to be better stewards for sustainable agriculture,” she said. “We’re all consumers, so at the end of the day, it’s not just a student or community member that’s participating, it’s a person just learning in general and it’s very advantageous.”

Community members interested in volunteering can find more information on the group’s website, statecollegecropmobs.wixsite.com/cropmobs, or visit the educational booth at the State College Downtown Farmers Market on Sept. 14. Upcoming volunteer opportunities include gleaning days at Penn State research plots. The unused produce at the research plots is harvested by volunteers and then donated to local food banks. Gleaning days take place on select Sundays, 2-4 p.m.

“It’s really good for you to learn about the larger systems in place in your region,” Stauffer said. “There are a lot of farms around here and we are all really interdependent on each other. Just by knowing more about what’s in your area, you can be a more conscious consumer.”

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