Shareable's Top Six How-tos for Growing Community with Food

Though summer is wearing on toward fall, farm fresh foods are still at their peak. If you're a fan of healthy food with a dash of community organizer thrown in, Shareable has the below ideas for how to create a thriving community rooted in food and sharing.

1.) How to Start a Crop Mob
Any farmer will tell you that extra helping hands are always a sight for their sore eyes. By combining that sort of manual assistance with an exercise in community building, a group of young farmers in North Carolina came up with the notion of crop mobs in 2008. One of the founding members, Rob Jones, explained, “There has always been a spirit of cooperation in agriculture because it is a lot of work. We’ve just found a slightly different way to manifest it. It is a part of making sustainable agriculture personally sustainable for the farmers. Certainly, we are seeing a lot of young people that aren’t interested in being 'the farmer' on a farm. They want to work cooperatively and collectively with others as part of a community.”

The very first crop mob ended with “19 people digging, sorting, and boxing 1,600 pounds of sweet potatoes in less than three hours.” And, thus, a movement was born. Since then, crop mobs have spread like wildfire across the nation with even the New York Times taking notice. The popularity of the events likely lies in their simplicity and efficiency.


Boxes of Rio Gozo Farm produce ready to share. Photo credit: Elizabeth Del Negro.

2.) How to Share a Vegetable Garden and How to Share Land
Okay, so now that you've mobbed a crop, you have a taste for digging in the dirt, but lack a garden of your own. Chances are, you can find a place to share and grow. Doesn't much matter where you live, you can always find a little plot, even in the middle of a city. Using a site like SharedEarth or Landshare makes it that much easier to locate the resources you need. SharedEarth's Adam Dell said their site gets all kinds of folks: “I think it scales all the way up to I’m gonna be a farmer, and all the way down to I have a fire escape on my building in New York, I’m growing some food and I can use some help.”

Once you find a willing partner, be sure to map out the guidelines in a way that all parties are clear on expectations, risk, liability, and responsibility. Also, it's probably smart to fashion an exit strategy just in case things don't work out.

3.) Ingredients for a Successful Urban Kitchen Garden and How to Grow a Garden on Your Balcony
Maybe, instead, you have your own space, either in the form of a small yard or merely a balcony. That's all you need, really. With proper planning, resource allotment, creativity, and sweat equity, you'll be sprouting and harvesting in no time. Like Mike Lieberman of Urban Organic Gardener claims, “Don't worry about having the perfect place or the perfect time or the perfect whatever the excuse is. The only perfect thing is right now, so work with that and just do it. Another piece of advice that I'd give is to stick with it. You aren't going to be 100% successful. No one is. The most important thing is that you learn from your mistakes and continue to improve ... and have fun.”

4.) How to Share a Chicken (or Two) and How to Share a Cow
With all of those veggies growing in your shareable garden paradise, some folks might want to take the next step into responsible food choices. If you're not quite ready to raise your own chickens, hopping into an egg co-op is a wonderful next best option. If you're the more ambitious sort, perhaps you'll want to start an egg co-op. That's exactly what Patrick Barber and Holly McGuire did when they teamed up with Zenger Farms to create Portland's Eastside Egg Cooperative. “We kind of came in guns blazing and said here it is, this is what it’s going to do, where it’s going to go,” Barber confessed. Farm director and co-op manager Sara Cogan added that the point is “sharing in labor and sharing in goods, and not exchanging money, being involved in the actual production of food and taking care of animals. It’s really amazing.”

Divvying up a cow share is a slightly different process. Matt Markovich, who gathered a group of Oakland, California, friends together to purchase grass-fed beef directly from a farm, explained the myriad benefits of his venture: “You’re keeping money in the community, supporting small farmers and having a reduced environmental impact because your food doesn’t get trucked as far. You’re helping support the entire ecosystem. People talk about eating within a 100-mile radius of their homes. We can do that here. From field to fork, I know exactly what is going on with the food I’m eating.”


Matt Markovich shows off the grass-fed haul. 

5.) How to Start a Farmers' Market
Getting food out of the ground is one thing; getting it into the hands of consumers, though, is a whole other bag of beans. However, with a heaping dose of organization and another good bit of concerted effort, setting up a local farmers' market is a viable undertaking. The residents of San Francisco's Noe Valley neighborhood did just that when their local produce market shuttered its doors.

One of the folks leading the charge was Leslie Crawford. She confessed that it wasn't as easy as they'd hoped: “It’s funny how little we knew, but we just sailed on with it anyway. ... When we started, I thought ‘Everybody’s going to love this idea! I was shocked to find out I was wrong.” Still, the group marched on and, eventually, their market was thriving.

6.) Top 10 Tips for Starting a Campus Food Co-op
Another road on the direct-to-consumer map comes in the way of food co-ops which “increase access to healthy food, support a sustainable food system, provide job training, and are run-owned by workers.” When they are set up on college campuses, all the better. There, they reach kids who are likely in dire need of healthy food choices that can entrench lifetime habits. With support and guidance from CoFed, student organizers can lobby for these sorts of sustainable food offerings on their campus.

According to the organization, which offers training sessions on the matter to interested students, “People are your most important resource -- not money! People are the most valuable asset to your project from start to finish. You will need committed leaders who will get things done as well as broad student support. When your business is opened, you will need customers to maintain it. Once you have the people, you will find the money you need.”

What ideas do you have for growing food and community? Please share your knowledge in comments.

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Be sure to check out our complete list of sharing how-tos. Here are more of our top how-to stories:

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