Mobbed Up – Report from the Crop Mob

October 14, 2010 at 8:13 am

Editor’s note: On 10.10.10 a group mobbed up at the farm of Marty and Kris Travis to work for their food.  Mande Smogor, who plans on setting off soon to talk with, and write about America’s farmers and ranchers, heeded the call.  She provided this report and some pictures for you Beetniks.  You can follow Mande’s unfolding adventures at The American Heartland.  Want more, the Mafia Hairdresser also reports back, including his use of the green tomato recipe from the Sustainable Cook.

On Sunday, watched as their grassroots movement took off on a global scale, with 188 countries around the world participating in some form of group work party to encourage positive climate transformation.

I was lucky enough to travel with other like-minded folk (Rob from The Local Beet Chicago, the Mafia Hairdresser, and Tom from White Oak Gourmet) down to Livingston County, Illinois, where I met Marty and Kris Travis. They are the genius behind The Spence Farm, the oldest farm in Livingston County. Even cooler, they are the direct descendants of the original settlers. Marty and Kris are the real deal: intelligent, passionate, welcoming, innovative.

In the business of agriculture, one little thing can make or break you. “Farming is a science, an art, a gamble – a risk. You’re always at the mercy of the next thing,” Marty says as he feeds popping sorghum into an old combine. They supply directly to top restaurants in Chicago in return for firsthand inspiration and support. They grow “wild and weird” crops, and you can bet that everything is natural.

Marty and Kris are working against genetically modified organisms (GMO) – those are my words, not theirs, but let me explain. Livingston County is largely rural. You will find few corporate farms: nearly everything is small and family-owned, but the crops don’t vary much between GM corn, GM soybeans, and GM wheat. The Travis’ have to wait 2 to 4 weeks after everyone else is done planting for fear of cross-contamination with their “safe” seeds. But Marty is quick to point out that he’s not fighting against these people. “They are neighbors, they aren’t the enemy.” They’re just trying to make a living like the rest of us.

For several hours yesterday, our group harvested sorghum by hand, deconstructed a tomato field (and kept back a few post-frost tomatoes that are descendants of Galapagos Island fruits brought here by Charles Darwin’s great-granddaughter), sampled some late-harvest pawpaws (as a pastry chef, I would love to incorporate those babies into a tart of some kind), toured the maple syrup setup back in the sugar maple grove, planted 4 rows of garlic, and ate lunch in the grass amidst friendly heirloom chickens.