April 25, 2012

Crop Mob Revolution: Sustainable, Local and Community-Focused. ~ Oz Osborn.

It’s Springtime in Colorado—I know: glorious, right?!

This means that, come the weekend, our choice of exciting and enjoyable outdoor activities is virtually unlimited. We’re blessed that way here in Colorado.

Increasingly, though, many of us are looking for more than just fun when it comes to deciding how to spend our valuable leisure hours. Informed by environmental and social justice issues we’re finding ways to convert that leisure time into meaningful action for ourselves and for our communities, while having fun to boot!

And I can’t think of a better way of accomplishing that than to join a crop mob.

Locals are fortunate to have our very own Denver crop mob group, coordinated by Laurie Schneyer, and sponsored by worthies Slow Food Denver, Grow Local Colorado and other local non-profits. Note to Boulderites: there is no Boulder crop mob group—a niche that needs to be filled!

The easiest way to think of a crop mob is as a latter-day version of Amish barn-raising—it’s a group of local people who converge on a property to engage in some sort of farm or garden focused activity, after which there is a social gathering, usually centered around a meal.

And so, on a recent weekend, a group of about 20 of us converged on a new arrival to the Denver restaurant scene, The Garden at Park Hill, which serves local and sustainably produced food, often including raw, veg*n, and/or gluten-free menu items.

Owner (and vegan) Aleece Raw aimed to build a garden to provide her kitchen the wherewithal to create ultra-local culinary delights. Additionally, she wanted to do so via sustainable methods, and so chose the permaculture technique called sheet-mulching—a no-till approach to gardening.

Local permaculture guru David Braden, who runs the Applewood Permaculture Institute in Golden, was on hand to manage the technical aspects of the affair.

Sheet mulching is a multi-layered process—Braden’s preferred layering is as follows (note these layers are placed atop the existing ground — no digging is done):

½ inch of aged manure

1st layer of cardboard

1st layer of newspaper, to cover the seams in the cardboard

2nd layer of cardboard

2nd layer of newspaper, to cover the seams in the cardboard

½ inch of aged manure

12 inches of wood chips


12 inches of sticks and branches, and even logs


The latter step—using woody debris for this layer—represents a divergence from traditional sheet mulching materials, and derives from an approach used in Eastern Europe and Germany called Hugekultur, which has proven effective at Braden’s permaculture institute.

Throughout the layering process, the materials, as they’re installed, are watered thoroughly.

The first layer of manure and cardboard/newspaper atop it:

Follow this with more cardboard and newspaper:

Then another layer of manure, and atop that, the foot-deep top mulch layer of wood chips,:

or, in some places, woody debris in lieu of wood chips:

For good measure, to drive nitrogen down into the thick mulch layer (which jump starts the process of decomposition), a final two inch layer of manure was added on top, leaving a sheet mulch garden spanning roughly 250 sq ft, which took us about three and a half hours to create, and which will, with luck and a small ongoing investment of effort, yield healthful food for years to come.

Upon completion, socializing amidst a sampling of delectables (including a knock-out kale salad) commenced.

It was a well-satisfied and well-fed mob that departed in the early afternoon, with most of the day still ahead of us. A weekend adventure I can highly recommend.


~Edited by Jill Barth. Photos by Oz Ozborn.


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Oz Osborn is a dedicated yogi and Vipassana meditator, an engineer whose passion and focus is ecological sustainability, and finding genuinely green ways to address the daunting environmental challenges we face in these thoroughly unsustainable and greenwashed times.





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