Crop Mob

Crop Mob 2011

By Thomas Leavitt, Spence Farm Foundation Board Member

The pouring rain as we drove out of Chicago had us worried about a soggy, wet and miserable day on the farm. Luckily, the rain stopped 35 miles outside of Fairbury, and the skies began to clear. When we pulled up to the farm it was clear and the temperature was in the mid 60’s. Perfect weather  to help the Travis family with their harvest. This year’s Crop Mobbers, volunteers and Chicago residents interested in sustainable agriculture and the environment, the made the two hour trip in a rented van from Chicago to Fairbury.  Many of us had made this same trip last year, and were eager to renew acquaintances with the Travises and the farm.

Upon arriving, we joined the Travises for lunch in the one room schoolhouse that serves as the meeting center for visitors to the farm. The Travis Family; Marty, Kris, and Will are direct descendants of the original settlers of the farm which is oldest continuous working farm in Livingston County.  After introductions, Marty told a story of his 7th great grandfather who arrived here in 1830.

School house

School House

Surrounded by a sea of commodity corn and soybean farms,  Spence Farm is an organic oasis which the Travises have developed into a very successful niche organic produce and grains business supplying the leading restaurants in Chicago and central Illinois with their products.  Disheartened every time that they saw a neighbor struggle and perhaps lose their farm, they formed The Stewards of the Land to help those neighbors access the markets to which the had Travises developed.

Realizing that their vision of a robust rural economy was more than selling, but also about educating, they started the Spence Farm Foundation in 2005.  Regrettably, even children in rural Livingston County don’t all know where their food comes from or how it’s produced.  Marty and Kris set out to change that with the Foundation, a registered educational non-profit organization.  They now have programs on the farm for 2nd and 5th graders from the schools in Livingston County.  Also offered are high school and university programs and farm tours for just about anyone who is interested.
While the weather was not as spectacular as 2010, this year’s Crop Mob to help with the harvest was just as rewarding.  And harvest we did!  I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who might have been a little spooked when Marty said that they had 10,000 pounds of butternut squash to harvest. Amazingly, the 15 volunteers and the Travises harvested the entire field in just over an hour!

Butternut Squash

Squash on Wagon

Squash on Wagon

Loading Squash

Loading Squash


Look, I found a big one!

Look, I found a big one!

We then moved on to harvest potatoes and really get our hands dirty. Using a 100 year old potato harvester which they had saved from the junk man, Marty drove the tractor and son Will guided the harvester from behind. We volunteers followed on our hands and knees digging the loosened soil for tiny potato treasures. In all, we harvested 300-400 pounds.

Our day’s work amounted to a few hours, yet we saved the Travises two days of work that they alone would have had to do. Because small organic farms are typically family owned and operated, most of the labor is done by hand. The term “Crop Mob” was coined by city dwellers who have an interest in sustainable agriculture and would like to help more than just by going to the farmer’s market or joining a CSA.

For information about next year’s Crop Mob or to stay informed on happenings on the farm, please join our mailing list.