Drive-Through: A Truck Farm Grows in Brooklyn | Civil Eats

Drive-Through: A Truck Farm Grows in Brooklyn

truck

When my buddy Ian suggested we turn his ’86 Dodge half-ton into a planter, I thought the pickup had finally blown its engine.  When Ian said he intended to keep the old truck on the road in Brooklyn, I figured he’d blown his.

But now, four months later, we’ve got ripe tomatoes growing in the bed (a gas station attendant ate the first one last weekend), and the transmission is going strong.  Truck Farm, as we at Wicked Delicate call her now, is a mobile CSA, with twelve (increasingly skinny) paying subscribers.

The gray Dodge has already given us a bumper crop of arugula, lettuce, broccoli and herbs, and our habanero plants are rooting nicely.  Most importantly, Truck Farm is sprouting a steady supply of interested neighbors.  They pull weeds, add water, only occasionally steal parsley, and leave behind a calling card of plastic animals: toy cows and chickens that graze contentedly among the nasturtiums.  Part garden, part art installation, Truck Farm is getting invited to way more summer barbecues than its owners.

I like to think that the project’s curb appeal goes beyond its novelty (and if you’ve seen TheWhoFarmMobile or the Waterpod you know it’s not that novel).  The desire to grow food in the city goes back to Babylon and beyond: there’s a mental satiety that comes from starting a recipe when you plant a seed.

Now, our veggie truck wasn’t meant to be a model for any larger fleet of four-wheeled farmland (though a conversion craze might be Detroit’s last hope).  We wanted it to be a showcase for urban agriculture of the low-carbon variety.  On a recent trip to Added Value, adolescents from across Brooklyn were washing lettuce and harvesting collards at Red Hook Community Farm.  “I used to drink a lot of soda,” one said.  “But since I started at the farm, I’ve changed what I eat.”  Added Value’s opening-day market was rich in low-cost, high-quality produce, most of which had traveled less than 50 feet from farm to table.

Later, at Greenpoint’s Rooftop Farms, E-Trade ex-pat Ben Flanner showed us how New York’s decimated agricultural lands could be restored, four stories up on a Brooklyn warehouse.  With a Manhattan skyline in the background, butterflies flirted with the tomato blossoms and Ben took orders for zucchini by cell-phone.

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Admittedly, the patchwork farms and gardens sprouting up like weeds in the sidewalk cracks around New York these days may be a ways off from feeding us all, but I think they’re bringing our food system something it sorely needs: a dose of fun.

Here is a preview of the Truck Farm food and film project:

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Curt Ellis grew up in Oregon and found his passion for food and agriculture at The Mountain School and Yale, then moved to Iowa to investigate the role of subsidized commodities in the American obesity epidemic. The film he co-created there, King Corn, produced with Ian Cheney and Aaron Woolf, received a national theatrical release and PBS broadcast, helped drive policy discussion around the Farm Bill, and earned a George Foster Peabody Award. Under a Food and Community Fellowship with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Ellis helped launch the mobile garden project Truck Farm and directed Big River, a sequel to King Corn, for Discovery's Planet Green. Ellis is a Draper Richards Kaplan Social Entrepreneur, a Claneil Foundation Emerging Leader and a recipient of the Heinz Award. He has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC and NPR, is a frequent speaker on college campuses, and works as co-founder and Executive Director of the national service organization FoodCorps. Read more >

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  1. This is so cool, love it! Thanks to my friend Rose Hayden-Smith for letting me know about it. I love what you are doing (yet again).

    Judi aka LAFarmGirl.blogspot.com
  2. When it easier to come across parking lot space than space to garden this is what we must do.
  3. Amerigo
    What's the carbon footprint of Truck Farm? Is it sustainable? Maybe you could grow corn and process it into ethanol right in the truck bed and propel yourself around Brooklyn! GM & Chrysler should look into that. Of course that would mean less arugula....
  4. Annie
    This is fantastic! I live on a tiny island off the west coat and in the only island town, most people have no yard space whatsoever. Even full sized truck like the Dodge in this post are rare, but there are lots of mini-trucks (not the mini-truck of the 1990'2 but the utility variety). One lady has turned her truck into a roving planter as well. It's terrific and more successful than my in the ground garden this year!

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