THE FARM: ORIGINS
When Ian Cheney moved to New York City after making King Corn, a film about growing an acre of America’s most subsidized commodity crop, he wanted to grow something a little different. After all, he’d seen firsthand the problems associated with growing a crop like yellow dent #2 corn — the raw material for high fructose corn syrup, countless processed foods, and confined animal feeding operations. With America reeling from epidemics of obesity and diabetes, it was high time to try planting a garden of one’s own.
But where to do it? He didn’t own any land, all the community gardens were full, and the asphalt seemed to stretch on forever. Taking a good long look at the 1986 Dodge his grandfather Fayette Rumsey Plumb II had given him upon college graduation, Ian decided to give truck farming a whirl.
The design and installation of the Truck Farm was simple, and took less than a day once materials had been collected, all for less than $200. Victoria Foraker of Alive Structures donated the green roof materials for the bed, with Paul Mankiewicz of the Gaia Institute providing the lightweight soil necessary for keeping the truck from buckling under a heavy load. Heirloom seeds were ordered from Iowa’s Seed Savers Exchange, and planted in compost donated from Added Value Farm in Red Hook (and some topsoil purchased from the local nursery!).
Seeds sprouted in a matter of days! A time-lapse camera, powered by a small solar panel atop the truck’s cab, captured the progress of the plantings every 5 minutes, thanks to the clever gadgetry of physicist Dan Larsen. Once the seeds started to grow, Ian moved the Truck Farm to find shade on hot days, to borrow a bit of water from the hose spigot of the Italian restaurant down the block, and of course to dodge the street cleaners on Mondays and Fridays.
Spring gave way to summer, and the crops began attracting the attention of the neighborhood. Ian began visiting neighborhood nursery schools, giving many youngsters their first glimpse of food crops growing in soil.
The reports back from teachers were enthusiastic! When Ian’s longtime collaborator Curt Ellis moved to New York later that summer, the two friends set to work expanding the Truck Farm project into a fully-functioning, mobile-education device.
The first Truck Farm tour occurred in two parts in 2010, first roaming far beyond NYC’s borders to visit 9 schools and participate in the USDA’s Earth Day celebrations at The People’s Garden, and then focusing special attention on New York City during a concentrated 2-day spring tour.
Despite a blown gasket in rural Connecticut, the old Dodge had a merry time seeing the countryside. Seed packets, courtesty of Katie Rehwick and the America the Beautiful Fund, were distributed to thousands of students all along the eastern seaboard.
2010 Tour Stops
- PS 376 (Bushwick, NYC)
- he Green School (Williamsburg, NYC)
- PS 59 (Bushwick, NYC)
- Old Stone House (Park Slope, NYC)
- Brooklyn Prospect Charter (Sunset Park, NYC)
- School for Int’l Studies (Cobble Hill, NYC)
- PS 295 (Park Slope, NYC)
- PS 107 (Park Slope, NYC)
- Millennium High (Financial District, NYC)
- CUNY Prep (Bronx, NYC)
- Manhattan Center High (East Harlem, NYC)
- High School for Math, Science and Engineering (Harlem, NYC)
- Brunswick School (CT)
- Pomfret School (CT)
- Brown University (RI)
- Amherst College (MA)
- Philips Andover Academy (NH)
- Epiphany School (MA)
- US Dept of Agriculture (DC)
- Brunswick Elementary (DC)
- Horace Mann Elementary (DC)
- US Botanic Garden (DC)
- Kamit Institute of Magnificent Achievers (DC)