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A Pickup Truck Grows an Educational Mini-Farm

A literal food truck expands the creative arsenal of urban agriculture.

If the Lorax were to ever actually award a "Certified Truffula Tree of Approval" to a moving vehicle, it'd be a lot more likely to go to a garden-toting truck that brings farms to schools than to a Mazda SUV.

A literal "food truck," Truck Farm Chicago is a nonprofit organization that uses a 1994 Ford F-250 named Petunia to chauffeur a miniature farm. The project, which revved into gear on Earth Day, is a collaboration between sustainable development nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead and eco-friendly book-printer Green Sugar Press, a recent GOOD Maker finalist whose co-founders Shari Brown and Tim Magner were inspired by King Corn director Ian Cheney’s first truck farm in Brooklyn, NY.

While Truck Farm Chicago is one of about 20 truck farms sprawled across the nation, it's set apart by its focus on educating Chicago youth and families about healthy eating. Visits to the truck typically last an hour and consist of a short tour of the farm, plant identification, taste tests, and sensory exploration. Off-truck activities include planting a seed in a newspaper pot to nourish at home and painting their favorite lessons straight onto Petunia.

"I was excited about this project as a fun, unique and creative way to bring gardening and nutrition education to children all over the city—especially those who may not otherwise get to see how food grows up close,” Brown says. "Making healthy choices can be challenging, especially when good fresh food and education about why it's important and how to cook it is not always accessible. Truck Farm is trying to do our part by using our exhibit to spark these discussions, give youth the tools to make healthy choices, and inspire them to use their own creativity to encourage healthy changes in their communities.""

There’s an enormous need for nutritional education in Chicago, where childhood obesity exceeds the national average: According to the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, 35 percent of Illinois children between 10 and 17 are obese. In its first year, Truck Farm visited food deserts and underserved communities throughout the city, reaching 2,738 children at 47 schools. This year, with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, they hope to educate more than 3,000 children, strengthen programming opportunities from starting school gardens to follow-up visits, and spread awareness about the importance of good food.

The community has been instrumental to the organization’s success, Brown says, donating compost, plants, and other supplies. The truck garden was designed and engineered by Chicago Specialty Gardens, which provides Petunia with a raised bed divided into a few sections to ensure the soil stays in place on the road and a drainage system with a permeable layer of landscape fabric. The crew plants seedlings that will sprout quickly, including lettuce, radish, kale, chard, broccoli, kohlrabi, beans, and a variety of herbs. As the weather warms up, cherry tomatoes, basil, rosemary, and eggplants will be added to the mix.

"One of my favorite quotes is, ‘If you don't take care of your body, where will you live?" Brown says. "Every child has the right to know how to care for themselves and to ultimately enjoy a higher quality of life."

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Photos courtesy of Truck Farm Chicago\n

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