New York is a city of spectacles. Everywhere you turn, there are impressive buildings, extravagant billboards, and uniquely dressed people to behold. It may come as no surprise, then, that New York is also home to the Truck Farm, a green 1986 Dodge pick-up truck whose 40-foot bed has been converted into a CSA (community supported agriculture) that provides fresh produce to 12 subscribers in/around Brooklyn.
Truck Farm began “somewhat as a lark,” explains its co-founder Curt Ellis. After college, he and his childhood friend and later business partner, Ian Cheney, felt frustrated by the lack of connection they felt toward their food. In response, they moved to Iowa to pursue a film project focused on food and agricultural issues. There, the two gained firsthand experience with what they refer to as “industrial ag.” “Genetically modified seeds and lots of chemical fertilizers were the name of the game, and we grew some 10,000 pounds of food,” Ellis notes. Unfortunately, the sense of connection to the food that he and Cheney had been yearning for remained unfulfilled.
Having been “bitten by the film bug,” the two left for Boston one year later, when they began work on a film about the first “green” building in Boston. In the process, they discovered the building’s rooftop garden. “It really got us thinking about the variety of places in which one could grow food in a big city,” Ellis explains.
From there, Ellis and Cheney moved to New York City, where they were determined to combine the lessons they had learned about agriculture in Iowa with their experience in Boston. As Cheney recalls, “We wanted to find a way to make fresh, healthy food available to people everywhere, and we wanted to do so without relying on chemicals.”
Lacking real estate on which to build a farm, Ellis and Cheney turned to the only property they had: a 1986 Dodge pick-up truck. They piled light-weight soil into the back of the vehicle and began planting seeds.
Cheney and Ellis’ plants have since taken root. Truck Farm now boasts 12 subscribers, who enjoy an assortment of fresh organic produce items including tomatoes, heirloom lettuces, arugula, parsley, basil, broccoli, and nasturtiums with the option of delivery or “truck-side pick-up.”
“We’re really pleased with what we’ve accomplished thus far,” remarks Ellis, who adds that Truck Farm hosted its first summer picnic, complete with “truck fresh salad,” this year. Thanks to a bountiful crop of habenero and jalepeno peppers, a Truck Farm hot sauce is now on the table of possibilities. “We’d love to be able to offer it as a bonus to our CSA members,” Cheney notes.
As for their larger goal of re-connecting people with their food, “we’re getting there, slowly but surely” says Ellis. With growing concerns about obesity, food safety, rising food costs, Cheney and Ellis believe people are starting to pay more attention to where their food comes from.
“What we face now, particularly with respect to diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes, is a matter that demands national attention. We have to get people in positions of power to understand that access to fresh food isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.”
Cheney and Ellis hope that Truck Farm is a step in that direction. Although it has not yet sparked a widespread “truck farm revolution,” Truck Farm is getting people-particularly young children-to think more creatively about how and where they can produce their own food. As Cheney put it, “The kids who walk by our farm on the streets of Brooklyn get excited when they see what we are doing. To them, our truck is like a giant sandbox filled with possibility.”
Adults, too, have responded positively to the Truck Farm. “They find it fun, amusing, and inspiring, albeit a bit unusual-even by New York standards,” says Ellis.
To learn more about Truck Farm and to watch clips from Ellis and Cheney’s newest short film, “Truck Farm,” visit www.wickedelicate.com. Also be on the lookout for the complete “Truck Farm” documentary, slated for a Winter 2010 release.
*Photos courtesy of Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis