One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Landscape of a Truck Farm

One of my other jobs is as an educational writer for Reading Plus, a silent reading intervention program for Grade 3 kids on up. I write short narratives for the company, about a wide range of topics, mostly non-fiction, always connected to the core curriculum. I could write a whole blog post on how good this job has been for my writing. I have learned how to write within very stringent guidelines: specific word lengths, specific vocabulary, specific sentence lengths. This is probably a useful skill for any writer, but especially for me, queen of verbose. (See earlier blog posts to see how I am trying oh so hard to break my overwriting habit and leave    s     p     a     c     e    in my stories.

But this is not what I want to tell you all about today.

I want to tell you about Truck Farms because I just researched them for a Reading Plus narrative I finished writing today and I was blown away by what I learned.  They are so darn cool.  And smart.  And do-able.

Ian Cheney created the first Truck Farm.  He founded this "mobile garden education project" in Brooklyn, NY, where he moved after making his film King Corn, a film about "growing an acre of America's most subsidized commodity crop." He wanted to create a garden, but, as he said, he couldn't find a community garden to join and he didn't own any land.  What he did have, though, was a 1986 Dodge pick-up truck that his grandfather had given him as a college graduation present. Maybe he could drive somewhere in the truck?  To some place that had land?  Or maybe...he could build a farm ON the truck? Yes, that.

For very little money and a lot of creativity, Ian built a garden in the back of the Dodge.  He used green roof technology to do it, got lots of materials donated, got lots of good advice and help, planted seeds and soon he had vegetables poking their tiny heads out of the soil...small signs of life on a wild ride.  The whole project sounded like so much fun.  He would drive to the sunny side of the street when the plants needed sun and then to the shady side when they needed shade. Once he actually had vegetables ready to eat, he would drive to a CSA member's apartment (people bought small shares in the Truck Farm) and right then and there harvest their crop.  Talk about fresh!  Talk about local!  And best of all, he began going to schools to show kids how easy it is to start a the sky's the limit in terms of where a garden can important it is to know where food comes from, and how even more important it is to eat local, fresh food.

Ian has put out a 25 Truck Farms in 25 American cities challenge.  And they are popping up in lots of places.  I love this for so many reasons.  For one reason, as Ian deeply believes, we need to feed our kids better.  We need them to know what food really is, where it comes from, and how it grows.  For another, the creativity of the Truck Farm is inspiring. The way Ian looked at his truck---this familiar object with a single purpose---and thought sideways and came up with this incredible thing.

And for one more reason too.  To my mind, a Truck Farm is a lot like a story. It is this world, this living breathing changing world, in a tiny space. Each vegetable has an arc, the whole garden has a structure and an aesthetic, and there is a rhythm to its existence.  You have to fill the truck bed as much as you can, it can't hold much after all, but you also have to make sure each plant has enough space. I mean check this out: when you plant carrots you plant a ton of them, then as they begin to grow you have to thin them, pull some out so that the remaining carrots can grow big and fat and full.  If that isn't the process of revision---or my revision anyway (did I mention I am trying to create space in my stories??)---then I don't know what is.

Check out the trailer for Ian's film about his Truck Farm.

Happy writing. Happy planting.  Happy revising.  Happy harvesting.

All images from Ian's website.