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Farm Food Hits the Road

Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis grow food in the back of their old gray pickup. (

What do you do with a run-down 1986 Dodge pickup that gets 10 miles (or less) to the gallon? Most people would send it to the scrap heap. Ian Cheney decided to turn his into a mobile farm.

Cheney, 29, has a history of taking unorthodox decisions. In 2004, he and his friend Curt Ellis raised 10,000 pounds of corn on an acre of Iowa farmland, then told the story in the award-winning 2007 documentary King Corn. (My colleague Bonnie Benwick talked with them after its release.) The Truck Farm, currently growing tomatoes, basil, parsley and nasturtium blossoms as it cruises around Brooklyn, will serve as the jumping-off point for a new short film about urban agriculture.

The project was born out of frustration. New to New York, the pair didn't have any outdoor space to grow food in their respective Brooklyn neighborhoods: Cheney lives in Red Hook; Ellis is in Bedford-Stuyvesant. What they did have was an old truck, parked on the street. "Parking spaces are an under-utilized open space," Ellis said with a laugh. "The idea is to bring it into places where there is not enough fresh food available and get people talking about the issues."

If the truck doesn't make that happen, the short Webisodes charting their adventure will. The pair uses a solar-powered, time-lapse camera to show the planting and growth of the mini farm. And the scenes are accompanied by "Flight of the Concord"-esque songs about gardening. One of my favorites is the doleful tune that describes how the pair found a water system that would not damage the truck:

I went to see a lady
who had a rain water management system.
She used it all over town.
And it seemed like a pretty good system.
Oooooh ooooh

Cheney says his intention is to have a little fun. "There's something rather whimsical about the whole adventure," he told me. "There can be a tendency in this sustainable agriculture line of work to take ourselves a little too seriously, and I think you know the act of growing food can be a real, joyous one. That's what we want to come across in our little film."

The final film will focus on the Truck Farm and other New York farming experiments including a 6,000-square-foot rooftop garden in the Greenpoint neighborhood and a group of artist-farmers growing hydroponic plants in bottles suspended from their windows. Release is scheduled for 2010.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  July 28, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black  
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I love it - almost better than the parking plot garden that Airlie implemented.


Posted by: rowandk | July 28, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

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