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Life is a Truck Farm

Ed. Note: This is cross-posted from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) blog.

DC Truck Farm is a collaborative effort between D.C. Central Kitchen (DCCK) and USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative. Now in its second year, this garden on wheels travels around the Nation’s Capital teaching urban youth about agriculture, soil science and nutrition education. It got moving thanks to the support of many partners in the DC metropolitan area.

We recently caught up with the District’s very own truck farmers at DCCK to capture their first planting of the season, ask about lessons learned last year and talk plans for 2012. Check out the video.

Tell us about DC Truck Farm.
The Truck Farm project is a mini garden planted in the bed of a Dodge Ram pick-up truck that serves as a tool to teach urban youth about healthy eating and to get them interested in where their food comes from. It began in 2010 as an experimental urban garden project of documentary filmmakers from New York. Since then, it has grown into a national project with 25 participating cities. The DC Truck Farm started in 2011.

Where did you travel to last year and who did you meet?
Last year we traveled to 40 sites across D.C. over the course of 16 weeks. Sites included farmer’s markets, summer youth agencies -- including organizations that participate in DCCK’s Healthy Returns Program -- and various other community events. The Truck Farm interacted with over 1,400 people -- 1,100 kids and 300 adults. We held hour-long lessons with over 750 kids. 

Tell us about your experiences working with youth.
At an average Truck Farm lesson, our students ranged in ages from 5 to 18. Lessons had to be easily adaptable for all ages. We found that in general, no matter what age kids were, they were interested in learning about how to grow their own food. Younger students tended to prefer digging in the dirt and doing art projects whereas older students spent a lot of time asking questions about what we were growing and tasting the different herbs and veggies. 

How do you make learning fun for students?
We made sure that all of our lessons were interactive. We usually only had 1 hour with students, so we tried to keep them moving and get them involved in projects. Generally we would set up three stations and rotate through each in small groups. Stations could be anything from a culinary herb scavenger hunt in the truck to planting your own plants to learning about vermiculture -- worm composting.

What plant did the kids like best?
Kids loved the lime basil and the chives. Some kids also liked the oregano because it reminded them of pizza!

Which lessons worked best?
Our most successful lesson was plant-a-plant. We would start off with students gathered around the truck. We would talk about how we got the plants in there and have the kids make observations about whether or not our garden was healthy. Then we would identify the things that made our garden healthy: sun, water, soil, etc. Kids would then plant their own seeds in small cups so they could grow their own healthy gardens, and shout out the magic ‘recipe’ for a healthy garden.

What was the most surprising question you received when talking to kids about DC Truck Farm?

Maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising, but we were not expecting so many kids to ask us “Why did you put dirt in your truck?” However, this question opened up an opportunity for us to have a deeper conversation about what it means to grow your own food in an urban environment. While the method we chose is a little wacky, it was a good chance for kids to observe their surroundings and realize how little green space they see every day. Then we would challenge them to think of other creative spaces they could grow food.

My favorite statement that we heard over the summer was at a farmers market one afternoon. An older couple visiting DC from the Midwest stopped by to look at our garden. I saw the woman’s eyes light up as she turned to me and said “You know, my husband has an old pick-up truck…” and before she could finish her sentence he said “Don’t even think about it!”

What are your plans for DC Truck Farm this year?
If you want to see DC Truck Farm in person, it will be parked at USDA Farmers Market every Friday starting June 1st and ending October 26th. And we’ll be on the road visiting schools, camps, Healthy Returns agencies throughout the growing season.