Find Out How to Turn a Pickup Truck Into a Farm Tonight

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On Sunday, T magazine took a look at the rooftop-farm phenomenon — in addition to the Roberta’s project with Brooklyn Grange, both Co. and the Breslin are trying to get rooftop farms going. For an especially inspired take on urban agriculture, you may want to drop into Pete’s Candy Store tonight at 7:30 p.m., when Ian Cheney (co-creator of the documentary King Corn) will discuss his so-called Truck Farm, a CSA he’s running out of the back of his 1986 Dodge Ram (Cheney will show clips from the new movie he and his partner, Curt Ellis, are making about the truck and other urban-farming experiments).

As Cheney tells it (and as a couple of YouTube clips show), he converted the flatbed of his truck into a farm by drilling holes in the bottom (to let water drain), laying down a drainage blanket (to capture water and also let excess water run off), and topping it with six inches of soil, as one would do with a green roof. During his first growing season last year, Cheney was surprised to get what he calls “a heck of a lot of food” (or about two shopping carts' worth of lettuce, arugula, cherry tomatoes, basil, and the like — but no root vegetables since the soil wasn’t deep enough). This year, he installed a greenhouse on the back of the truck and expects to get peas (they’re currently climbing up a trellis near the tailgate), okra, summer squash, and sage overwintered from last year.

What’s more, Cheney started a CSA and is currently looking for members to pay $20 a pop. So long as they understand that they’ll be getting an “unknowable amount of produce” throughout the summer — “which is what most CSAs are like, although they tend to be more reliable than this one probably,” he laughs. And if you don't live near Red Hook (where the truck is parked near Cheney’s apartment), don’t expect the kind of curbside delivery Marion Nestle got (a bag of mostly lettuces with a sprig of broccoli and a handful of basil) — highway driving is a no-no since it causes soil to blow away.

When asked if this model might be reproducible, Cheney tells us, “I don’t think we’re going to fix our food problems or our epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes with food grown in the back of old pickup trucks, but it’s an example of how easy it is to grow your own food in a small, unusual location, and the mere sight of the truck farm on the side of the street is an example of how fun it can be to grow your own food.”

That said, there’s always the danger of a parking ticket, though Cheney has yet to get smacked with one. ”The only pest we’ve had is a friendly neighborhood kid who loves parsley. He’s been decimating the parsley.” Cheney could still use some, though.