Tim Magner, Chicago’s own Truck Farm driver, has a busy week ahead of him. Monday, his truck’s “garden bed” will be installed courtesy of Chicago Specialty Gardens and on Tuesday the compost and soil will be added, followed by the planting of the seedlings. All of this is in preparation for April 22, when he will drive off the City Farm lot to share his Farm-On-Wheels, where he is determined to start a conversation with students across the city about food and wellness.
Magner, who is partnering with Shari Brown of Seven Generations Ahead (SGA), is heading the Chicago Truck Farm initiative. Other truck farms will be taking to the streets in 18 cities across the country.
Magner, who has written environmental children’s books with Green Sugar Press, was inspired to start his own truck farm after Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, the filmmakers of the documentary King Corn, started a truck farm in Brooklyn, NY last summer. Cheney and Ellis began recruiting big city “farmers” after the success of their own Truck Farm. Magner hopes to reach students in elementary school all the way through high school, concentrating on areas that are considered food deserts.
“As soon as I received an email in January about running the Chicago operation I knew this was up my alley,” said Magner. “This is an educational project for kids to draw awareness to food problems and inspire them to learn more about foods and take care of themselves.”
Magner will be utilizing many Chicago-based resources, including SGA, to help his truck succeed.
“I am going to partner with an organization called Kid’s Table, Melissa Graham, founder of Purple Asparagus and I will be using the Seven Generations Ahead Fresh from the Farm curriculum with the kids,” he said.
While Magner is trying to reach out and educate students about farming and healthy food, he has also received support in the way of student volunteers to help teach their fellow peers and aid the truck farm in any way possible.
“My truck will run on biodiesel fuel. The Whitney Young Biodiesel Club walked up and down Taylor Street asking restaurants for their leftover vegetable oil. This helps save the restaurants the money it would cost to dispose of the oil and saves 90 percent of the diesel emissions,” said Magner. “I believe in no waste in nature.”
Magner has big plans for what he is hoping to share with the students he meets with his Truck Farm.
“We can use [the Truck Farm] to tie learning to the real world. All kids are naturally curious, so we’re going to dig into questions like, ‘How does nature provide us with food?’ and ‘How do the choices we make impact our bodies, and impact everything around us?’” said Magner. “We’ll learn about energy balance and benefits of, and ideas for, more exercise. We’ll do it with kids from kindergarten through high school.”
Magner already has some exciting events lined up for the next couple of months.
To kick off the first day of the Truck Farm initiative, along with Earth Day, Magner will appear on WGN where he will be talking about the Truck Farm initiative and planting some seeds. He hopes that the WGN appearance will spread the word of his Truck Farm beyond students.
“Education is important, but access to fresh fruit and vegetables is just as big an issue. So, it won’t be all kids all the time. I hope to bring awareness to food system issues,” said Magner.
The truck will be making other public appearances this summer at Green Fest from May 13-15 and at Millennium Park from June 27-July 1. During the week that Magner is at Millennium Park, he will be setting up an area with a special project to engage kids in gardening.
“I will be setting up multiple Radio Flyer wagons with dirt to allow kids to practice planting,” said Magner. “The kids who participate get to take home a plant of their own.”
Magner plans to keep driving his truck around the city through the month of October, and maybe even longer.
“I hope to build a greenhouse over the truck to extend the season even longer,” said Magner.
Magner will put primary focus on areas where finding fresh produce is a huge challenge, but ultimately wants to reach out and share his message with as many areas of the city as he can.
“I want to reach folks in Austin and Englewood as well as folks in Lincoln Park who may not give as much thought to the obesity epidemic,” said Magner. “It’s exciting and important to engage folks in things they don’t think about on a daily basis.”
Magner knows that the Truck Farm will bring challenges, but he is not short on the enthusiasm and determination needed to make a difference.
“I have a natural aptitude for entertaining kids, but understand Truck Farm and enthusiasm alone are not enough to change the way kids eat and think about food,” said Magner. “Nobody can do everything, but we can engage, inform and inspire others to take responsibility and work towards change.”
Plus! For more information on the Truck Farm project, click here!
Make sure to tune in to WGN on April 22 at 11:40 a.m. to see Magner, Brown and the Chicago Truck Farm!