No junk in the trunk

King Corn filmmaker’s latest transforms a Dodge pickup into a vegetable garden

Filmmaker Ian Cheney planted a garden in the back of his Dodge pickup truck. Now, he’s taking his <i>Truck Farm</i> documentary on tour, with a stop in Nevada City this week.

Filmmaker Ian Cheney planted a garden in the back of his Dodge pickup truck. Now, he’s taking his Truck Farm documentary on tour, with a stop in Nevada City this week.

Nevada City’s annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival attracts artists and cinemagoers from across the country. This weekend’s ninth-annual incarnation will showcase more than 110 films, including the latest by King Corn producer Ian Cheney. This time, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based filmmaker turned his janky Dodge pickup into a garden to explore how urban agriculture can impact a city’s budget deficit, child obesity, public health and hunger. Cheney spoke with SN&R last week while visiting family in Maine.

Is it legal to start a garden in the back of a pickup truck?

I’ve certainly been pulled over by the cops a few times. But they’ve never given me anything but raised eyebrows for the farm in the back of the truck. And I don’t think there is anything on the books forbidding people from planting in the back of their trucks.

What did you plant first?

The first summer I started with modest ambitions. I really wasn’t sure what would grow, or if anything would grow in a space that’s jostling around on cobble-stoned and potholed streets in Brooklyn. So I started with mostly greens. Several different types of lettuces, some arugula. But also some broccoli, tomatoes, and later added basil and a few other herbs. … It’s by far been the most successful garden I’ve ever been involved in.

Must be the truck, yeah?

Maybe there’s some secret charm in the old Dodge that helps things grow. And it also could be that it was mobile. I could drive around and find sunshine when I needed, and shade.

So truck gardens must be the latest hipster trend in Brooklyn now?

I got a call this past winter from a young woman in Denver who had seen a picture of my truck farm … and she wanted to start her own. … This past summer, she planted a beautiful garden in the back of a ’66 Ford. That was so inspiring to me that we are now launching a project for this coming spring to start 25 truck farms in 25 cities around the country.

Right on.

The truck farm is a magnet for little kids, because they think it is hilarious and unusual. So it’s a great way to start a conversation about where food comes from and the importance of eating healthy, eating vegetables.

Seriously. It’s hard to believe some politicians actually are against the first lady’s new healthy schools legislation.

We need better food for kids, [that] is the bottom line. And that does need to start in schools. And I think insofar that most American kids are in schools that are in cities, reimagining how those schools feed kids and how those kids learn about food is essential. And so that’s why we’re getting a lot of phone calls from teachers who are eager for our truck farm to roll up.

Did you eat healthy, nutritious foods as a child?

My mom made a lot of wonderful home-cooked meals and had a garden out back, but I certainly ate my fair share of McDonald’s and grape soda.

What was your Dodge’s greatest bounty?

My sister has always been obsessed with saffron, and she was telling me how it grows—as a fall-blooming crocus, you pluck he stamen of this crocus when it appears. And it’s super pricey. … So that was the thing I was most proud of, even though it didn’t amount to a whole lot of food.

Will you be gardening this spring?

Oh yeah, we’ll get the ol’ Dodge goin’ again. We’ve even got a greenhouse built on the thing.