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Tribe Truck Farm: driving force behind new food source

  • Tribe Truck Farm
    Tribe Truck Farm  Students at Matthew Whaley take turns tasting and labeling the plants growing in the back of the Tribe Truck Farm.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Face First
    Face First  A student dives face first into the back of the Tribe Truck Farm to smell the flowers.  
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Most of the kids at Matthew Whaley Elementary School took turns expressing how they felt about the taste of fresh collard greens through funny faces and various sound effects. However, one kid expressed himself quite differently. While everyone else’s attention was on the plants they were tasting, he snuck away to the field next to him and spit out the mouthful of bitter greens. For him, the taste of raw, fresh vegetable was just as strange as where the plant was grown, which happened to be the back of a pickup truck.

The idea that you can grow fresh food anywhere, even in the back of a pickup truck, may seem far-fetched to some. However, that idea was brought to life thanks to students at William & Mary.

The Tribe Truck Farm, now driven by Anna Kenan '18 and Vincenza Montante '17, is a mobile garden in the bed of a pickup truck that runs on recycled vegetable oil. The truck is participating in the university’s Earth Week celebration, April 17-23, which will culminate in a festival in the Sunken Garden.

Jes Carr '15 and Nicole Broder '15 started the Tribe Truck Farm using a Green Fee grant they received from the university in the spring of 2013 along with money raised from a Kickstarter campaign. Carr and Broder’s purpose for the Tribe Truck Farm was to use it as a tool for educational outreach and to increase dialogue on sustainability in the William & Mary and Williamsburg communities. Kenan and Montante have been continuing that effort and recently got an opportunity to take the truck for its first outreach effort to a local elementary school.

The Tribe Truck Farm was invited to Matthew Whaley by fellow William & Mary students who are a part of the Eco-School Leadership Initiative to teach the kids about sustainability and growing their own food.

“It’s not normal to see vegetables growing in a pickup truck, so we want people to take away the message that they can grow their own food anywhere,” said Kenan.

The kids took turns smelling and tasting a variety of the plants grown in the truck, including pansies, sage, cilantro and collard greens, a surprising crowd favorite (except for that one kid). After working with the kids on identifying and labeling the plants in the garden with popsicle sticks, Kenan and Montante led the kids in a discussion on where their food comes from, how to grow their own food and what the advantages are of growing food themselves.

Montante said that the food they grow primarily lives in the truck due to the small quantity they produce.

“We don’t grow enough food to donate since the space is so small, but we do like to give students samples of what we grow when we do school or community visits,” she said. When the truck is not doing outreach in the community and at schools like Matthew Whaley, it is kept on William & Mary’s campus.

In order to keep the Tribe Truck Farm going and to continue growing food, Kenan and Montante are working to get vegetable oil waste from Sodexo, the company that runs the dining program on campus. They plan to construct their own vegetable-oil-filtration system that would filter the waste vegetable oil to a quality that is good enough to be used in fueling the truck.

“We are also going to start using compost from Sodexo that we get for free from the company they have a contract with,” said Kenan.

Kenan and Montante will soon get another opportunity to take the truck out and educate the community on sustainability and growing fresh food. On Tuesday April 19 the Tribe Truck Farm will be hosting a planting event on campus at the Sadler Terrace as part of William & Mary’s Earth Week celebration.

Also during the week the Tribe Truck Farm is partnering with the William & Mary School of Education through an elementary education class to visit the childcare center on campus.

During their three visits to the childcare center throughout the week, Kenan and Montante will educate the children about the advantages of using vegetable oil, cleaning up oil spills and how to plant in recycled objects from home.

On their last day at the center, they will introduce the kids to the Tribe Truck Farm and the idea that fresh food can be grown anywhere, even in a pickup truck.