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Bio: Tim Magner is an environmental and social justice activist working to make a difference in the lives of youth. Over the span of more than two decades, Tim has worked with kids as a camp counselor, ski coach, golf instructor, tutor, school board member, school council member, Big Brother, and, over the last three years, an author and Truck Farmer making more than 100 school appearances. Based in Chicago, Tim understands that in order to impact the lives of those changing the world, he’s got to understand the world and he supports connecting kids to nature and exercise, early and often. His belief main belief is that education ought to be practical, relevant, hands-on and develop the whole child (not just above the neck and to one side of the brain). He advocates for wider curriculum, better metrics and encourages kids to find and follow their passions. Read more about Tim: Top 10 Questions with Tim
Along with non-profit partner Seven Generations Ahead, I ran Truck Farm Chicago this year. It’s a mobile farm in the back of a pick-up truck (running biodiesel). We use the farm-on-wheels as a prop to connect students to food and conduct programming around health.
When the opportunity to run Truck Farm came up, I jumped. I grew up with vegetable gardens, worked on a farm (if you count volunteering at City Farm), know a bit about the food system and have eaten in plenty of CPS cafeterias. As a visiting children’s book author, I’ve been told by teachers that I’m crazy when I ask to eat the same food the kids eat.
If the food system is broken, where insanity is sanity and sanity is insanity, it’s exhilarating to join the movement for something better. Obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer are 100% preventable. So working with kids preventing problems makes sense. Kids learn no matter what. If we serve them foods loaded with sugar, fat and salt, they learn it’s OK to subsist on foods loaded with sugar, fat and salt. And then we demand their growing, restless bodies sit in their desks all day and prepare to perform well on tests. Crazy.
We advocate taking—and teaching—a wider view, where understanding connections leads to making better food choices and to joining the movement to build a better food system, including more jobs and more vibrant communities, with lower healthcare costs and cleaner air and water. Truck Farm’s thrilled to be one tiny participant in a the food movement who’s lucky enough to spend time with kids.
Growing food in the back of a truck is a novel concept. No matter the neighborhood, the ethnicity or the age of the students, Truck Farm has a ‘Wow’ or ‘Cool’ factor. We leverage that attention for practical education. We ask students all sorts of questions, from ‘What’s growing here?’ to “Why do we eat food?” and “Why does it matter what we eat?” We always do tastings. Spinach, scallions, basil and chocolate mint leaves were regulars. Strawberries & cherry tomatoes were favorites. My favorite line came from a child harvesting a carrot. He yanked out a small one and said, “Oh, no, not quite ready” and shoved it back in. At markets and festivals, when offering raw leaves, to a child, parents would whisper to us, “my kid won’t eat veggies.” We turn around and their child is chomping on a chard leaf. Sometimes I wish adults would give children more credit. To start, just-picked food tastes better. Plus, if the child is involved (like choosing and picking, or planning and cooking), they’re more likely to eat it. Once kids understand what they eat makes a difference in how their bodies perform, there’s no telling what happens. We had students yelling for more kale once they found out it helped their muscles work better.
We were lucky enough to visit several schools on multiple occasions for comprehensive programming, including hands-on cooking classes, classroom nutrition education and garden installs. That will be our model for 2012. Again, we’ll spend more than 75% of our time on the south side & west side of Chicago, reaching kids who bear the greatest burden of the status quo.