Sustainability in Practice: San Diego Schools Turns Old Bus into Mobile Farm

San Diego Schools hope to transform a school bus into a traveling farm.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

San Diego Unified School District is taking the classic school icon—a yellow bus—and transforming it into a mobile farm. The project is modeled after the Truck Farm, a traveling “farm” planted in the back of an old pickup truck.

“Obviously it’s not a farm, but a tool to inspire people to think about where food comes from, why it’s important to know where your food comes from, how food is grown and to show that you can grow food in weird, exciting places,” says Vanessa Zajfen, farm-to-school specialist for the district.

Zajfen says the district was looking for a way to expand its farm-to-school program in an engaging way that also would be a learning resource for the schools. “We thought, ‘Hey, we have a bus yard over there with a bunch of buses that are sidelined for various reasons. Could we convert one of those into a farm and make it like the Truck Farm?’”

While the bus farm doesn’t exist yet, Zajfen says she hopes the project will be running soon. One challenge is the bus farm isn’t being funded by the district, so Zajfen is raising funds from outside sources, such as Whole Foods.

To transform the bus into a farm, the seats will be ripped out and the roof of the bus will be removed. Zajfen hopes a glass top will replace the roof, which might also be able to open like a hinge so that an educator can stand in the bus giving lessons while students sit on the outside. Zajfen hopes to install an electrical system and wiring for a hydroponic growing system. Produce will be planted in raised beds. “We have to think about how much soil can we put in a bus and if it gets wet how heavy is it going to be and can a bus [be driven] with all of that [weight]?” asks Zajfen.

Once the bus is running, Zajfen says the mobile farm will visit schools three days a week, in addition to community events several times a month. While the bus is at the schools, students will be able to plant produce in one bed and harvest produce from another bed. The harvested produce will then be served on the school’s salad bar.