Many a school bus has been re-purposed, giving it a life well beyond that of carrying children back and forth from school each day. However, few have as surprising a new life as the 'Farm on Wheels' bus driving around Starkville, Mississippi.
The 'Farm on Wheels' is just that - a farm on wheels. The concept was thought up by Daniel Doyle, Executive Director of the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi, whose passion for sustainable gardening and farming led him to think up a way to bring gardening to a wider audience.
"A school bus could take the farm to the schools or take it to different communities or events that needed or wanted to learn about sustainable agriculture, composting, the numerous benefits of having chickens on your property".
The brightly painted bus uses a system of pumps and filters to turn the used kitchen oil into biodiesel as fuel. The inside no longer has any of the iconic school bus seats but rather is equipped with workbenches filled by plant pots, a compost bin, and even a cage big enough for chickens.
The Farm on Wheels is used to teach children across Starkville about how farms and gardens work, as well as how little space is needed to yield a very reasonable crop. Daniel also wants to show the importance of a balanced ecosystem and the addition of chickens to the bus highlights the advantages they can bring to a garden.
Daniel's goal, and that of Gaining Ground, is to encourage people to begin growing their own vegetables in their gardens or in communal areas, which are often more easily accessible in communities than it first appears.
"All these things could be taught in very simple ways and it would be easy to do that and it would eye-catching and sort of connecting the dots because they're already associating a bus with education."
Although the Mississippi Delta boasts some of the most fertile land in the country, if not the world, very little of the food grown in the area makes it to the population living there. The state also suffers from high levels of obesity and diabetes.
Gaining Ground was founded by Mike and Alison Buehler in response to these issues, after they started thinking about the role of sustainability in their lives.
The organization, founded three years ago, started with conferences for like-minded people, all interested in sustainability and learning how to provide better and healthier food for their families.
Mike explains that "it started out with a couple of our friends and then it went beyond that into Starkville and North Mississippi, and then later went on to grow into a state-wide organization."
Gaining Ground has many projects aimed at bringing together people whose interest lies in learning about self-sufficiency, as well as spreading the knowledge needed for people to start their own gardens.
One of their many projects is the Farm To School initiative, which aims to bring fresh and healthy food to lunches in Mississippi's schools. Starting with the substitution of one frozen or canned vegetable for its fresh equivalent, the initiative has succeeded in changing all lunches to fresh fruits and vegetables, with no processed meats.
Gaining Ground has created a support network across Mississippi that helps people share their experience and knowledge of farming and gardening, inspiring and aiding the growth of Community Supported Agriculture groups across the state.