Staff and volunteers at 21 Acres are building the ultimate re-purposed reused, recycled all-electric box truck to move produce from local, sustainable farms to Seattle area chefs and food service providers without contributing negatively to carbon emissions.
The 12-ton truck features a classic 1954 GMC chassis and an 18-foot refrigerated box for produce. Aside from moving food, the electric delivery truck will be used to amplify conversations about food systems and climate change.
“We took on this project to limit any carbon emissions we were responsible for in helping to move farmers’ produce,” said Robin Crowder, co-director at 21 Acres. “At the same time, we are excited about the idea of inspiring people to think about all the different elements that go into the food system--not only how food is produced on farms– but also how food is moved from farms to where it needs to go.
Crowder said the all-volunteer build team for the 1954 GMC conversion is led by Stephen Johnsen of High Performance EV and past president of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association. Johnsen has years of experience converting gas cars to electric and has been training the volunteers along the way, she added.
Johnsen is trying to source as many parts for the car as possible from the United States, Crowder noted. He is also working with two University of Washington Bothell classes on designing different components for the truck. She said 21 Acres is always accepting interested volunteers.
While doing research prior to the project, Crowder said, the team evaluated a variety of vehicle options for conversion and decided to go with the ultimate recycle project: the vintage 1954 GMC. The refrigeration element was essential for maintaining the cold chain for produce, cheese, grass-fed beef and frozen fruit to be moved, she added.
“When we were originally looking for how best to solve our transportation needs, we did lots and lots of research on what kind of vehicle would make sense for us,” she said. “Should we get a diesel truck and then run biodiesel in it? Are electric vehicles available? What were our options?”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, trucks and buses alone account for nearly 25% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and a majority of food distribution systems rely on heavily polluting diesel trucks.
In July, 15 states and the District of Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding to ensure 100% of all medium- and heavy-duty truck sales emit zero emissions by 2050, further accelerating the race toward electric trucks.
“The ultimate goal is to get people excited about how everybody can contribute, in many different ways, to thinking about how to address climate change,” Crowder said. “We’re all in this together. And these many small steps and initiatives all across the food system will lead to much larger impacts than any of us can have on our own.”
She said this climate-friendly model for moving food will not only be a functional zero-emission vehicle, but also bring about “visibility and conversations about climate change.”
The truck will likely partner with Puget Sound Food Hub and Farmstand Local Food, two organizations focused on moving food from farm to aggregation and then to buyers. Crowder said this vehicle will be essential in helping to move food in a cost-effective manner. At the same time, she noted, the truck may have a role in educating people about the local food economy and agroecology.
“It’s important to us that not only 21 Acres be part of the message, but the entire food system,” Crowder said. “We are just part of a much bigger community of action-oriented farms and people trying to create systematic change.”