Yellow Tractor is All About Learning to Grow
Wendy Irwin, co-founder and CEO of Yellow Tractor, has been selected as one of the 2014 GOOD 100, a collection of 100 innovative individuals changing the way we live. Irwin, deemed GOOD’s urban agriculturalist, joins an illustrious group of creators, innovators and do-gooders with titles ranging from recycling visionary to wonder junkie. Through the work of Yellow Tractor, Irwin is helping to provide access to better health, nutrition and well-being by installing edible gardens in schools, underserved neighborhoods and businesses throughout Chicago.
“We want this to be so simple that anyone can do it successfully,” says Irwin.
Irwin is speaking of raised bed gardening using Yellow Tractor’s new raised garden bed kit, which goes on sale this May at Chalet Nursery and Garden Shop, 3132 Lake Avenue, in Wilmette. Manufactured locally in Wheeling, the durable raised beds provide a convenient way to cultivate homegrown produce anywhere. They are crafted from untreated western red cedar that is responsibly sourced from the Pacific Northwest, guaranteed to last and naturally pest repellent. No tools are required for assembly and Yellow Tractor offers ongoing educational support to guide new gardeners every step of the way.
For Irwin and Yellow Tractor President Anne Sorensen, the garden beds are more than a product, they are a means to affect social change. The heart of their mission is empowering people to cultivate healthy lifestyles, starting with the food they eat. Operating from the belief that access to healthy food is a basic human right, Yellow Tractor develops products and services that collectively offer solutions to America’s dual crises of obesity and food security.
In a country where a pervasive food industry too often protects profits over people, this social startup is betting that Americans will make “impact” purchasing decisions. Irwin’s upbringing in a costal Texas town exposed her personally to the effects of egregious irresponsibility of industry, in this case, big oil. Losing people close to her prematurely, including her mother, sister and countless friends, motivates her creative, grassroots approach. “Unfortunately, we can’t change the U.S. food industry overnight, but we can show people that ensuring a healthy diet by growing our own whole, clean fruits and vegetables is easy, affordable and even fun,” Irwin says.
In addition to empowering people to grow nutritious produce, Yellow Tractor intends to change the way people think of food by influencing consumer taste. “The garden beds will expose people to fresh produce, so that they will crave a cherry tomato over junk food when it’s time for a snack,” says Sorensen. When Americans stop paying for junk food, food manufacturers will have to produce whole foods that are free from harmful additives in order to make a profit.
Over the last three years, Yellow Tractor has installed more than 30 garden beds, mostly in the Chicagoland area. At childcare centers, schools, senior and veteran residences, cafés and other places, Irwin and Sorensen have seen positive impact from their gardens that goes beyond improved nutrition.
Lindsey Percival, director of the Child Care Center of Evanston, explains how she incorporates their Yellow Tractor garden bed produce and monthly garden education into her curriculum. “After our last zucchini harvest, I asked the students to guess what was inside,” says Percival. After listening for the children’s creative predictions, including bacon and chicken nuggets, she cut the vegetable to reveal seeds. “When you have experiences like the garden, it not only increases knowledge, but also expands vocabulary,” says Percival. Over zucchini chips and lettuce wraps, the 3-to-5-year-olds talk enthusiastically about their favorite vegetables and herbs.
At Evanston based Curt’s Café, another social enterprise and partner of Yellow Tractor, Susan Trieschmann’s garden is an important part of her job training program for at-risk young adults, many of whom have nonviolent offenses on their record. The garden’s produce is many of her trainees’ first exposure to the zucchini and kale that they enjoy during harvest. Trieschmann also uses the garden to illustrate simple truths that encourage her employees in times of hopelessness. “The gardens are a model of continued growth, hope, and life. The plants come back every year,” Trieschmann says.
Confident in the results of their hybrid social enterprise model, Irwin is ready to broaden the company’s social reach. By expanding Yellow Tractor’s audience to retail consumers, starting with Chalet’s loyal clientele, Yellow Tractor is one step closer to using its profits to expand the significant work of the company’s nonprofit arm, the Yellow Tractor Project. “We want consumers to know that their garden bed purchase will go beyond their own backyard to empower those who otherwise lack the resources to grow their own healthy food,” says Irwin.
Those interested in learning more about Yellow Tractor and its socially driven products are invited to attend Chalet’s Backyard Food Fest on May 31, 11:00am-3:00pm, where the Yellow Tractor team will demonstrate a garden bed installation, answer questions and help attendees think through their garden projects. Chalet will be offering 20 percent off all vegetable, fruit and herb starts for this special event.
The GOOD 100, a worldwide award program founded in 2009, seeks to honor leaders on the cutting-edge of creative impact around the world. These individuals come from backgrounds in education, business, technology, policy, and design, among others, representing innovation at its very best.
The magazine highlights Irwin’s “show-don’t-tell” approach to social change, which takes steps toward proving that anyone can grow affordable, clean food by providing sites with ongoing monthly education. Her profile is featured in GOOD Magazine’s Spring 2014 issue, and more information can be found at Good.is/good-100.
To support Yellow Tractor and learn more about the organization, visit YellowTractor.co.
Kayla Faulk is a student at Northwestern University and recently completed an internship at Yellow Tractor.