Purpose & Plant: On Tour With Sol Food Mobile Farm

This post details rowdy times with my friends from Sol Food Mobile Farm. Their whole shtick is here, explained much more clearly and correctly than I’m about to.

“And that’s it.” Eliza spreads her arms the width of the bus. After months of waiting for them to arrive on the West Coast, I’ve just been given a full tour of the Sol Food Mobile Farm. Eliza is just one of four salty farmers taking the country’s sustainability to the mat. They’re traveling the US teaching everything from growing to composting with a re-engineered, bio diesel school bus as their chariot.

The bus is divided purposefully: greenhouse, bunks, kitchen, seating, etc. There isn’t an inch to spare and the little available space has been maximized. Wire baskets, Velcro and bungee cords keep things tied to walls and roofs. Hooks, tape and magnets secure the rest. More pirate ship than Magic School Bus; the space is cramped, worn and permeated by a sense of wonder.

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I can’t put my finger on it initially, but as I see the crew of Sol Food get their vessel underway, I realize it’s the sense of purpose that is so striking. From the trapdoor worm farm, to the roof garden, to the people themselves – everything has a direct and clear purpose. This type of tangible passion and focus is a rare treat for the Internet obsessed, iPhone urchin I can become. I can’t get enough.

Eliza and I glance at a map with the full tour plotted out in black ink. After months they’re about 60% done. “And you’ll be finished in December?” I ask. “Yeah, we’ve got a long way to go.” Eliza rubs her arm and looks at the long twisting line ahead. She’s tired. They all are. Instead of just traveling across the country these four fighters are going around the perimeter. It’d be difficult to think of a longer way around and there’s barely a state they aren’t driving through. Countless farms, markets, parks, people –- It’s more than a little dizzying, but their forward momentum is palpable.

Their mission, as best I can tell, is to save the world. Maybe stating it that way is too dramatic, maybe it’s exactly right – either way, only time will tell. The amount of plants and planet knowledge they’ve spread is staggering. Because they are sowing these seeds so widely it’s giving each bit of influence entire towns to grow. They’ll be in New Mexico before the dirt from California leaves their boots. But starting a movement takes breath, and there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. They have to sail on.

The bus is home, office, lounge, garden, show room – everything. The space becomes public park, as every stop for a drop of bio diesel brings people who want to climb aboard. I quickly find these guests annoying; each asking the same questions, looking around with the same cautious wonder and always reminding them “You have a long way to go.” But the crew gets energized. They never seem hampered by having had the same conversation a thousand times previous – because with each chat the mission of the Sol Food Mobile Farm grows a little wider. Like I said, purpose.

We keep moving. The bus itself does little above 60 mph, but chugs along with all the necessary spirit. We sail to steady percussion; the engine and the constant patter of things falling off shelves. We pull out instruments and sing old songs. The engine hums with us. The wind takes the harmony. We howl like wolves. Baskets and cases strapped to the ceiling swing back and forth in time, something falls down in the green house. The road stretches a long, long arm ahead, but right now there’s music.

That evening the motley crew is stretched across corners of my apartment. I pretty much bated them here with the promise of showers. (Those are few and far between on the road.) I feel selfish for it, but wanted so badly to see them lay down arms, relax. “Leave the bus.” I urge, as we climb on trains and bolt into the city. I make pizza, pour wine and spread blankets. Even here, they can’t leave the bus. I see wheels spinning directly behind their eyes. But I’m happy to have such inspiring guests. In the morning, I roll dough into cookies and pass coffee around. I wish I had more to give, but they wouldn’t take it even if I did. We all hug goodbye, they head back to the bus. No rest for the weary.

They welcomed me aboard for that weekend, a vacationer coasting on their nobel quest. Getting to ride along put enough wind in my hair to keep me wild for a few weeks. It was a blast, but a hard life too and I just wouldn’t have the metal for it. Their mundane tasks – keeping the roar in the engine, scouting a 40ft parking space, just finding a damn place to pee — were quickly taxing. But again and again I was amazed by watching the four work as this focused, patient organism that could very possibly save us all.

They’ve got a lot more plants to place, but nurtured soil lays in their wake. I don’t know how to start a revolution, but the Sol Food Mobile Farm has picked purpose and plants. It seems like a pretty good place to start.