More than a month and a half ago, Ally, Edna Lu The Teabus and I left Maine on a long journey south to potentially spend the winter in Georgia. I had decided that after years of pushing off “wintrospection,” that it was finally time to work on all the winter projects I had been wanting to. Plus, Ally was aiming to finish writing her novel.
After picking up a new solar panel and charge controller in Massachusetts, our first stop was at Out on a Whim Farm in Bethany, CT. We arrived in time to see our herbalist friend Jiling as she was setting up for her weekly herbalism class. This week’s topic was on tea, so she had invited me to sit in and share some knowledge along side her. It was fun to get to share some of the tea and herb knowledge I have acquired in a semi-formal setting.
Out on a Whim Farm is a sweet old barn and connected house, with each room decorated with fancy junk – everything from antiques to quirky second-hand finds. Billy, who owns the farm, is a retired doctor who has grown out his beard and dread locks, and is usually without shoes. He’s taken his love for healing people to a whole new level since retiring. Billy offers a community hub for locals, respite for travelers, and a monthly barn dance of sorts called BMAD.
After exploring the area (scrumping apples, hiking through fall colors at Sleeping Giant, wild-harvesting autumn olives, etc.), we were convinced to stay for the monthly Bethany Music and Dance, or BMAD that weekend. The evening was a fanciful whirlwind of live music in every room, from bluegrass to drum circles to square dancing. We set up Edna Lu the Teabus right outside The Big Room, and served tea well into the evening. Our interactions were spectacular, and many new friends were made.
After our week in New York City (read about it and our New York Times article here), we made our way to northern New Jersey to Meadowburn Farm to visit with my college friend, Quill and her friend Nick. After a week of being in NYC, we were ready for some down time, and Meadowburn turned out to be perfect for this. We spent our days resting, or working around the farm, and I installed Edna’s new solar charge controller and panel. We drank gallons of free raw cow’s milk from the farm’s cows, hiked through the fields and forest, and had family meals every night with good conversations and company. Our couple of days there turned into a week. I finished our stay by finishing an insulated water house, built around a spigot, filter and hose to increase the season which the spigot could be left on to include early Spring and late Fall.
In Philadelphia, we met up with Jon and Meagan (remember them from Blues Recess Massive?). They’re two of our favorite Quaker activists, and they welcomed us warmly. We spent our evenings at Clark Park, and even decided to open up one day there to serve tea. The day was slow, but good. The diversity that Philly holds definitely came out in the people who showed up for tea.
Down the road, we stopped in Dover, PA, where our friend Sarah and her family live. They welcomed us with food and community. Sarah’s dad was excited to help with some plumbing I was fixing (replacing the whole sink drain from sink to greywater tank), and I was grateful for it.
After wandering through Harper’s Ferry, Charlestown, and Sherpardstown, WV we stopped in to Middleburg, VA, where we got some waste vegetable oil from a restaurant that Ally used to work at.
Finally, we settled into Warrenton for the week around Thanksgiving. Ally grew up in Warrenton, so much of our time was taken by family and friends. I had the chance to install a new drain for my hot water tank. In downtown Warrenton, we got the chance to serve tea on Shop Small Saturday in front of Ally’s friend’s shop. We made tea for hours, and people loved it. One fellow stopped in to tell of his relationship woes; the head of the Chamber of Commerce came by and told us how much she loved the tea bus; and some of Ally’s old friends got to experience the tea bus firsthand.
In Mineral, VA, we were hosted by Acorn Community – a commune and seed company. They were celebrating their Thanksgiving late, so we got in on the fun, and served tea into the evening. People in this community were living much of our money/community/sharing talk. All money is made communally, and the community provides all food and shelter for people who live there. Ally and I are always talking about how if we didn’t have to use money ever again, we’d be perfectly happy sharing our skills freely.
In Efland, NC we were welcomed by Randall (who we had met in Philly) and his wife Lisa. They live on a 6 acre homestead called Fireside Farm and teach at a Quaker school nearby called Carolina Friends School. Their home was incredible, with chickens, goats, a garden, a sawmill, and more. Randall taught us how to run the sawmill and Ally how to drive the tractor. They also invited us to come to Friends School and make tea with the kids. We drove down there one day and parked in the middle of campus. Kids of all ages came throughout the day with their teachers. We chatted about the Gift Economy, sharing, relationships being the highest form of currency, etc. The kids at this school were so open to talking. I was impressed.
After a brief visit to Savannah, GA, we arrived at Hostel in the Forest, our potential winter destination. The Hostel is an amazing Ewok village of domes, tree houses, composting outhouses, and good community. As we prepared to dig in, we were faced with one major setback – there was nowhere to park and get sun on our solar panels. That, along with the fact that people aren’t supposed to use devices or computers in common areas, made it hard for us to attempt our main winter goals of writing. This small logistical hiccup was just as important as getting the right parking spot to serve tea. The Hostel community was so welcoming, and kept us feeling comfortable, even after we decided not to stay. I also took the time to leave an imprint by building a small bench for the porch out of salvaged materials (Mr. Tinker strikes again!).
As we considered our departure from the Hostel, we had to think about finding waste vegetable oil, as we had used our stash to get us down there. In nearby Brunswick, we were having a heck of a time finding any waste oil. We were getting a lot of no’s, or yeses where the oil was too dirty, or where we couldn’t access the oil. But what was happening was that customers at the bars and restaurants we were asking at were super curious. We ended up in several conversations with all sorts of folks who ended up coming on the bus and checking it out. We had a truck driver, a guy who works for the US Marshall Service, and two fellows who were hesitant to tell us what they did. They sheepishly told us that they were federal agents with Homeland Security. They were super intrigued with the bus, and one of them pulled Ally aside and told her that many people in their line of work are waiting to retire to do something like we’re doing. Even his wife was into “micro houses.”
One restaurant we asked at was The Farmer and The Larder in downtown Brunswick. The owners, Matthew and Javon, didn’t have a deep fryer, but they took the tea bus and our search for vegetable oil to heart. Matthew made phone calls, asked his friends, and searched far and wide for us. In the meantime, when Ally and I ate at their restaurant on her birthday, our check came back with no $ owed, only a Happy Birthday wish. Matthew ended up finding us a huge supply of vegetable oil from the college.
The Farmer and The Larder is a farm to table restaurant, with hopes that most of the food come from the owners’ personal farm as the years go on. They offer lots of local and organic options, with so much emphasis put on quality. Lots of the interior is salvaged material, and you can feel the goodness of the place as soon as you walk in.
One evening as we were hanging in the bus outside The Farmer and The Larder, a couple knocked on the door. Moses and Ed came aboard, and as we explained our vegetable oil woes, Ed asked, “What do you need?” I said, “I dunno,” and then in passing, I told her that I was looking to make an illustrated card to hand to people at restaurants to give them a brief description of my bus and what it is, partially because it’s hard to tell people in one sentence when I walk into a restaurant to ask for waste vegetable oil. Moses and her gave each other a funny look. It turns out that Ed is an illustrator and my project was just up her alley. She went and grabbed a sketch pad and she started sketching while I showed her photos and explained a few things. Wow!
Just as Ally and I were feeling low on resources, people stepped in! Ed also linked us up with a couple different restaurants to give us waste vegetable oil. Another couple we met at a restaurant brought us out to lunch and let us shower at their place. The Farmer and the Larder gave us steep discounts on lunch. And it went on and on. Brunswick was the town that gave us so much without us even serving tea once.
Our reception as we’ve headed south, and people were “worried” for how we would be received, has gotten better and better. The deeper south we’ve gone, the more people are asking us directly what we need. In most other places people say things like: I’m leaving my email in your guest book, let me know if you ever need anything. The further South we’ve gone, more and more people are just saying: What do you need? And these folks aren’t satisfied until we’ve given an answer. Southern hospitality takes east coast directness and puts a sharing spin on it. Ally and I were feeling well taken care of all of a sudden.
We had chatted with Randall and Lisa back up in Efland about coming up there for the winter, so we started heading back north. We served tea at the Farmers’ Market in Savannah, GA, which was such a blast (even the Mayor – also named Edna – showed up for tea). We love that town. We also made friends with a local tinkerer and artist named Krystal, who shared her tinker studio/home with us. Lou from Asi Yaupon Tea invited us to their headquarters, and they gave some Yaupon to us. Yaupon is North America’s only native caffeinated plant, and was drunk by natives regularly. In both downtown Raleigh and Chapel Hill, NC we cooked dinner on the street and enticed passersby to come and chat with us (without FREE TEA signs out), like the good ol’ days on Hollywood Blvd.
Back in September in Maine, when we were serving tea along the Appalachian Trail, Ally and I went on a hike one day. As we were walking, I pulled a quarter from my pocket and tried to see what state it was from down by my waist. I couldn’t tell, but I had a moment of clarity: whatever state this quarter had on the back that was the state where I would spend the winter. Lo and behold, the quarter was for North Carolina. I dismissed this clarity as stupidity, and decided a month later that Georgia was going to be the place. In my never ending travels, it helps to have a goal, but to also be flexible. And I am pleased at this turn of events.
Now we are back at Fireside Farm with Lisa and Randall in Efland, NC. We plan on being here for the winter. They have welcomed us with no explicit arrangement, other than living and sharing in community, a general hope that we can help them a bit around the homestead, and they can help provide the space for us to write and grow in the ways we want – an amazing form of non-calculated exchange (AKA, reciprocal altruism, or traditional human economy). I can’t imagine a better place to be. We will be spending the winter here working on writing, bus, and homestead projects, as well as reading, and likely serving tea around the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh area on occasion. Keep yer eyes out for us!
A huge thank you to: Greg at AltE; Billy and Jiling at Out on a Whim Farm; Quill and Nick at Meadowburn Farm; Jon and Meagan in Philly; Sarah and the Ferraro Family in Dover, PA; Missy and David and fam in Charlestown, WV; Kristen and Nate and Kylie in Warreton for hosting us; Jerrod and Kierstin and fam; everyone at Acorn; Randall and Lisa and all of Carolina Friends School; Pinto, Jonah and everyone at Hostel in the Forest; Matthew and Javon at The Farmer and the Larder for food and support; Ed Hose and Moses for excitement and help with illustrations; Kate at Indigo Shanty; Jill and Danny in Brunswick for food and showers and good company; Krystal in Savannah for the stockings and sharing; Lou and Yaupon Asi Tea for tea, shirts, and good conversation; and so many more folks who stopped in for tea and conversation, or shared resources like honey and food.
Mad love also to Gopi Kallayil for sending out his book (with a chapter on the tea bus); Dr. Bronner’s for sending some soap; Bill for sending some maple syrup; Mason at Herb Rally for sending a t-shirt; Betsy from Enbi Studio for sending out some amazing little tea cups; Mountain Rose Herbs for sending out some tinctures and cinnamon; and WishGarden Herbs for sending out an enormous amount of tinctures and teas.