Origins Part One 1/14/22

Posted by Mandy + Steve O'Shea on


There’s a lot of new people to this newsletter and we thought it a good time to give y’all the backstory to the farm.  Believe it or not, the seed for this farm was planted on an old school bus that ran on vegetable oil almost 20 years ago.  We named her Unifried.  I originally told this story back in the winter of 16’/17’ while Mandy and I were on a cross country drive from CA to GA to complete the circle and bring the old bus to its final resting place on our farm.  There’s adventure, romance, and celebrities and folks seemed to love it the first time around, so….. This is that story:

    Unifried the bus was born in 2003 when me and 2 buddies felt compelled to peacefully protest the war on Iraq. The goals were to be a highly visible example of an alternative fuel that didn't cause global warming and didn't require military engagement to secure. 

    Plant based fuels could be domestically produced and we figured if 3 non-mechanical dudes with no money could make a huge bus run on recycled fry grease, then it would be a salient glimpse into what our country could do if policy and professionals got on board.

   We wanted to be a positive and attainable example. We wanted to put our youthful idealism to use and to quiet the fear and hurt inside of us by doing something big and good. 

   I dropped out after 3 yrs of prerequisites for an M.S. in Conservation Biology, quit my 4 part-time jobs, sold what stocks and 401k I had along with every personal possession I had (except for my guitar), and basically put every ounce of heart I had into making it work. My buddies made similar sacrifices. 

   The town seemed to collectively be drawn to our project and for months people would come out to see the bus and its progress and to offer advice and elbow grease when we'd get stuck. Keep in mind there wasn't much of an Internet and almost nobody was successfully using grease as a fuel at that time. We couldn't get on a forum or Google a solution. But someone would eventually stop by with the perfect suggestion to get us past a huge sticking point. 

    We felt lifted by community. We felt like anything was possible. We felt like you do at the beginning of the best relationship you've ever been in...blessed and twice as good as you've ever been. And we were ready for a big adventure!

     By May , she was gutted, cleaned, painted, outfitted with solar panels, a kitchen, couches, beds, and a roof rack. We crossed our fingers, said our farewells and headed north from Petaluma into the unknown to test our luck. 

     It was magical from the start. We were concerned about cops since we looked like a weed-filled hippy bus, but when we ran into them… 95% of the time they were excited and friendly. One even went home to get his family for a tour.     

     People constantly pulled us over to giddily ask if it really ran on grease (it was scrawled on the back). With no clear destination, we aimed at hot springs, national parks, alpine lakes and festivals.

     All along the way we were asked to give presentations, interviews and guest lectures by people we had never met before. We backpacked in beautiful places like Banff, Glacier, and the Trinity Alps. We slept on roadsides, had campfire jam sessions at natural hot springs, pulled over whenever we wanted to swim at a beautiful lake, were invited into people's homes.

     As we travelled, we were figuring out the technology, stopping at restaurants in every town to ask for grease and learning how to think on the fly and become mechanics when necessary. Again, this is pre-flip phone. There was only one cell phone on board with limited minutes and roaming and no internet. Break down on a mountain? Throw down a flare, grab a wrench and a headlamp and desperately try to make it work. It was all so invigorating though. With each day our spirits were uplifted and with each encounter, my faith in humanity and our country restored. 

    We had gone over 1000 miles when we got a call that we had to return home. Incredibly unwelcome news, but we decided to make the most of it. So, we went to Burning Man (life changer) and another festival in S.F. on the way back. 

    At the S.F. festival, Julia Butterfly Hill (author of the best selling book "Legacy of Luna”) was a special guest at the event, and was just about to depart for a star-studded tour on a veggie powered bus.....but they couldn't actually get it to run on veggie oil.

    Her managers found out about us, and came on board to tell us that they wanted to take our bus for a month and put us up with free food and booze at a CA beach house…..

     …To be continued next Friday…