So, after writing about the Nourish(meant) project back in June, I occasionally checked in with the blog that Emily Nelson and Graham Evans kept as they traveled the country in a veggie-oil-powered bus. The two UVA students (Graham is a recent grad and Emily’s doing her fourth year in art) retrofitted a school bus with a kitchen inside and a garden on top so that, in their travels, they could offer people food they’d grown and cooked right in their vehicle. And they had big plans for handing out information, collecting ideas, and showing up in all kinds of public places to interact with passersby.
Now they’re back in town, so last week I visited with them again. Perhaps not surprisingly, the excitement they’d shown back in June now seems a bit tempered with real-world experience. Not to say their project wasn’t successful; it certainly was. But, for example, they learned that keeping a bunch of plants inside the bus was a bit more of a pain than they’d expected. As was the veggie oil fuel.
"That was the biggest challenge," Emily said. "I had no idea when we started [how hard it would be]." The pair found it tough sometimes to locate a supply of fuel, and their bus was slow and inefficient: Graham tells me it maxed out at 45 mph and about 7 miles to the gallon. Yet the inconvenience was, as this blog post makes clear, part of the point. Having to deal with fuel in a fairly intimate and demanding way made the team more aware of the distance they traveled.
As for the food part: The rooftop garden was surprisingly successful, they did in fact assemble a seed bank from various farms and gardeners they visited, and they did indeed make food for strangers, friends and family alike. Sometimes they’d set up at farmers’ market or other places and make sourdough pancakes for passersby. "It’s hard to get strangers to take food," Graham said. "People would ignore you and walk past. We got a lot of ‘I just ate’s." But others, they said, were attracted by the bus and curious about the veggie oil.
In the spirit of one of their project’s main themes—"Food brings everybody together"—Emily and Graham will bring the bus to the Bridge‘s current show, "Harvest," as well as several local schools. They say the bus itself will become less of a focus over time as Nourish(meant) centers more on its website. But I have a feeling that real live food will always be important to these two and to their art.