From building a tiny house, to intentionally living a moneyless life, to dumpster diving or developing a zero-waste lifestyle in baby steps, there's more than one way to live a full and happy life on your own terms.
For Guisepi Spadafora, who has been serving free tea nationwide over a decade now out of a solar- and waste vegetable oil (WVO)-powered, converted short bus, living a fuller life meant finding a way to bring people together, without putting a price on it. Having grown up with a family that travelled extensively, as well as attending a travelling high school, Spadafora is no stranger to bringing strangers together. Watch this video on wonderful project, via filmmaker Dylan Magaster:As Spadafora tells Eater, the idea for a mobile free teahouse came about because he simply wanted to make new friends, but it's since grown into something much more meaningful:
I didn’t really have very much money and tea was this really easy and cheap way to get people together. [..] What I found is when I offered something completely free with no strings attached, it really gives people the opportunity to have more deep, meaningful interactions. Rather than coming into the situation with ‘What can I get?’ it was more ‘What can I give or what can I share?’
Spadafora's bus is nicknamed Edna Lu, and it's a 1989 model with a Ford Econoline chassis. It has a handicap access door that opens when tea is served. The interior is cozy and homey, chock full of reclaimed items and clever little space-saving ideas like the hidden solar-powered mini-fridge that doubles as a seat.
The kitchen is simple but functional: the sink faucet has a ceramic filter, and can be powered by either an electric pump or a water-saving foot pump. Cooking is done with a two-burner propane cooktop.
The bed system here is pretty clever: it's actually a moveable platform that can be adjusted with extra-strong parachute cords on a double-backed pulley system. The platform can slide out and extend to make space for a king-size bed.
The interior is heated by a Navigator woodstove. Spadafora is developing an ingenious system where copper piping that connects the coldest part of the bus floor to the woodstove's vent. The woodstove heats the pipe, heating the air inside, causing it to rise, which sucks the cold air out. This creates a small convection current, which constantly draws cold air out.
The bus also has a 42-gallon freshwater tank, plus one tank for clean vegetable oil, and another for dirty vegetable oil. There's even an integrated speaker system under the bus, perfect for playing music when serving tea outside. Spadafora says that building the bus was a big learning process for him, from learning how to weld to learning how to put together all the bus' systems together.
Another interesting experiment is the bus' "Gift and Take" area: guests are invited to leave or take something from these boxes. One does not have to leave something in order to take something. Says Spadafora:
The idea is to put people in the position of taking personal responsibility for themselves in relation to the whole. [..] It's kind of fun to rethink human nature. When you share with someone, you're saying to them, I want to build a relationship with you, or I want to see you succeed. Whenever sharing occurs, it strengthens and reinforces a bond. Relationships and bonds are the foundation for resiliency in a community, without the need for pieces of paper.
In total, Spadafora estimates he’s served more than 35,000 cups to thousands of people in 35 US states and one Canadian province since the Free Tea bus project started. People have offered him money for tea, but he has refused donations and tips while serving tea (though he does take online donations, gifted supplies or places to park). The project is funded in various ways, but thanks to Spadafora's frugal lifestyle, he estimates that his expenses are a fraction of what it would be if he were living a more conventional lifestyle. It also helps to take another perspective on things, one that's based on relationships and being resourceful, rather than transactions, as he tells us:
Many people ask how this project is funded. The questions I prefer to ask myself are: How can I not fund this project? How can I build the relationships necessary to make this happen? How do I build the systems into the bus, and acquire my basic needs through relationships? Instead of rent, I built my shelter with salvaged materials while work-trading for shop space and being mentored by several folks. Instead of an electric bill, I harness electricity from the sun. Instead of a heating bill, I gather wood for my wood stove. Instead of propane or electricity, my hot water tank is heated by waste engine heat, and waste solar power. Instead of spending exorbitant amounts at the grocery store, I dumpster dive, wild-harvest, grow sprouts, receive gifts, barter, and make krauts, kefir, and kombucha for much of my food.
Taking its cues from the gift economy, the slow movement, the DIY movement and permaculture, the Free Tea Bus' philosophy encourages us to share more and to look beyond our society's consumerist attitudes to find deeper personal and collective meaning. To find out more, visit Free Tea Party.
To see more inspirational bus conversions, check out Kimberley's book, The Modern House Bus.