There’s always a stimulating medley of interesting, friendly, smart folks at the annual Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in Oxford, Mississippi, but this was the first year an upside-down school bus joined the party.  Daniel Bowman Simon and Casey Gustowarow, two ex-Peace-Corps buddies who haven’t lost their idealism, bought the topsy-turvy bus from Ben Cohen, founder of Ben & Jerry’s, who'd had Burning Man art car designers to weld two school buses together, one on top of the other, as a symbolic protest against the topsy-turvy relationship of military and educational spending.

Daniel and Casey, inspired by Alice Waters’ vision of an organic farm on the White House lawn, have been driving the bus around the country, spreading the word and getting people to sign a petition they’ll be presenting to the 44th President of the United States, whoever that ends up being.  After Slow Food Nation, they trawled across Arizona, stopping at schools along the way to fire kids up about their project (“I’ve never seen so many kids running TOWARDS a school bus”).  They spent some time in Austin, naturally, and then headed for New Orleans and its Edible Schoolyard Project. After stopovers in Georgia and Alabama, they hit up the SFA conference in Oxford, and are making their way to Washington, DC, so they can be there in time for the election.  

Sure, their mission is quixotic and hippie-dippy. Whatever. They’ve put their money where their mouth is, and are inspiring, educating, and amusing people all over the country.  They’re not alone in working towards this goal, either. Michael Pollan brought up their mission in the NYT magazine’s recent open letter to the next president, which Barack Obama, at least, acknowledged having read:

“I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollan about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they’re contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That’s just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board. For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security, and drives our economy, that’s going to be my number one priority when I get into office, assuming, obviously, that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation.”

An organic garden on the White House lawn?  Maybe not so far-fetched after all…

Story by Nathalie Jordi. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in November 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008