How often do we put our money where our mouth is, especially when it requires us to make major changes in our lives? Well Anastasia King Jaress and JC Jaress did just that in April, when they left their careers, Anastasia’s in film, and JC’s as an artist and business owner, and their home, a modern ranch in Altadena, California with an organic garden and a voluminous backyard, to hit the open road in a second-hand RV to make tangible their commitment to living a sustainable life.
Their plan? To spend a year on the road traveling the United States and working on organic farms, where they would learn about permaculture and other sustainable practices and find the hidden portal into a different kind of world than the one they’d known. At their journey’s end, the imagined themselves opening a sustainable retreat center in Panama, or wherever the road might lead. We sat down with The Jaresses on the eve of their departure to gab about the adventure that awaited them as they left their old life behind, and embraced the road as home.
RII: What is Good Foot Project?
Anastasia: It started as a personal journey to travel around the U.S. and learn what we could about sustainable development and organic farming, and when everyone we spoke to expressed such interest in what we were doing and in sustainability as a whole, we decided to launch a blog to share our experiences and lessons learned, and Good Foot Project was born. I also hope Good Foot Project, or GFP, can be a springboard for others who want to change their lives in both small and large ways.
JC: Good Foot Project now has a life and growing community of its own.
RII: What inspired you to go on this epic journey?
A: No one thing inspired this journey. It was an interplay of elements accumulating over time. For example, one point of origin was our conversation about retirement and the thought that this dream of retiring at 65 or even 70 would never happen for us; that we would have to work until we die. We did the math, and it was clear we needed to make significant, structural lifestyle changes. For us that meant building a more sustainable life around the labors we love: great food, community, discovery, and the arts.
Around the same time that we started thinking about our retirement, we also became increasingly aware of climate change issues and how our lifestyle was contributing to the problem. At first, we made small changes. We started doing more of our shopping at Farmers Markets, switched to eating organic fruits, vegetables and meat. We offset the higher cost of free-range, grass-fed meats by eating less of it – smaller portions, fewer times a week. We cleared 500 square feet of lawn and grew our own vegetables, we dispensed with buying water in bottles and started making carbonated water at home, but we realized there was so much more we could and should be doing, so while we were designing our new life from the ground up, we decided to make it as sustainable as possible, financially, emotionally and environmentally.
In our younger years, we’d both individually dreamed of creating a place where people could learn and practice art, a place away from the bustle of the city that allowed complete focus and immersion. That become the core of our plan for the future. This sustainable retreat center is very real to me already, I can see its main common building, dining room, bungalows and paths, and there’s an entire community that lives there and manages the work, bound by our common intentions, as well as people who come for retreats.
This our chance to build a lifestyle that’s well rounded, fueled by our passions, and that we can sustain for the rest of our lives. We envision it’s being most viable in Central America, but we remain open about its location.
JC: We don’t expect to become completely self-sustaining. But we do want to live more sustainably, in relationship to the planet and other people. My car, my computer, my iPad, my air-conditioner, my clothing — everything I touch — exists because somewhere other people are working in subpar conditions so that I can have this life which, in the end, cannot be sustained.
RII: You’re going to be working on organic farms around the country. How’d you find the farms?
J.C. We lucked into finding an organization called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) through which organic farms and low-impact communities offer people the opportunity to live and learn on their farms in exchange for room and board. WWOOFing is an amazing global phenomenon with tens of thousands of farms participating — and there are still more people willing to volunteer than the farms can support. We really had to put our “Good Foot forward” to gain access to the farms.
RII: What’s your itinerary? Where are you starting, and where will you go from there?
A: We wanted to get to the East Coast in the Spring and Summer so we could spend the coldest months in Southern California, not only because neither of us is fond of cold weather, but because we aren’t sure about driving the Schwartz — that’s the name of our RV — in rain and snow. We’ll start off heading East, visiting friends and family in Phoenix and Tucson Arizona, then head into Texas for more visits with friends and family.
We plan to visit New Orleans, and explore a bit of the Mississippi Delta. There’s a family reunion on my father’s side, with family whom I’ve had little contact with, in a small town outside of Dallas, so we’ll be heading there before our first farm stay at the end of May in Kentucky. JC is a huge Elvis fan, so we’re stopping off at Graceland on our way to Kentucky. After that we are booked on farms through Oct 5 except for a few weeks off here and there, during which time we’ll be heading to Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and then over to Missouri. We’re hoping to book more farm stays from Oct thru Thanksgiving, when we hope to be back in SoCal.
After the Winter, we head north through California’s central Valley and on to Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming and probably South Dakota, Colorado, and New Mexico. We’ve also been discussing the possibility of extending our travels into Europe and Central America. We’ll make the final decision later on.
JC: Our first month is actually ours to enjoy (and then the work begins!). Friends and family, a BBQ tour of Texas, Austin, New Orleans, Mississippi and, yes, Graceland. We’re also taking one week off in July/August to celebrate my 50th birthday and two weeks off in August/September to drive the 1,500 miles from NY to Missouri, and visit some of the cities we missed along the way.
RII: Were there any criteria you used when choosing farms?
JC: There were. WWOOF has an online directory of farms and volunteers. Each has a profile, sort of like online dating. You make your case for wanting to visit and work, and if there’s a connection, you hook up. I sorted by farms that accept volunteers with animals, and then narrowed the field from there, from 1,588 to about 400. I researched each of the 400 and got it down to 32 off-grid, or mostly-off-grid, farms with sustainable principles and/or permaculture design. Of the 32 farms I contacted, 16 offered us an opportunity. Our blog and project in general was of real interest to many of the farmers, and some WWOOF farmers have offered support and introductions even though our schedules didn’t work out.
RII: You’re making the whole trek in The Schwartz. How’d you come up with that name for your RV?
A: We asked our friends and blog readers to throw out suggestions. We got so many terrific ideas we couldn’t decide. So we put it up for a vote. The winner was The Schwartz, from the movie Spaceballs which, if you don’t know it, isa spoof on sci-fi space odysseys, in particular Star Wars. The main spaceship in the movie is an old ramshackle Winnebago RV, and a wise old character called Yogurt, played by Mel Brooks, introduces the hero to the Schwartz (in other words, “the Force”), a mystical power in the universe that governs all things. “May the Schwartz be with you!”
JC: The name The Schwartz stuck with me, and fortunately it also won our Facebook poll. Many thanks to Mendy Fry for the suggestion — and to Mel Brooks because he’s funny as s*#t.
RII: How big is The Schwartz?
JC: It’s a 24-foot 1990 Ford Jamboree, in great shape with low mileage. We’ve never traveled in it, not even for a weekend. We’ve never even spent the night in it! We actually have no idea how incredibly small it’s going to feel compared to the home we’re leaving — and I think it’s better that way. FYI, 8′ wide x 24′ long, minus the engine compartment, makes it about 170 square feet.
RII: The two of you are going on this trip, and so is your dog Mattie. Anyone else?
A: Many, many people have asked to tag along, but it’s just us three.
RII: Which, with 170 square feet, is as it should be! (laughter) Since this trip is all about sustainability, I have to ask, how are you powering the RV and what are you doing about electricity and heat?
A: JC researched various options for power and fuel. With such a big vehicle going completely electric or even hybrid-electric wasn’t an option. If we’d found a diesel engine RV, we might have converted to bio diesel. We also looked at converting to natural gas, but all the potential conversion mechanics in SoCal were booked, not to mention the damage fracking is doing to communities across America and the difficulty of finding natural gas stations with cleanly sourced fuel.
JC: I really wanted a better solution than we found but there wasn’t on. It wasn’t possible to outfit The Schwartz with enough batteries to power it as an electric or hybird-electric. Natural gas conversion costs about $14,000, and I couldn’t find anyone to legally convert it. And while bio-diesel is great, you can’t find bio-diesel at every little gas station across the country. So we’ll be traveling cross-country at 8-10 mpg, driving 10,000 miles, which will use less gas and cost less money than we spent on gas living in Los Angeles last year.
We did install a 140 watt solar panel, and three new deep cell batteries so that we won’t have to run a generator for electric power.
RII: Where do you think you’ll be at your journey’s end?
A: After our US leg we plan on doing a couple of months in Europe and Central America, in a similar fashion, but we may learn so much — and be so excited about starting the retreat center — that we cut the journey short! After the learning portion of our trip is done, we plan to base camp out of Panama, as we visit different places in search of the right spot for the retreat center. This part of the process is the least defined, and therefore causes me the most anxiety. I assume we’ll run into opportunities along the way and things will fall into place. Literally anything could happen. I don’t think its smart to try and figure it out right now — which drives me totally crazy nonetheless! I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.
I’d also like to write a memoir about our time on the road. I have powerful fears around writing — for several years, going on 15 now, I’ve wanted to write for a living. I gave myself a couple of half-assed chances but could never really commit. There’s a great war raging on this topic inside my nation of one. I thoroughly enjoy writing — the process, the challenges, tapping into the flow, learning new things — but then my negative voices start their chorus. Mainly, I worry that no one will be interested in what I have to say, and that my writing style and choices are derivative, simplistic, or just plain bad. These fears have been with me for a long time, and that’s why I want to write this book. For me, this trip, this life change, is all about facing down fears. Its about looking at life with clear eyes and realizing that most of things that hold me back exist only in my head, and the only way they can hurt me is if I let them prevent me from living my life to the fullest.
I think you have to be fearless. Fearlessness is not born from being unafraid. On the contrary, you have to have fears in order to become fearless, which is my interpersonal mission for this journey we’re embarking upon.
I’ve started with the blog and making notes. I just try to do one thing every day and tell my fearful voices to f- off!
RII: Well, from one writer to another, I can only say that, judging from what you just shared, you are most definitely a writer — and one with a heck of a writing voice. Fear not! (Laughter). JC, how about you, where do you see yourself at journey’s end?
JC: At journey’s end? Oh, that sounds fatal. Seriously, I have no idea where we will end up. We plan to move to Central America, basically, because it’s warm and inviting and relatively inexpensive. Of course, so is Spain — and Southeast Asia. So who knows. The retreat center is a real thing though. We will build the center and a community around it and it will be organic, open and sustainable, but that’s about all that I can spell out right now. This journey is just beginning, it would be a shame to determine how it ends now.
RII: That is an excellent point! You can’t see it all — or plan it all — in advance. Not unless you want to kill it. How can people find you and connect with you through your blog and social media?
A: Our blog is www.goodfootproject.com. On the right-hand side of the page, there’s an area where you can subscribe to updates via email or RSS reader. You can also Like our Facebook page, facebook.com/goodfootproject. We post to Facebook quite a bit, so that’s a great way to stay in touch. For Twitter, follow @goodfootp
JC: …and please send us your local recommendations and introductions — or better yet – get on the Good Foot and meet us on the road!
RII: Thanks guys! It’s been a blast, and may the Schwartz be with you!
PHOTOGRAPHY via Good Foot Project