Running on Veggie Oil from Ecuador to the North Pole
On a chilly summer night in the Teton Mountains, an old Ford van pulls into my back yard. The engine is off and from the drivers seat steps out a young twenty something man. His wavy brown hair reaches his shoulders and he is wearing a white shirt with torn jeans and flip-flops. Brian is a one-man band musician and a philanthropist. Behind him is his wife, Katie how is a tall, tanned girl wearing no make-up and is in her early 20’s.
It’s curious to see people I’ve met in Ohio so far from home, but there is nothing strange for my guests to be up north in Montana one day and in sunny California the next. They were taking a tour of the national parks last summer when they stopped to visit me in Jackson, Wyoming.
Brian and Katie Ernst are travelers with a dream to see the world and to make it a better place. The old 1990 Ford van they travel all over the US to play shows is not your ordinary old car. The van runs on waste vegetable oil as well as solar panels and is carbon neutral. “Converting the diesel engine is pretty easy,” says Brian, “we made a cut in the diesel line, installed a veggie filter; we made another cut in the diesel line, installed a heater; made a cut in the coolant line and extended the hose to run alongside the veggie line in order to keep the veggie oil hot and that was about it.” The couple gets their “fuel” from restaurants for free. “Chinese restaurants have better oil than traditional American ones,” says Brian in one of their Youtube videos. Since they bought the car in August 2010 the odometer recorded 65,805 miles. That comes to roughly 822 miles per week! “We travel ten to eleven months out of the year,” says Brian.
Their lifestyle is different than a lot of other people. “Living on the road has its ups and downs,” says Brian. They live out of their bus. They don’t have a TV or air conditioning; their fridge is a cooler and their stove is a small propane grill, but they cook almost every night with organic products bought from farmers markets. “Some people come to us and like to romanticize about our life. When in all actuality it is very challenging at times,” says Brian. They don’t get to shower every day and sometimes they have to bathe in rivers, waterfalls or oceans. “Using only eco-friendly soap,” Brian wants to ad.
Their journey around the U.S. has a higher purpose – they are gathering money for their NGO, Journey4Youth, to help children in a village in Kenya. While spending two years backpacking around the world, their travels brought them to Kaswanga Village in southwestern Kenya where they stayed for two months. “We became part of the community. We lived in a mud hut with no electricity or water, cooked our food over the fire, shared meals with the locals, fed the children, and tried to learn the language,” said Brian. They fell in love with the village and decided they were going to do everything possible to help improve the life of the people.
They donate 10% of their gross income from shows, tips, selling CDs and other merchandise to Jorney4Youth. Some items they sell benefit the village 100%. Brian and Katie craft some of the items they sell, like hats and bags. Other items are made by the women from the Kenyan village.
They send $600 every month to their partner in Kenya for a program that feeds lunch five days a week to 36 children in the village. With the money they gather they also want to help people start businesses in Kaswanga. “You can’t just invest and invest you also want to make it sustainable on its own at some point in time,” says Katie. They are planning to go back to Kenya next year with a small team of people.
Through their NGO, Brian and Katie participate to different programs in elementary, middle and high schools. “We hope to inspire others to get involved in their community locally or abroad,” says Brian.
Brian and Katie describe themselves as intentional, trying to live every moment of their lives aware, awakened, passionately and purposefully. “We carry a heavy sense of responsibility to be good stewards of the land and a responsibility to love all people more fully,” says Brian.
At the end of 2011, in their review, Brian and Katie wrote: “We toured for six months. Drove 21,597 miles through 37 states. We saved over $2500 in fuel costs driving on waste vegetable oil.” For their NGO they raised $8,800. That’s the equivalent of $790,240 Kenyan Schillings. “We’ve used the money to feed lunch 41 children every Monday through Friday since April.”
They have big plans for the future. A new album is coming up in April and in July they start the US tour. Also they are going to say goodbye to their old Ford van because they recently purchased a full size, 44 feet long, school bus. “We’re going to convert the school bus to run off waste veggie oil and solar panels,” says Brian.