By Joshua Blanco
While sustainability and eco-friendly living are becoming more mainstream values, it’s still a challenge for most people to create alternatives to modern conveniences. Cara Judea Alhadeff is not most people.
Alhadeff, her partner Rob Mies, her son Zazu and their dog Mac live out of a school bus renovated exclusively with repurposed materials in Asheville’s Earthaven Ecovillage. The family has made ethics their number one priority. Formerly a professor of social justice and gender studies, Alhadeff was living in EcoVillage at Ithaca (NY) with Zazu when she invited Mies to speak on a panel focusing on scientists who use storytelling for catalyzing social change. Upon meeting and realizing they had a number of shared values, they decided to build a life together based on these principles.
Alhadeff and Zazu moved to Michigan to join Mies and his teenage daughters Georgia and Madison. Having just left his 25-year career as a conservation ecologist, Mies was motivated by Alhadeff’s determination to live a lifestyle far removed from capitalist-driven consumerism. Similarly, Alhadeff—who had never owned a house, car, smartphone or credit card—was looking for someone with whom she could share her beliefs, and the couple set out to build a home for their new family.
After renovating a century-old house that had been slated for demolition, they decided on a different kind of home: a 210-square-foot salvaged bus. In his essay, “Building Our Home in 30 Days…In the Dead of Michigan Winter,” Mies writes, “I wanted to re-envision my life with love and compassion that would extend to my every decision and action.”
That was the winter of 2018. Disenchanted with the education Zazu was receiving, Alhadeff was determined to find a place more in line with the views she was working to instill in her son. “For us to be able to shift away from convenience-culture norms and live our daily lives in a way that reflects how we are all interconnected is how we want to raise Zazu,” she says.
Currently, Alhadeff is homeschooling Zazu while working on her writing, which focuses on how activists can bring their ethics into practice. “A lot of people care, but they want to care conveniently, in ways that don’t really challenge their daily lives,” she says. “I’m asking them to look more deeply in terms of their everyday choices.”
As a Sephardic Jew raised in Colorado and Texas, Alhadeff’s early experiences with anti-Semitism and individuals with “a deeply entrenched fear of difference,” have given her an ability to stay true to her values and fight for what she believes is just. “From early on I understood what it was to be different and how that related to the natural world and the need to care for and respect it just as I needed the respect as a little Sephardic girl.”
Inside the bus, the family uses a reclaimed wood burning stove. The only electricity is for a used DC-mini refrigerator powered by recycled solar panels, batteries and power equipment. They eat homegrown food, bathe in a stream beside their home in the summertime and utilize humanure composting from their outdoor toilet. Climate justice education is central to their sustainability practice. They perform nationally with Zazu and will be on a cross-country tour for Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.
As Mies puts it, “Our life practice isn’t about a short-term experiment. It is about a deep capacity for creative cooperation; integrating and living our ethics, teaching our children, and being an example for other people looking for alternative ways to build a home.”
To learn more about their family and their lifestyle, visit CaraJudea.com.