Earth Bus

MASH is a converted 84-passenger school bus that features a 200-gallon fishpond, 32-square-feet of media garden, and 96 square feet of vertical wall garden. 

When Air Force veteran Donald Jacques parked the 84-passenger school bus in front of his Scottsdale home in March 2017, his neighbors weren’t too pleased.

“I had three or four neighbors come down, and they raised a big stink. They did not like the bus,” Jacques said. “Of course, back then, I didn’t have the panels on yet. The lettering wasn’t on it. It looked like a big, black prison bus, and they didn’t want it here.”

What Jacques’ neighbors didn’t know was exactly what that school bus was to become: the EarthSeed Mobile Analog Sustainability Habitat (MASH), a completely off-grid sustainable habit.

On Saturday, March 21, EarthSeed will be making its third visit to Mesquite High School.

“SpaceX gave me the idea on their website,” Jacques said. “If you go to the Falcon 9 page, and you go to the bottom right corner where they showed the fairing, they put a picture of a school bus inside the fairing to show how big the fairing is. That was inspiration for me.”

Over two years, Jacques equipped the bus with a 200-gallon fish pond, 32-square-feet of media garden and 96-square-feet of vertical wall garden that a couple of weeks ago has about 20 plant varieties, from tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower to strawberries, lavender, parsley, and much more.

“I’m really proud,” Jacques said of the garden. “This is my fourth planting trying to get things to work, and we’re doing a lot better.”

The bus also has solar panels that produce 2,400 watts of power – “which is about a third of an Arizona house,” Jacques explained during our tour – and is equipped with 12 batteries that, when fully charged, provide about 16 hours of power.

Jacques built a tiny home prototype in 2014, purchased the bus in 2017 and turned EarthSeed into a nonprofit that same year.

A year later, the bus hit the road visiting Arizona schools, including Mesquite High, and has visited festivals around the Valley.

“We had over 500 people come to the bus that day,” Jacques said of SouthWest Maker Fest, referring to a Mesa event last month. “Most people are absolutely shocked that you can put this kind of stuff in this kind of a space.”

Jacques said many students and visitors are initially attracted to the fishpond and then the garden in the back of the bus.

“As far as sustainability goes, it shows people you can put an entire garden like this and fish pond in your basement and grow enough food for your family. It’s actually possible,” Jacques said.

“One of the goals of the bus is to be able to feed as many as four people on a regular basis,” he added.

During tours, Jacques has hands-on activities for the students, like planting seeds in recyclable egg cartons, and the students are given an activity booklet to complete later.

“In our first two events, we have touched more people than Mars Desert Research Station did in two years,” Jacques said.

“You see the light go off with the kids, and they start seeing the connections and discovering where food comes from,” he added. “I spent several years as a teacher, and I loved it because when that light bulb goes off, it’s like the flood gates open and they start seeing potential and they start getting ideas of their own and they start looking at what they can do.”

And as Jacques continues to schedule visits, MASH continues to be an ongoing research vehicle in food production, waste processing, water filtering and recycling, and power production and management. 

“We can drive to schools, visit museums, libraries, taking our research, and results with us,” Jacques said.

This year, Jacques has plans to get a freshwater system in place, install two sinks, a composting toilet, and a shower; set up and get algae tanks up and running; set up garden No. 2; and then build a chicken coop.

“The chickens are the last big piece,” Jacques said. “We’ll actually have chickens and eggs inside of the bus. We’re only planning maybe four or five chickens.”

Exposing and educating the public on sustainability is important to Jacques.

“Our mission is to build the methodology, and technology to survive, thrive, and grow beyond this Earth,” he said. “We show methodologies that can be applied in school and at home to inspire them to action that could have an impact ... on our settlements in space.”

But Jacques’ overall goal, he said, is to be on the fourth mission to the moon.

“EarthSeed actually goes beyond just sustainability in that we want to be able to live on the moon, on Mars, the other four destinations and get them settled within the next 50 years,” he said. 

Jacques added: “EarthSeed’s goal is to actually become like the underground railroad did during the Civil War and actually funnel people that want to go and live in on the moon and Mars. We want to start that. To do that, though, we’ve got to have a methodology.”