On April 26, the Tucson Solar Potluck will be held in the desert north of Tucson. It is the 32nd straight year for the gathering of solar enthusiasts, a streak that some believe qualifies it as the longest continuously held solar event in the U.S.
The potluck was a focal point of a documentary film I produced about solar cooking in 1990.
In the early 1990s, CBS Sunday News did a news piece on the event as the highlight of its national Earth Day coverage.
People have come and gone over the years, yet every spring this “unusual gathering” takes place with an ever-changing cast of characters setting up the strangest of homemade contraptions and pointing them at the sun. Seemingly every sort of solar cooking device imaginable is on display, made from a variety of materials.
Phyllis and Bob Bright were potluck regulars more than two decades ago. The Brights had an oven that sat on the base of an office chair, thus allowing it to swivel to follow the sun. The Brights are gone now, but their office chair solar oven is still talked about and copied in design.
“Anything you can cook in a regular oven, I can cook in this [solar] oven,” Phyllis would boast in her thick New Jersey accent.
You know what – Phyllis was right. The solar oven is an all-purpose oven that can cook anything under the sun.
Ed Eaton, one of the Potluck founders, once told me that the best solar cooker is “my oven” – because I use it. See, it didn’t matter to Ed or the others which type or style of solar oven you used – if you used it it was a good one. If you didn’t, it was worthless.
Ed was right. The best solar oven is the one that is used and I still use mine to this day.
Joe Blankenship was another of the solar pioneers who helped organize the first Potluck in 1982. It was something Joe said at the 1990 solar potluck that I will always remember: “Solar energy doesn’t work,” he said. “Until big business can figure out a way to get a meter between you and the sun they will tell you it doesn’t work.”
Joe was right. The battle over who owns the sun is one that is still being waged today.
Solar cooking pioneers Barbara Kerr and Sherry Cole thoroughly enjoyed attending many Potlucks and sharing their knowledge of solar cooking with others. Both have since passed away, but they left a mark on the world with their invention of the solar box cooker.
Sherry was fond of telling the story of how they developed the first construction plans for their simple cooker in the 1970s. “We were at a community event in Yuma,” she would say. “It was a cloudy day but we still had our solar cooker out. The newspaper asked if we planned to make more of these and we said yes. It came out in the paper that we had plans. We got a couple hundred requests for plans in the next week and we sat down and made up the first plans.”
It may have been a slip of the tongue or she may have been misquoted, but Sherry was right. They did make more of these – in fact an international organization was formed to spread the word of the Kerr-Cole cooker and their simple cardboard cooker has been introduced to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Barbara dedicated her life to sustainable living, forming a non-profit in Taylor, Arizona that included the Sustainable Living Center. Barbara’s true love though was solar cooking.
“I believe it has been offered many times before and we have ignored it,” she told me. “We now have a chance to make this part of the human consciousness.”
You did Barbara.
Arizona Solar Center
Questions: Do you have a solar cooking story to share? A favorite solar recipe?