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The Tucson Solar Potluck: A Who’s Who of Solar in Arizona

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.

[Join the Citizens for Solar on Saturday, April 26 at Catalina State Park and experience the flavors of solar-cooked food and learn about solar technologies by viewing solar appliances and applications. The event starts at 9:30 am with oven set-up and opens to the public at 10 am.  The Potluck itself is at 5 pm and anybody can participate – if you don’t have a solar oven bring some solar food to share (watermelon, berries, etc.). Everybody is responsible for their own eating utensils. For more information contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..]

Jim Arwood
Communications Director
Arizona Solar Center

Questions: Do you have a solar cooking story to share?  A favorite solar recipe?

The benefits of solar: Will anybody listen?
Majority Rules . . . Or does it?
 

Comments 3

Jim Stack on Saturday, 12 April 2014 18:45

Of course. We just had the Great Solar Cookout today at ASU with about 10 solar ovens. We also had electric cars like the LEAF and a Tesla Roadster. The owners ALL have Solar GRID Tied systems that run their home and cars and make extra to help the GRID.

http://sustainability.asu.edu/events/rsvp/solarcookout (Solar Cookout)

http://www.azipl.org/ (Interface Power and light)

Of course. We just had the Great Solar Cookout today at ASU with about 10 solar ovens. We also had electric cars like the LEAF and a Tesla Roadster. The owners ALL have Solar GRID Tied systems that run their home and cars and make extra to help the GRID. http://sustainability.asu.edu/events/rsvp/solarcookout (Solar Cookout) http://www.azipl.org/ (Interface Power and light)
bruce plenk on Sunday, 13 April 2014 08:47

Jim- Thanks for a great recap of the SOlar Potluck. We hope that some of our solar friends from the Valley can make it down
this year...with their ovens!!

Jim- Thanks for a great recap of the SOlar Potluck. We hope that some of our solar friends from the Valley can make it down this year...with their ovens!!
Jim Stack on Thursday, 24 April 2014 08:48

Yesterday I rode my ELF http://www.OrganicTransit.com to ASU East about 15 miles each way and saw their world leading Sunpower C7 concentrating solar array. ASU is walking the talk and doing more for Solar and the environment than any University in the World. They are really cooking with Solar. The University has over 23 Mega watts and is adding more each year with a goal of 60 Mega Watts. https://cfo.asu.edu/solar-plan

Michael Crow ,the ASU president and I both went to Syracuse University in Upstate NY. He developed many energy projects that I got to work on as an engineer in the Telephone Company. He took the Syracuse University little energy program of $100K and grew it into several Millions of dollars in savings with innovative projects. My home and Electric vehicles including my bicycle and Velomobile ELF all run on Solar Energy and I still make about 10% extra every year since 2001.

It would be a long ELF ride to Tucson Solar Pot luck when I have 4 Solar ovens in my backyard I use everyday.

Yesterday I rode my ELF www.OrganicTransit.com to ASU East about 15 miles each way and saw their world leading Sunpower C7 concentrating solar array. ASU is walking the talk and doing more for Solar and the environment than any University in the World. They are really cooking with Solar. The University has over 23 Mega watts and is adding more each year with a goal of 60 Mega Watts. https://cfo.asu.edu/solar-plan Michael Crow ,the ASU president and I both went to Syracuse University in Upstate NY. He developed many energy projects that I got to work on as an engineer in the Telephone Company. He took the Syracuse University little energy program of $100K and grew it into several Millions of dollars in savings with innovative projects. My home and Electric vehicles including my bicycle and Velomobile ELF all run on Solar Energy and I still make about 10% extra every year since 2001. It would be a long ELF ride to Tucson Solar Pot luck when I have 4 Solar ovens in my backyard I use everyday.
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