Time to get organized

My Solar Podcast Tour

September 19 to October 10 2020, I set out on a road trip with Covid-safe protocols in place to interview several solar cooking great in the western U.S. These video podcasts are all stored on Vimeo.

Season 1 can be viewed in its entirety here:

Living Off The Sun: Part 2, “The Question Man.”

We’re living in interesting times, with polarized politics in many countries. Here in the U.S. one polarized issue is global warming–happening or not? Here’s my take:

* We can kill a river, and the dead river kills a lake (Cayahuga, Erie). But we can’t kill the atmosphere?… not even make it a little “sick”?

* We can atomically contaminate hundreds of square miles of land, killing and mutating the life therein (Chernobyl), but throwing teragigs of carbon into the atmosphere will have no impact on weather, crops, sea levels?

* We can kill a sea (Aral) by diverting it’s life force and filling it with pollutants, but CO2 and other chemicals in the air–no difference whatsoever?

* We can create a “sea-fill” –the oceanic version of a landfill– accumulating in the Pacific Gyre, and gradually kill off just about every kind of living sea creature across the globe, but the garbage in our air won’t harm us that breathe it?

So, someone tell me what I’m missing. How can we contaminate and destroy bits and pieces of the earth, but expect no reckoning for moving carbon from underground and into the atmosphere? Long ago when news came mostly from the print media, you’d find the occasional column by “The Answer Man.” I don’t have answers, I tell my climate skeptic friends, but I have a lot of questions. Call me The Question Man.

And I’m not waiting for answers, I’m just doing what 1/8,000,000,000th of the world’s popluation can do to slow our collective asphyxiation. These past two days we’ve had near full-sun, after a gloomy fall and first few weeks of winter. And I’m cooking with the sun rather than with fossil fuels. I’m keeping most of the carbon I would otherwise use, in the earth where it belongs.


I thought I was being clever when I titled these posts “Living Off The Sun,” but I must give credit and tribute to one who says it better. Not coincidentally, it came from the inventor of the SunFlash, Steve Baer. I stumbled upon this quote online. It was a biographical sketch of Baer, toward the end of a chapter called “Steve Baer, Beatnik Engineer” (browse for that title, you’ll be rewarded with a summary of his work with solar). Baer expressed his frustration with the Reagan Administration’s trashing of nascent renewable energy tax credits: “In 1975, in a book called ‘Sunspots,’ Baer announced that he would go his own way, “an old farmer, farming the sky, worrying about the weather.”

“Farming The Sky”–a more direct way of saying he’s “Living Off The Sun.” I have Sun Spots, and thought I read it cover to cover, but I’ll break it out again as I don’t recall that wonderful quote. Thank you Steve, for showing the many ways we can harvest sunshine.

Living Off The Sun

I’ve been fortunate to network with numerous designers, manufacturers and users of solar cookers for over a decade. Along with sunny hearts many also have green thumbs, and as we say, “Live off the land.”

Lance and Jennifer ( were the target of my solar cooker collecting mania in the fall of 2018. I have accumulated 37 (!!) solar cookers since 2004, but I’d been fruitlessly searching for the Sunflash cooker, which originated with Zomeworks’ Steve Baer in Albuquerque, since I first read of its origins in “Heaven’s Flame.” Ultimately I returned to the world archives of google, to find the archives of the Solar Energy Association of Oregon and the testing of the Barker’s Sunflash, which was literally staked to their land and used regularly for cooking the fruits of their labor, “off the land.”

I wrote to Jennifer, asking if she knew anyone else who had a Sunflash cooker, as it was the last of my “missing in action” cookers I felt would complete my collection. Jennifer graciously offered to donate their Sunflash to the cause, and as soon as I could free up a week to travel to Oregon, I visited Lance and Jennifer at their wonderful Morning Hill Forest Farm in Canyon City in December. During and after a great dinner, made all of food from their garden, we talked about solar cookers past and present, the influence of Joseph Radabaugh’s “Heaven’s Flame,” and the broader topic of solar energy. A tour of their farm through fresh snow affirmed the life they’d chosen as best described in Home Power’s account in 2007 —

After three hours of fellowship, I loaded up the Sunflash and rode down the mountain roads and back toward the Minnesota prairie to bring it home. An hour outside of Canyon City, I noted that the clouds of the day had broken up, and unlike the night sky of my light-polluted home in Minneapolis, where maybe a dozen stars poke through the urban haze, I saw thousands of stars, and maybe it was just my imagination, but I think even the Milky Way swept across the horizon.

We all live off the land–most of us, through the labor of others. Thanks to my wife’s father’s labor, our 120 square feet of reconstituted backyard soil produces a daily salad through most of the summer, with the bonus of dried herbs in the fall and many grocery bags’ worth of vegetables. While we can’t come close to the commitment of the Barkers, we are inspired by their work and many other “post-modern pioneers,” and have lessened our dependence on fossil fuels and the carbon footprints of diesel-delivered greens to the degree that we can.

While I slowed down on the asphalt Oregon Trail to look at the night sky, I thought about those thousands of suns up there and it occurred to me that Morning Hill not only shows how we can live off the land, but also how we can “live off the sun.” Their solar panel array covers their power needs and then some, and with a battalion of solar ovens at their disposal, cooking food that couldn’t have grown without sunlight, their harnessing of the sun for all it’s power is complete.

For over a hundred years we’ve built a culture where we no longer cycle through the carbon we need and put it back into soil, food, and forests, but rather, we gorge ourselves on limited fossil fuels, only to belch it into the air where it really doesn’t belong, certainly not in the volume the atmosphere is bearing in this century. After nearly three years of generating our own electricity with solar panels, and fourteen years of cooking when we can in the “variety weather belt,” we are inching toward our own way of living off the sun.