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 (http://morninghill.net/) 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 — https://www.homepower.com/articles/solar-electricity/project-profiles/postmodern-pv-pioneers
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.