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by Sarah Vasquez | September 17th, 2015 under Big Bend Blog » Big Bend Blog Highlight
A solar oven.

A solar oven.

Why not sun-roasted chilies for Presidio?

By ALYCE SANTORO

“Appropriate Technology” is a concept that stemmed from E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 book, “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.” Appropriate technology is based on the idea that unique, sustainable, community-oriented solutions tailored to the needs and assets of a particular region and its population may offer practical and financially- and socially-rewarding alternatives to large-scale, natural resource-intensive, centralized industrialization.

I have been a resident of Fort Davis and Alpine for nine years.  For seven of those years I have been cooking nearly every day in a solar oven (info and recipes can be found on my solar cookery blog at http://sunovencookery.blogspot.com).  Solar ovens are remarkable – they require no wood, charcoal, gas, or electricity of any kind – just concentrated heat from the sun – a source that is abundant and free here in the Big Bend. These ovens can reach 350 – 400 degrees F within 20 minutes on a day with minimal cloud cover. They remain at this temperature from not long after sunrise until just before sunset.

Since I first heard the rumor that Presidio was interested in inviting a chili roasting operation to town, I have been wondering what it would take to develop this “appropriate technology” on an industrial scale.

Upon a cursory search, I discovered that commercially successful solar cookery operations are already up-and-running in arid regions around the world. (A list of projects can be found at: http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Most_significant_solar_cooking_projects).

One endeavor that I found particularly striking is the Delicias del Sol restaurant in Villeseca, Chile. From http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Delicias_del_Sol:

“Solar restaurant in Chile has produced profits – The Delicias del Sol restaurant, known for serving excellent food, has become a tourist destination for the village of Villaseca, Chile. Begun in 2000 with an initial seating capacity of sixteen, the solar restaurant now seats 120. The dry central valley area receives over 300 days of sunshine a year, and like similar areas, traditional fuel sources are becoming ever more scarce and expensive. The tourists enjoy viewing the solar kitchen at work.”

Based on my experience and research, I feel extremely confident that a Solar Fired Chili Roasting Factory could become a scalable, sustainable business that would have the potential to grow and prosper in Presidio for many years to come. Such a project could even become a model for other similar ventures around the country and the world, bringing tourists to our area to visit it, sample the chilies, and participate in annual celebrations of Presidio’s innovation!

A few specifics: currently, the Villager Sun Oven (made by the same company that makes the small-scale home models that I use daily) is the industry standard for large-scale cookery. From the company’s website at http://sunoven.com/around-the-world/sunovens/villagers-sun-ovens:

“The VILLAGER SUN OVEN® is designed for large-scale feeding situations that require cooking great volumes of food quickly. Even though it is called an oven, enormous quantities of food can be boiled, steamed or baked at cooking temperatures of 500° F / 260° C with no fuel costs. The world has entered an era of increasingly higher energy costs. These costs are often viewed from an economic perspective, but the toll they take in human and environmental terms, while difficult to measure and often overlooked, are even more devastating. Feeding programs are often forced to choose between buying food or the fuel to cook it. VILLAGER SUN OVENS® were developed to help feed large groups of people without destabilizing the environment or contributing to deforestation.”

The Villager Sun Oven Company continues; “Each VILLAGER SUN OVEN®, when utilized as a Sun Bakery, can save over 150 tons of wood annually which results in the reduction of 277 tons of CO2 green house gas emissions annually. Preserving forests and reducing the stain on the world’s environment. UNIQUE BUT HIGHLY EFFECTIVE The VILLAGER SUN OVEN® is the only manufactured commercial solar oven in the world. Over 1,200 meals a day can be cooked or hundreds of loaves of bread can be baked powered by the sun. Ovens are growing in popularity and are currently used in more than 40 deforested counties in a variety of applications.”

While funds could be raised to purchase a Villager Oven (at a cost of $13,000 per oven), similar ovens could likely be manufactured locally. It is even possible that once the plans are fully worked out, the ready-made ovens could be sold to other communities throughout the southwest.

Practically from the moment the oven is ready for use, it can begin to generate income. More research will be needed to determine the amount of chilies per day that can be roasted, and how they would be preserved (a canning process using glass jars may be recommended – the entire canning process can be carried out using the sun oven itself – this way, no freezer or additional power source need be used).

The chilies could be sold immediately to local restaurants, grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, and to locals and tourists as a very specially locally-produced item at an on-site stand. When chilies are not in season (or even when they are…), other products could be produced (cornbread, sundried Fort Davis tomatoes, canned beans or bean stews, etc). The potential of the sun oven is limitless!

Ideally, this enterprise would be developed and implemented from start to finish by residents of Presidio. I am available to help brainstorm, provide additional info, or answer any questions: Alyce Santoro alyce@alycesantoro.com.

• • •

Alyce Santoro is a member of Defend Big Bend, www.defendbigbend.org.

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