On Tuesday, March 25, 2008 solar cooking became “mainstream” in California. California Ag Day was held on the west steps of the state Capitol building. This year’s theme was “Decisions Today will be Impacting Tomorrow.” Thousands attended to see booths relating to agriculture in California and healthy eating. Over 1,200 people sampled solar cooked sweet potatoes made by 6th graders from Paradise Intermediate School’s Evergreen 6 program and 4th-5th grade students from Plainfield school in Woodland. Those sampling the solar-oven-made goods included hundreds from the public, celebrity chef Guy Fieri from the Food Network, and several policy makers including assemblymen and the Governor himself! The following story shares some perspectives from that day.
“Talking to many people at on time about how our solar ovens work and what we came to do that day, was hard, but soon got easier as the day wore on. I started to say the same thing over and over again, and had to find something new to say. When I found something that sounded right, I would start to say that over again and would start the process again. Near the end of the day, the governor came around to all the booths to try the great food and listen to people talking about the agriculture of California. At first I was nervous, but near the end of my part of the speech, it was just like talking to a regular person.” Serenity Fitzgerald, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6
“On Tuesday March 25, 2008, Evergreen 6 took thirteen students to the California State Agriculture day. I was one of those lucky thirteen students to attend. Serenity Fitzgerald and I recited the following speech: ‘Hello, would you like to try a sweet potato that we have made in our solar ovens? We are a solar school in Paradise, California and our name is Evergreen 6. We are a solar school because we have a solar panel at our school and we have sixteen ovens that we have cooked in today.’ Little did we know that one of the people we would be reciting this speech to was the governor of California: Arnold Schwarzenegger! After he tried one he said, ‘Good job. Fabulous, keep up the good work.’ Serenity and I shook his hand and then he moved on. The task of serving the governor was exciting and rewarding.”
Jennifer Olson, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6
“In Sacramento, at the California on Agriculture Day, I was cooking sweet potato fries. We cooked them at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. We cooked 30 bags of them. The normal temperature for cooking them is 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 18-20 minutes. Since our ovens did not get that hot we had to make do with what we had. It was very quick going after a while. We put salt and pepper on the fries. We served them on toothpicks and in cups.”
Cooper Hawkley, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6
“Our students were thrilled to serve Governor Schwarzenegger some of our solar-baked fries and tell him about our solar oven project. The students working at the serving table, Jennifer and Serenity were very professional and did an awesome job talking to the governor, as well as all of the other visitors to our booth. Other students kept an eye on the food as it cooked in the sun and talked to passers-by about how the solar ovens cook food using only the energy form the sun. Watching our students educate others about the importance of conservation and renewable energy was a powerful experience!”
Amy Behlke, a teacher from Evergreen 6
“The students really stole the show. They were incredibly professional and well prepared. I am so proud that they are part of the PG&E Solar Schools Program.”
Karalee Browne, Charitable Contributions/ Solar Schools Program Manager
A PG&E “Bright Ideas Grant” made the students’ purchase of 16 sun ovens possible. These durable yet portable ovens will bake virtually anything you can bake in your home oven and they use zero electricity! The project is aimed at teaching students to understand solar and renewable energy through hands-on activities. One goal of the project is to sell baked items, then use the proceeds to send more solar ovens to a remote village in Africa. With PG&E’s help, the students are on their way to sending a second oven! Another goal of the project is to increase awareness of solar energy.
As a major sponsor of the event, PG&E did more than just “talk the talk.” “What better, and fun way, to illustrate the impact renewable power can make on our future than to have a celebrity chef instruct our future leaders on the importance of healthy eating by using solar power?” said Vice President of Civic Partnerships and Community Initiatives Ophelia Basgal.While a solar trailer powered the California Ag Day sound system, celebrity chef, Guy Fieri was cooking in a solar-powered kitchen. His enthusiasm and energy were contagious. He mingled with the crowd, happily signing autographs and talking with fans.
An event like this does not happen without hard work and great organization. There are many at PG&E that created this perfect “solar storm.” A special thanks to the following:
- Event Planners: Susie Martinez, Tracy Gremillion
- Solar Schools Program Manager: Karalee Browne
- Public Affairs: Dan Kim
- Area Support: Dolly Hazel, Jeannette Ho (Helmet)
- News Support Jennifer Ramp , Paul Moreno
In the end, the day exceeded everyone’s expectations. Greg Holman, another teacher from Evergreen 6 adds, “The students were extremely excited to be part of California Ag Day. As the hundreds in attendance started to crowd around the solar ovens, they began to see that they were truly sharing something most people are not aware of. Many asked where they could buy their own solar oven, and even more walked away with a huge smile. Not only was the food delicious, it was made virtually carbon-free! Solar cooking on the Capitol steps seems like it could not be topped. Add to that the huge interest in solar cooking, friendly celebrity chef Guy Fieri, and a visit by a genuinely interested celebrity governor! Everyone involved will never forget that day….”