Martha and Mike Port, Minneapolis; cofounders, Solar Oven Society
Mike and Martha Port sell solar cookers to outdoor enthusiasts in the United States--and use the profits to subsidize sales of the ovens in developing countries. In two to four sunny hours, the devices can cook vegetables, meat, bread, or even cookies.
Martha Port: We'd been praying for something we could do as a couple. My husband saw an article about a guy teaching women in Guatemala to cook in a cardboard box with tinfoil and glass, and it grabbed his heart.
Mike Port: People have been cooking with wood for millennia, but as the world's population increases, deforestation becomes a problem. In many areas--including parts of Tanzania and Chad--people walk eight to ten miles one way to find firewood. And cooking fires cause lung and eye diseases--there are many harmful effects.
Martha: In Haiti, we found people spending more than half of their income on cooking fuel. It takes away from other things they need, like more food, medicine, and schooling for their kids. We think one reason solar cooking had not caught on in developing countries was that nobody was mass-producing a high-quality, low-cost solar oven.
Mike: Cardboard just takes a couple of good rains and it's history. We decided to go to plastic, and I'm proud to say we're using recycled soda and water bottles. We've designed the ovens so that the parts nest for shipping and storage, and they can be assembled locally without electricity. We've done small projects, 10 or 15 ovens each, in 41 countries; our biggest--up to 450 cookers--were in Haiti, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.
Martha: The greatest hurdle at this point is getting funding, but we're delighted that interest continues to build.
Mike: Solar cooking is a partial solution; it doesn't work on cloudy or rainy days. But it's a very nice partial solution. —interview by Katherine Glover