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Energized at MREA

Peace Coffee booth at MREAThis June, Biodiesel Van Driver Brian Steehler, Roaster Meagan O'Brien and Events & Outreach Coordinator Liz Wawrzonek attended the MREA Energy Fair in Custer, WI. Many people remembered us from previous years, but the overwhelming majority came to our booth to learn more and cool off with some frosty Yeti Cold Press. Many were from the area and shopped at the Stevens Point Area Co-op, or were from Madison and Milwaukee. We also met some great people from all over the country, including a student-run Biodiesel Manufacturer at Nashville's Vanderbilt University, some ladies from the heart of Mississippi who absolutely cooed over our burlap tote bags, and a coffee-loving wind energy expert from France who relayed the history of the windmill.

Liz attended a workshop on socially responsible investing and talked with several people about various energy harnessing systems: wind turbines, degasifying and woodburning furnaces, and photovoltaic systems. One guy told us about the most recent business his wind turbine country had experienced: a large amount of installation in areas of Kenya that never have been on the grid, that are starting to run cell phone power from wind — possibly eliminating the need for them to ever be wired for phone or for electricity.

The natural gas-powered Honda Civic GXAs the unofficial car and motorized vehicle "expert" of the company, Brian was tasked with searching out the inventors and users of renewable energy technology. He saw vehicles ranging from a solar and wind powered 'green' RV to the drill-motor powered solar recumbent tricycle. The man who with the recumbent tricycle has been building his own hybrid cars since 1992, and as any true car nut, was never satisfied with his last project and has to try to create something new all the time. Currently, he has converted the trike using a lightweight and efficient drill motor and batteries and a 16"x16" solar panel. He's able to scoot around in this hybrid power-train up to 10 mph. The majority of the car show focused on technologies based on biofuels, with E85 conversion kits, home biodiesel brewing rigs, veggie oil conversion kits for diesel cars, and various utility engines and generators powered by biodiesel or gasifiers. Also in attendance was one of the cleanest burning green cars in attendance, the Honda Civic GX, powered by natural gas. It was a rare treat to see this vehicle come all the way from California, where it is currently available for trial leases. All in all, a very enjoyable and educational gearhead experience.

Meagan, always thinking about what to eat, attended a variety of workshops about sustainable food. Her favorite workshop was put on by Midwest Permaculture Permaculture, based on simple principles of observation and conservation, can do wonders for making land space beautiful, productive AND sustainable. However, it can seem frustratingly complicated because Mother Nature herself is so complex. One farmer, who has been very successful using permaculture methods, laughed and said, "The best way to get started is to just start doing it. None of us have any idea what we're doing." The presenters stressed permaculture can be done in an urban apartment space or on acres and acres of land. You start by just observing how natural systems work wherever you are — where the sunlight falls, how the water flows, where things grow, and where they don't — and then figure out how to use the systems themselves to make work easier for you. For instance, one farmer has logs inoculated with shitake mushrooms covering his cistern, thus the logs stay moist without any watering. He also had part of his chicken coop on a slope above the compost. He would toss food scraps on the slope and as the chickens scratched and pecked — as chickens do — they would move all the compostable material down the slope into the pile. Further the chickens would "turn" the pile for him as they foraged for their favorite treat — worms. Imagine having chickens turn your compost for you — Brilliant!

She learned how to use regular coolers as simple but effective root cellars to store local fruits and vegetables through winter. The women teaching the workshop still had plump apples and hard squash from last year! A few coolers and a little knowledge of humidity and ethylene gas sensitivity can make it possible to store local bounty all year; thus keeping transportation and packaging footprints low as well as food dollars in the pockets of our local farmers.

Finally, Meagan participated in a workshop on how to make simple solar ovens at home. She can't wait to build one and cook her lunch on the green roof of Peace Coffee's home — the Phillips Eco Enterprise Center. What a great way to keep heat out of the kitchen during these hot days.

Garbage disposal by bikeThe MREA grounds felt like a little, renewable oasis in the vast expanse of consumer desert. There were solar-heated showers, graceful wind turbines on all horizons, and compost bins at every turn. Waste collection for the entire fair was done by bicycle. The highlight had to be walking into the breakfast tent to hear all of the Organic Valley folks shout "own cup – fill 'er up!" (If you bring a reusable mug they literally shout in celebration). They made the most delicious organic breakfasts — and on the final day we were serenaded by the Happy Notes — turns out polka is really the best way to start a long day of event-work (this inspired the creation of a new polka band called "Polka Your Eyes Out" or "The Polka Dots" — we are open to other titles).

Other interesting resources exhibiting at the Energy Fair:

Working Bikes Cooperative: recycles unused or discarded bikes into usable bikes or pedal-powered machinery that are donated to countries such as Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Ghana, Kenya, Angola, Tanzania and Cuba. They also work with Maya Pedal — an organization in Guatemala that makes bicimaquinas, such as pedal powered coffee depulpers (also works with Bikes Not Bombs in MA).

Emy J's, a Fair Trade coffee shop with its own roastery in Stevens Point, recently opened a clothing store called Fair, and Liz bought some Fair Trade "cons" from their booth, made by a company called Ethletic.

Kevin from Makes Scents gave us some info on Fair Trade Shea Butter, which you can learn more on his website, Growgreens. He also ordered Peace Coffee from us for resale.

Our booth was right next to Family Farm Defenders out of Madison, who shared a booth with two members of Just Coffee who are working on labor issues in East Timor where they live for several months out of the year.

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