Jan 29, 2022
Staff photo / Bob Coupland Hubbard residents Jennifer Gasser, left, and Mary Buchenic educate people on the use of solar cookers to prepare food. They have traveled across the country and several other countries for the Solar Education Project.
HUBBARD — Two Hubbard residents are spending their time across the globe to educate people on the benefits of solar cooking.
Mary Buchenic and Jennifer Gasser have presented the Solar Education Project, which has taken them from Ohio to Haiti.
Buchenic is a retired Niles teacher who taught fifth-grade science. Gasser, who ran Chestnut Ridge Park and Campground for 25 years with her husband, was an environmental education coordinator for the Butler County Conservation District and later with Junior Achievement. The women said they had been contacted by solar-cooking enthusiasts, who offered them the chance to go to Haiti in January 2017 to teach the solar-cooking program at a convent and a school.
“I had been an environmentalist but never heard of solar cooking until 2016,” Gasser said. “It surprised me, given the things I did know about reducing and recycling. Solar cooking has a different appeal.”
She said she and Buchenic also gave the presentation locally in 2016 at the Hubbard Farmers Market, where they set up the solar ovens and cookers for demonstrations on baking bread and cakes, in addition to heating meats.
Gasser said they converted a suitcase into a solar box oven with all the materials needed for solar cooking.
“When the customs agent in Haiti asked what it was and learned that we were there to educate, he wanted us to come to his church and explain about solar cooking,” Gasser said,
“We use concentrated sunlight for direct conversion of sunlight into heat energy,” Buchenic said.
The two have gone to schools and colleges for demonstrations as part of STEM education. Through Youngstown State University, they are part of the afterschool program at local public schools and also the Choose Ohio First scholars research program.
During the pandemic, the two have conducted virtual programs with the Learning Strength International Program at Hiram College, which connects them to people in Kenya, Portugal and Pakistan.
“This reaches other countries of the world,” Gasser said, noting they have worked with Solar Cookers International, which is an advocacy group.
Gasser and Buchenic said they present the solar cooking as a free resource option since there is “no charge for the sun.”
“This a technology and these are appliances, and this is an option for cooking. We want to educate people to see if there is any interest in it for them,” Buchenic said.
She said the ovens are available at the Hubbard Public Library to be borrowed and used at home or when camping. All that is needed is a library card.
The two have performed cooking demonstrations geared toward children at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
“We are utilizing the sun’s rays no matter what the temperature may be outside. That is the energy source,” Gasser said.
Buchenic said they have done programs for the OH!WOW Science Center in Youngstown. Gasser said they have also done a Makerspace project with Sacramento College with people from around the world.
The two like to travel and meet new people.
“The solar cooking enthusiasts that we have met have inspired us. They are from all walks of life and from different regions of the world. It has been a very global experience and a lot of diversity which is interesting and challenges you,” Gasser said.
Buchenic said the Solar Cooking Project is a nonprofit that is part of Global Development Solutions.
She said COVID-19 has forced them to expand into a virtual presentation format, which has turned out to be a good thing.
“We have created content and done remote lessons with schools in Nevada and Florida. If someone reaches out to us and expresses an interest, we will show up,” Buchenic said.
“There is a new way for people to learn virtually,” Buchenic said.
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