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"A Basement Operation" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, January 2010

French fries? Chinese food? The smell is not quite describable, lost somewhere between fried food, old grease, and a dirty kitchen.

I promise, though, the kitchen at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead is spotless. I'm referring, wouldn't you guess, to our basement. This underworld of our community building houses many things: a root cellar, pantry shelves, our wood boiler and accompanying wood pile, shelves for spring seeding, the bottom half of our clivus composting toilets, musical instruments galore, also foosball…

…and our winter veggie oil set-up.

For much of the year, our collection of tanks, buckets, filters, drums, and oily accoutrements reside in our garage. During the winter, however, the garage temperature easily drops below freezing: no amount of coaxing will push congealed vegetable oil through a pump in such conditions. So for these next couple of months the operation is moved to our basement.

The bare necessities – a 55-gallon drum, some buckets, a pump - are set in a not-too-intrusive area. Everything is atop cardboard to soak up the inevitable drips and drops of fry-o-later oil. Really, considering just how smudged, smeared, and downright greasy every piece is, this ode to take-out meals remains remarkably contained. But the mess isn't the story – in fact, the point to be made is how useable the system is, how easy it is to learn, and how practical a solution it is to the perpetual cost of a gas tank.

Here at D Acres, we pick-up oil from a couple of local venues, filter it through a series of three filters, then pump it into 5-gallon containers and we're good to go. A piece of hosing is our gas pump, buckets are our oil tankers. The cost is merely a little time. Granted, that's the easy part. You can't just pour the filtered remains of a Happy Meal in your engine and expect to take off.

To convert a vehicle, you will need to have a diesel engine, and you do have to reconfigure some flux capacitators, whatsits, and whosits. I don't feign to take on the mechanic's role in this here column. For more information, go to the D Acres website www.dacres.org and read the article titled "Biofuels." Call us with questions or queries. Also, if you have an establishment producing oil and need somewhere to go with it, collect it in buckets and let us know, please.

If you ask me, there are two particular perks to veggie oil vehicles that go beyond the cost benefits and recycled nature of the system. First are the relationships that develop as a result of seeking out oil from regional establishments. Local businesses and local people cross paths in a mutually beneficial way, a connection that no one expects – nor receives - from Mobil or Exxon. Finding ways to meet our own needs within our region is a beautiful step towards community empowerment.

And there is, of course, the larger dimension to this local picture. A desire to be independent from fossil fuels is a significant impetus behind D Acres' switch to veggie oil. Whether you wish to attribute it to cost, locality, maximizing resource use, or diminishing ecologic impact, the use of veggie oil is another way of living lightly in this world. Petroleum-based oil independence is a big goal and a serious undertaking, but the finite nature of fossil fuels is a reality of the future. Start now and get creative – what can your role be in the solution?

Beth Weick is a resident of D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, a non-profit service organization. She first came to the farm in April 2008 as an intern, and now focuses her work on gardening, tending to the animals, and writing. Learn more about the programs at D Acres by visiting www.dacres.org.

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