Solar Oven Society


Living the Mission
WomenVenture honors three individuals for their personal and professional achievement.

By Monica Wright
Mpls St. Paul; September 2004

Martha Port
Unsung Hero Award

It seems that inspiration can strike in the most obscure ways, and for Martha Port it was no different—in 1988 it landed on her doorstep in the form of the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper. That was where Port read about two Ph.D. students who had created a simple solar oven that could easily cook food. It was the catalyst that started her and her husband’s journey in solar cooking.

“When I read that story I was really intrigued, and I could see the many wonderful things this would mean for families,” Port remembers. One thing she envisioned was creating solar ovens and delivering them to needy families in poor countries around the world.

In countries such as Kenya and Afghanistan women can spend up to seven hours a day searching for fuel to run their stoves, Port says. By giving them a fuel-less oven that could provide economical and nutritious meals, Port believed families would experience a “win-win-win situation.”

To that end, Port took a 60 percent pay cut and left a career as an insurance underwriter in order to help create just such an oven. Although she had no formal training in building ovens, Port came up with the final design with help from the oven’s users and several engineers. Her requirements were that the structures were durable, easy to manufacture in each of the countries that needed them, and affordable. Several trials later, she got what she wanted. Today, after five years of work, Port is confident that her organization, Solar Oven Society in Minneapolis, has created the ideal alternative to primitive, fuel-consuming stoves.

And it didn’t take much to convince the women Port set out to help. When a shipment of 400 ovens went to Afghanistan in November 2002, she estimated it would take three days to sell them (SOS prefers to sell the ovens, which have varying costs, so women have the “dignity of purchase,” Port says). But after a demonstration for the townspeople, the ovens were sold out in less than four hours, with demands for more.

For Port, that incident made every sacrifice, late night, and scrapped model worth it. “The greatest satisfaction was the deep inner sense of sticking to the goal that we believed we could impact people, and that has really been purposeful to me,” she says. “There are times that it has really been a challenge to continue, but it was a privilege just to see the reaction to the oven.”

Port’s next challenge is to bring her oven to more needy families around the world and if the past proves anything, she’s up to the challenge.

“I wouldn’t have risked starting this project,” she says, “unless I genuinely believed in the need.”

Martha Port, Unsung Hero Award
By Monica Wright
Mpls St. Paul; September 2004

Parishes aid developing nations
by Dawn Gibeau
The Catholic SPIRIT; February 6, 2002

SOS Founder Lauded as Unsung Hero
By Roxanne Van Duzee Fulong
Women's Business Minnesota, September 2004

Solar Oven Society hopes to make a difference
By Mary Losure
MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) produced; picked up by NPR (National Public Radio) May 27, 2003

Solar Oven Society Harnessing creation's energy to feed the hungry
by Neal St. Anthony
Minneapolis Star Tribune

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