Many of us try to do our part for the environment: we recycle, bike to work, or buy eco friendly cleaners. The ladies of Biofuel Oasis, however, have gone beyond what most of us would ever dream of trying in their war against pollution. Melissa Hardy, Margaret Farrow, Ace Anderson, Novella Carpenter, and Jennifer Radtke, (whose ages range from early 30’s to early 40’s) have dedicated their lives to the BioFuel Oasis, a Berkeley, CA-based alternative filling station that dispenses biodiesel, a non-toxic, renewable, biodegradable fuel source that may change the way America drives. “We’re total scrappers,” explains Hardy of their crusade. “We do this for the love in our hearts for this movement.”
Hardy met her future BioFuel buddies in 2003 while volunteering for a group dedicated to finding petroleum alternatives. The most promising of these options, biodiesel, is an animal fat or vegetable oil based fuel that can power engines currently running on standard petroleum diesel. There’s no need to modify most diesel engines (found in lots of ’70s-era cars and new models from manufacturers like VW, BMW, and Mercedes) to accept the fuel, and it can be mixed with petroleum inside the tank. “You can make biodiesel in your backyard,” Hardy says, ” which totally appeals to our DIY personalities.”
That year, the first incarnation of the BioFuel Oasis appeared in a warehouse. It stayed open until February 2009, when the group realized their true vision, moving their business into a 1930’s era filling station in Berkeley. To renovate the space, though, the ladies had to pony up $250,000 for contractors fees, permits, and other expenses. “We had no assets explains Hardy, “but we thought, ‘Our biggest resource is our community’. So we launched a program asking people to donate $100 each to ‘Become a Solutionary.'” BFO raised close to $40,000 this way, then pieced the rest together with government grants and loans. “It was a big move to become legit, but we were hella creative,” says Hardy.
The BFO’s pumps, which dispense biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil that their local suppliers collect from hundreds of restaurant fryers-are automated , but there are still ladies at the station six days a week doing mechanical work, dolling out car advice, and selling products like chicken feed, beekeeping supplies, and mason jars for canning, inside the BFO store. Life in coveralls isn’t always easy breezy, and many of the BFO’s have white collard jobs to augment their meager incomes from the station and make an hourly wage. “We work at a gas station and make an hourly wage,” explains Hardy.”But we’re lucky. Our customers are incredibly dedicated.” [Molly Sims]