The Biodevas / The Environmentalists
This spring, in the weeks before opening what they call the “most sustainable filling station in the nation,” the owners of Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley were smoothing gravel in trenches they had dug themselves. In one trench, they had laid pipe to carry the biodiesel—made from recycled cooking oil—from a storage tank to their station’s two new fuel pumps.
The term “sweat equity” certainly applies to the effort these eco-entrepreneurs have put into refurbishing a historic 1933 gas station on Ashby Avenue. Because their worker-owned collective has a limited budget, they have done much of the trench digging and other construction themselves.
“We learned to do all this crazy man stuff,” says Novella Carpenter, who, like her four sister “biodevas,” has a white-collar day job—she’s a journalist. (Their spelling of devas is a nod to forest spirits.) “We’re all in much better shape. We call it the Oasis gym.”
Literally building the business is one of the empowering aspects of this operation, which they know won’t make them rich. “It’s like growing your own food. It involves a lot of work, so it becomes more precious,” Carpenter says.
Biofuel Oasis started in 2003 in a warehouse off Fourth Street. Founder Jennifer Radtke and another woman, who has since left the business, wanted to provide greater access to biodiesel, an alternative fuel that is cleaner than diesel. The operation now has around 2,700 customers and the five biodevas: Carpenter and Radtke, as well as Margaret Farrow, Ace Anderson, and Melissa Hardy.
In addition to digging trenches, building canopies to shelter the fueling pumps, and having solar panels installed, the women also overhauled their building to accommodate a shop that sells biodiesel supplies, and an area where they can hold classes on alternative fuels and urban farming. The women’s prior DIY experience involved raising their own chickens, rabbits, and bees.
They envision becoming a hub for locals who want to explore green lifestyle alternatives. “Our
whole thing is to be a small business so we know our customers,” Carpenter says. “We want this building to be a community fabric that holds people together.” —Martha Ross
This article appears in the May 2009 issue of Diablo Magazine