The pump at the gas station on Ashby Avenue and Sacramento Street looks like any other, but the material that comes out smells faintly like french fries.
That’s because BioFuel Oasis doesn’t sell gasoline. Instead, it sells bio-diesel, a renewable, biodegradable, clean-burning diesel replacement made from recycled vegetable oil. Oh, and the company offers classes in beekeeping, raising chickens, and making fermented foods, too.
BioFuel Oasis, which was started by five women in 2003, has become a defacto center for DIY activities in Berkeley. Its store shelves are stocked with honey and posters made by locals, and anyone with too many mites in their beehive can call and ask for advice. People can drop off their used vegetable oil and pick up a handmade candle on their way out.
But now, in its 14th year in business, BioFuel Oasis at 1441 Ashby Ave. is turning one again to its loyal customers for help.
BioFuel Oasis has launched a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign to raise $6,000 to help transform the business. With $2,000 already pledged, the owners hope to raise the rest to create an online store, buy a shipping container for extra storage on site, and add better signage to attract more customers.
“We really appreciate how much you, our customers, prioritize buying from us, a small, local store,” wrote the owners on the website. “Your money stays local and in our case, also supports the democratic worker-owned cooperative model.”
BioFuel Oasis was founded in 2003 by five women: Margaret Farrow, Ace Anderson, Melissa Hardy, Jennifer Radtke and Novella Carpenter. The business moved from a small warehouse in West Berkeley to its current location on Ashby Avenue in 2009.
“We chose this location because we needed an old gas station … for selling fuel,” Radtke said. “We love our location as a major intersection in Berkeley and it allows us to promote a low-carbon, green fuel made from recycled vegetable oil. It also allows us to promote urban farming and people growing their own food and keeping chickens/bees in the city.”
In 2010, the company opened a second fueling station, previously owned and operated by LC Biofuels, in San Anselmo, albeit unstaffed and completely automated.
The company has used crowd-funded sourcing successfully before. It raised $5,000 for its first pump and $35,000 to fund its move to its current location, according to its website.
These days, Radtke is the only original partner remaining. She now co-owns the company with Kelsey Howard, a third partner-in-training, Tess Dufrechou, and runs it with a couple of support staff, Jen and Marianne.
“Staff turnover in the past three years has been particularly challenging,” said Radtke. “A lot of time and energy was spent on training and then training and then training again. We do a lot of education in the store about our products, so new staff need to learn a lot over months of training about each area from biodiesel to beekeeping equipment to chicken health/behavior to gardening to fermentation of kombucha, kefir, & kraut.”
A visit to the BioFuel Oasis is not like a visit to a typical gas station. Their motto, “May you never go to a gas station again” alerts you that you’re in for a different experience altogether. You can pump your own fuel here or have it delivered. For convenience, pre-purchasing a Freedom Fueling Card allows you after-hours access to fuel at the station. (The San Anselmo station, however, requires a special access card that differs from the Berkeley station.) In Berkeley, just like a typical gas station, you can pick up auto maintenance gear like filters or fuel lines.
But, among the things that make this anything but a typical roadside stop, you will notice that this fueling station and its store is a Slurpee-free zone. In fact, junk food and the miscellaneous paraphernalia of a typical gas station’s shop is not anywhere in sight when you visit the adjacent Urban Farm Store. Here, you will be treated instead to supplies related to urban farming and eco-practices that are taught through their workshop program. You can stock up on organic chicken feed, local honey, composting supplies and everything you need for making your own fruit preserves, cheese and kombucha while perusing a variety of how-to books.
Beyond providing bio-diesel and that eclectic array of products, the business provides all manner of educational opportunities for getting back to basics in daily living. Classes and lectures on backyard beekeeping and honey harvesting, building a composting toilet, creating your own chick hatchery and much more are on the roster of classes and workshops. The wide variety of offerings are held in backyards around town or at the Sticky Art Lab on University Ave., depending on the focus, and are “hands-on, seasonally appropriate classes designed to empower people.
One recent event was the September Harvest Tasting, which offered numerous demos and workshops, discounted store items and bio-diesel, plus a honey tasting contest. “We sell delicious local honey that we source from backyard beekeepers in the East Bay in our shop, including my own and Kelsey’s. The contest is an opportunity to taste them and vote for your favorite”, said Radtke.
“We sell delicious local honey that we source from backyard beekeepers in the East Bay in our shop, including my own and Kelsey’s. The contest is an opportunity to taste them and vote for your favorite,” said Radtke.
“Our customers keep us inspired!” said Radtke. “Our customers are people doing amazing things for the environment in their own right and they are also excited about driving on a petroleum-free fuel. Or they love the bees or chickens they have in their backyard and know they can come in and talk to us and share their excitement and also get answers to their questions.”
If it all seems too foreign, BioFuel Oasis will also help people who are just considering whether to convert their cars to run on biodiesel. The Oasis will help you get started, informing you on all the legal stats and necessary guidelines regarding the safe use of bio-diesel and proper care for your diesel-fueled car and even help you find out where to get biofuel when you’re on a road trip. The company even has a handy list of FAQs to help people better understand this alternative fuel.
BioFuel Oasis, 1441 Ashby Ave. (at Sacramento), Berkeley 94702. Tel: 510-665-5509 . Open Mon. – Fri., 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sun., Noon to 4. Connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.