Custer, Wisconsin’s Wikipedia page is sparse.  The origin of Custer’s name is “not confirmed” and it’s only notable resident is a WNBA player whose own page identifies her as a Stevens Point resident.  Under the headline “Economy,” however, lays a fragment of information about the event that keeps Custer’s zip code alive: the Energy Fair.

The Energy Fair is the nation’s longest running renewable energy and sustainable living education event. Known by most CROPPies as ‘MREA’ after its sponsoring organization (Midwest Renewable Energy Association), the fair typically attracts 20,000 visitors over three days of events.  CROPPies familiar with MREA seemed to equate the energy extravaganza to a music festival for renewable energy junkies, complete with bands, beer, and camping.

The rain dampened attendance, but failed to discourage nearly 250 exhibitors and 200 presenters.  As a summer Intern in the Sustainability Department, my weekend duties were diverse.  By morning, my team and I served up delicious organic breakfasts alongside event staff and farmers to nearly 700 people.

OV Farmer Rick Greeting Everyone

OV Farmer Rick Greeting Everyone!

In the afternoon, we manned the biofuels trailer, which is home to our oil seed press.  The trailer’s mobile nature enables OV farmers in any part of the nation to turn their oil seeds into fuel for their vehicles.  I was blown away by the work that my coworkers and their predecessors had done to advance Organic Valley’s straight vegetable oil production. The press churns out roughly 100 gallons of sunflower oil after pressing a ton of seed in a 24-hr time-frame! 

The biofuels trailer on farm

For anyone who is as clueless as I was about straight vegetable (SVO), I’ve included Organic Valley’s very own recipe below.

As we entered our air-condition-free (seriously hot!) car for the 2.5 P9250020 hour drive south, I felt encouraged by the knowledgeable and hopeful people who dedicate themselves to the vital future of renewable energy in our country.  I’d heard grimy campers gush about the organic breakfast (especially our own chocolate milk!) that they looked forward to every year; seen my own coworkers give an impressive presentation about OV’s biofuel program; and listened to an incredible keynote speech by filmmaker Josh Fox.  Fox strummed a banjo while speaking passionately about communities affected by the oil and gas industries in his highly acclaimed film, Gasland.  Gasland 2 will premiere July 8th on HBO—and without HBO in my intern housing, it’s safe to say I’ll be looking to make some friends!



–          Your farms’ sunflower seeds (or another oil seed crop like winter canola, soybean, etc.)

–          Oil seed press, preferably built by Zach Biermann.


  1. Oil seed from bin travels into the hopper where it slowly funnels into the press.
  2. After moving through the press, leftover meal travels into a bin where it collects to be used as delicious, protein-filled feed for the cows! 
  3. On the other side of the press, oil drips through a three-tank gravity filtration system
  4. After most sediment has settled, the oil is pumped into a burlap press to sift out any last particles.

And voilà…homegrown SVO!!

For information on converting SVO to biofuel, ask your local chemist, mechanic, or visit the web.