We’ve finally managed to track down here in Romania some stainless steel mesh. Why would we need stainless steel mesh you ask? We are collecting materials to build our first solar dehydrators for food preservation. Regardless of the design you choose to go with (except of course for buying an electric one) you are going to be building trays to place the food on. These are most likely going to be wooden frames with a wire-mesh to place the food on. If you care about what comes in contact with your food and longevity of the trays then you are most probably going to end up with stainless steel.
Today we went to the post office to pay an advance so that the order can be shipped to us. As Andreea was speaking to the lady who accepts payments I had a few seconds to stare at the invoice we brought with us to make payment and that single invoice embodies so much of our experience in creating a sustainable life here in Romania … it seemed worth putting into words. So this post is about that … a post about solar dehydrators will come at a later time 🙂
I’ll start at a point in time at which we already know what we want to do … though getting there is often as demanding a journey as actually creating it. In this case we knew we wanted to go with Solar Drying as a means of preserving food, drying tea leaves, herbs … and eventually using it to dry medicinal plants which is a direction we wish to explore. We started looking around and found a few approaches to dehydration. After much reading and re-reading and head scratching to understand not just design choices but the reasons for them … we settled on a design we wanted to implement.
Then comes the work of more detailed study … there are many details … many of which I can recognize and appreciate only after numerous readings with time and space for contemplation (and even then some considerations only become clear when I actually do the work of construction). By the time I’ve got a good idea of how to approach construction I’ve also got a fairly good grasp of the materials we will need. Many times these materials are new to me.
Then comes the task of tracking them down. Some things are available in the village hardware store, others in the larger DIY chain stores in the city and others are often more difficult (ranging from slightly to damn near impossible) to find. At best, the search needs to be conducted in Romanian (other times I have to find German terms to search either German suppliers or Ebay.de when we can’t find things here in Romania). Sometimes just finding the names or terms in Romanian is a formidable task … one that Andreea has to take on. Then comes the searching. It can take anywhere from hours to days … to weeks (when we get tired of not finding anything and have to take a step back to gain freshness and perspective).
We finally found a source … two online shops for beekeeping equipment. They carry stainless steel mesh that is used for the bottom of beehives (so that Varroa mites can fall out). Andreea called them up but they were out of stock and the density was too low … the holes in the mesh were too large … yes you need to know what is the wire thickness and what is either the density (number of wires per centimeter or inch) or hole size. We had to realize that (a) we needed to know these measurements and (b) then locate a mesh with sizes that would work for us.
The search continued … we found one other source in some cheesy Romanian import/export website. We found three kinds of mesh … none of which was suitable … one of which was close enough to warrant further attention. We called and asked for more information … fortunately they had many other sizes. We got a few more quotes. Some were very expensive (prices per square meter) and/or came in very large long roles (which made them even more expensive). We fine=tuned the search and asked for more prices. And then it appeared … an excellent match, mid-range pricing and in a relatively short (10 meter) role.
The prices did not include VAT or shipping. Shipping was expensive … we searched for other options … found none. We decided to go ahead. We placed our order (email communication) and were sent an invoice with a request to pay an advance. It wasn’t cheap … actually its pretty expensive. It scared us … we still don’t have any income … and are trying to keep expenses down … without immobilizing ourselves.
Regular mesh materials (plastic, cheap metals …) can be found for 10-20 lei per square meter. Our stainless steel mesh will cost us more then 150 lei per square meter. For the price of just the steel mesh we could buy a pretty fancy and comfortable electric dryer (and we may yet need a simple one for drying seeds!). Yet solar means no need for electricity. Solar means no dependency on machinery that is bound to fail. Solar means easily being able to scale up our drying operation (already we can go up to 10 sqm of dryers). Stainless steel means our food will be without any chemical contaminants. Stainless steel means it will be easy to keep clean. Stainless steel means, if treated well, it will last us a long long time. In the end, Stainless steel will be not just cheaper … but priceless.
Yet, knowing all this, there is still an emotional fear … for us that is (currently) a lot of money. Sustainable isn’t easy, it is usually more expensive then commercial/industrial alternatives (that are ofen falsely presented as cheap), it requires long term thinking, in the beginning it is usually an unknown, it takes faith, it takes patience, effort and work, it is about building long-lasting infrastructures … and it can lead to an embracing, secure, empowering and abundant life.
All this goes through my mind in the space of a few seconds as I stare at the invoice. Then the lady tells Andreea she can’t help us … some postal services are only available in larger/central post-offices in the city. Sending money this way is, apparently one of those things. So … we still haven’t managed to complete the order … but we are getting there. Then we can move on to the next materials on the list … and hopefully soon we will have everything we need … then … we can get started building the solar dryers … and then enjoy them for life … or at least a very long time 🙂