31 December 2011

( a bit of toy-fun in green-speak )

by ambre juryea-amole

“one of our mottos is ‘no batteries.’ we want to keep batteries out of landfills. rechargeable batteries are good, but we want to get rid of batteries altogether,” says oley valley resident john stokes, founder of stokes solar green toys & goods. he is stirring toward the future by looking skyward—introducing children to renewable energy through education-savvy, eco-friendly toys.
“coal and oil are only going to last for so long. it’s not like you can make any of that,” adds stokes. he predicts a world where people associate the word ‘oil’ with soybeans and corn rather than fossil fuels. “that’s where we’re going to be heading, using what we can grow. i mean, fossil fuels are exactly that: old fuel.”
stokes, an electrician, has an energized glimmer in his eyes when he talks about the inner workings of the toys he offers. though stokes doesn’t manufacture the toys himself, he knows what makes the wheels turn and the gears churn, in all of it. in fact, his knowledge about renewable energy is so vast that he constructed his own built-from-scratch wind turbine to make use of oley’s whipping winter air.

( all photos courtesy of stokes solar )

stokes solar is still in its infancy, but it’s off to a good start. stokes gives demonstrations amidst ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ at green fairs and markets throughout the year. “it’s fun to see the expressions on people’s faces when i show them what the toys do.”
he also gets to employ his two sons, maxwell, 3, and julian, 1, as test pilots for his toys. “they have a couple toys of their own, and i like to show them the bigger toys too,” says stokes. when his almost-four-month-old daughter, olivia, is older, she will  win the chance to test out the solar-revving vehicles and also two eco-homes, fashioned with pretend solar panels, wind turbines, and plenty of green-geared amenities.

the sun lights imaginations

 most popular are the happily hopping frog and super solar racing car—quite accessible for the eco-novice because they are pocket-sized, and they “don’t cost a hunk of change,” as stokes says.

more advanced toys are in the picture, too. “i try to hit beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels with the toys to keep everyone learning,” says stokes. the next step up from the super solar racing car is the solarspeeder v2.0, which takes a few seconds to gather enough sunlight but then zips off in lightning bolt form.
also among the more advanced offerings is the 6-in-1 solar kit: a dogbot, circling airplane, stationary airplane with spinning propellers, car, sun-run wind turbine, and pool-friendly boat. and because all six toy-building possibilities are powered by the sun, kids are eager to enjoy the great outdoors with them rather than sitting inside with their eyes glued to the teevee.

a car that runs on water

people have talked about the possibility of cars that use water as fuel for quite some time, but stokes is showing everyone that the seeming myth of the water-powered car is becoming a reality. in stokes’ line are two hydrogen fuel cell cars and a third car powered by salt water, with a fuel cell involved. one of the hydrogen fuel cell cars is in a fuel cell car science kit; the other, the h2go fuel cell r/c car, comes fully assembled and has a hydrogen station and even a solar-powered remote control.

changing the way
kids—and parents—play
the ultimate goal here is to change the way people think about energy, which stokes already sees in his own children. “my oldest son, if he wants to power up the frog or the solar car—he knows where to put it,” stokes says. “he’s like, ‘all right, let’s find some sun,’ and he’ll put it in the sun. it’s a neat learning curve—to see how the new generation is growing up compared to the old. instead of looking for batteries, they’re looking for sun. it puts a totally different perspective on things.”
in addition, the toys are teaching parents about renewable energy, and parents are learning as much as their kids. “this technology wasn’t there when parents were in school,” says stokes. he notes that adults are aware of the dire need to change our energy consumption, but they don’t really understand it until they experience the alternatives first-hand, seeing these toys come to life.
for now, stokes solar will continue to operate primarily online, but stokes hopes that someday it will grow enough to allow him to open a shop. “i enjoy what i’m doing, knowing that every little bit makes a difference,” says stokes.
to learn more about stokes solar, or to place a quickly-shipping order, visit www.stokessolar.com, search for it on facebook,  or find stokes himself at the north wales’ whole foods markets’ green fair  (spring and summer), every saturday (except rainy days) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

to see stokes solar in action
all the sooner, visit

gallery& cooperative
19 east main street
kutztown, pa 19530

monday 9 january (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) &
monday 23 january (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

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