Community cob oven fired up, pizzas get rave reviews
Workers chopped up wood and kindling Friday on the athletic fields at Metzger Elementary School before getting a roaring fire going inside a structure that has been around since prehistoric times: a cob oven.
The oven was constructed by workers with the non-profit Supa Fresh Youth Farm, along with the help of the City of Tigard, the Tigard-Tualatin School District and Metro, said Katrin Dougherty, co-founder of Supa Fresh Youth Farm, whose headquarters are in the House of Bread, across the street from Metzger Elementary.
But the goal Friday was to test the community oven for the first time by baking a bunch of artisan pizzas for Supa Fresh Youth Farm students.
Dougherty said the oven was a simple but sturdy design that was a real group effort.
"It's basically clay, straw, sand and water," she said of the enclosed unit. "Once they dry and are properly cured, they last a long time."
Dougherty said the farm had been thinking of ways to involve the community with a variety of projects but opted for the cob oven at the suggestion of Schuyler Warren, an associate planner with Tigard's Community Development Department, and the support of Metzger Elementary Principal Todd Farris.
They also received a $20,000 Metro Community Placemaking grant, which awards funding to organizations that prompt people to think differently about a place and rely on a cross-sector collaboration from the public, private entities and the community.
Next, Dougherty said students surveyed the community about the types of designs they wanted for the oven, coming back with a choice of six.
Finally, Kiko Denzer, author of "Build Your Own Earth Oven," lent his expertize, helping coordinate the oven's construction. An Oregon artist and teacher, Denzer hosted a two-day workshop on how to build the domed oven, built on top of a mound of sand with the sand later removed to create the inside cooking space.
"And we built the rest of the oven," said Dougherty. "The oven part took two full days."
Plans now are to decorate it with such material as tile and plaster, and possibly including student artwork in the exterior design.
Cody Copp, garden educator for Supa Fresh, estimated that between 12 to 15 students pitched in to create the oven, mounted on a more than 4-foot-tall cinder block base built in April with the help of Comcast volunteers during the company's Comcast Cares Day Project.
"We would love for it to become some type of art piece," he said. "We're thinking of firing it up for one of the Movies in the Park night."
The ultimate idea for the oven is to allow its use by a variety of people once some guidelines are hammered out.
Tigard's Warren, the associate planner who helped forward the idea for the oven, said it's a great way to bring people together.
"Almost every culture around the world has some variant on the community hearth, where people gather to bake, and almost every one of those cultures has their own take on some kind of flatbread," said Warren. "We're hoping to see this oven become an important gathering spot for the Metzger area on the days that it is fired up. It has been great to see the SupaFresh group take the lead in building this important community amenity."
Back at Friday's inaugural try out of the oven, students could choose the ingredients for their pizza from a table of fresh garden ingredients.
In the early afternoon, the first pizza — topped with cheese, sauce and basil — was taken out.
Kevin Atten, a farmer with Supa Fresh, took the first bite.
"It's a little doughy," he admitted. "The first one's always the sacrifice."
Minutes later, a second pizza is pulled from the oven. Still a little doughy, but it was getting better.
"It is so good," said Brenda Avila, a Supa Fresh youth case worker. "It's tastes smoky (in a good way)."
Finally it was the third one that proved to be a charm as Anna Klinesteker, who works with Supa Fresh's paid internship programs, declared her verdict: "Delicious."
COB OVEN SPECS
With a customized, hand-built wooden door, the interior width spans about 27 inches, complete with a 16-inch-tall ceiling. Walls are 4 to 6 inches thick.
ABOUT SUPA FRESH YOUTH FARM
Supa Fresh Youth Farm was started as a secret garden at Durham Education Center Alternative High School by Katrin Dougherty and Mia Barlett. Part of the Tigard-based Oregon Human Development Corp., they work with at-risk or less-advantaged students ages 16 to 24.