Friday, September 28, 2012

Design Bonuses

Sixteen years ago, I was part of a team of three designers who helped the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association turn a 35 acre potato field into a living, breathing fairgrounds.

Many of the aspects were collaborations between the designers and the long-time staff and volunteers of the many previous fairs that took place on rented fairgrounds.

The site is now as we envisioned it: a place for thousands to enjoy a weekend of statewide gardening and farming community life and a year-round place that demonstrates and hosts homegrown lifestyle events.

However, there is one place that I personally designed in response to the availability of 200,000 cubic yards of material that had to be removed to build the paved roads around the fairgrounds.  That's a lot of dirt (fill).

The fair wanted to site the 'Spotlight' stage in one corner of the grounds, its back to the woods and the music facing the larger acreage of activity.  I suggested a crescent-shaped berm, perhaps fifteen feet high that would form an amphitheater AND block the sound from bleeding into other fair activities (as it had on other fairgrounds).  The quantity of fill available wouldn't have to be transported very far, a separate space would be created, and the highest point in the fairgrounds built.

What I hadn't planned (and this is the design bonus) is that hundreds of children would annually use the back slope as a sliding hill, using flattened cardboard boxes as toboggans.  It is like January in September without snow or snowsuits and the parents can stand at the bottom and enjoy each others company while their children burn surplus energy.

As is my landscape design work, see, the design bonus of well-planned brick oven projects can be unexpectedly joyful.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brickwood Ovens' New Blog

Owner of this oven sent this photo ("Help").  Oven didn't work.

Brickwood Ovens has posted a blog in response to my past posts on their oven design.


Take their advice on insulation and adding a smaller mouth inside the outside face.  You'll get a better oven.

If you want to spend $1000 plus materials for an oven, look over the many posts on this blog for do-it-yourself traditional brick oven design.  You can build them the way they've been built for 2000 years.
Buona fortuna.

If you need to economize, build a cob oven (see earlier post).
If you want a real brick oven, this blog has many posts giving detailed directions.

I welcome comments on this post and any others you find on my blog.  By sharing information and experience, the products and approaches to building and baking in brick ovens are improved.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Brick Oven Initiative

Last Friday, September 21, I gave a talk at the Common Ground Country Fair, held in Unity, Maine by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

The attendees asked many questions about initiating projects in their area with community brick ovens.  Thank you to the attendees.  Questions are the starting point of solutions.

In preparing for the talk, I composed a range of photos of community brick ovens from the past to the present (the talk was focused on the future).  I asked myself 'what has changed about the need for a community brick oven, from early times to the present?'

The answer I came up with is that the current has switched direction.
In earlier times it was a given that a community needed a brick oven to produce the quantity of bread and other baked goods since every household didn't or couldn't bake their own daily supply. 

Now, the brick oven draws the community of bakers and participants to itself.   The cliche, "If you build it, they will come." applies.

I have found this to be true with brick ovens, farmers' markets, agritourism (farms set up to host people interested in getting their hands dirty while vacationing).

When asked if a town might fund a community oven, I surmised that it would be low on their list of 'to-do's' if on it at all.  We can define community in so many ways; our town certainly, but also our fellow gardeners, our school or university, our extended family.

However we define community, once an oven exists, it will draw new people and the community of the brick oven will grow.

I built my first brick oven (a portable) because a few friends had talked about building one and didn't and because I thought that a portable brick oven would allow communities to share an oven without specifying a location.  It has worked.  Not only has my portable oven traveled hundreds of miles, but now, I am traveling thousands of miles to build them for others.

'Just Do It'

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Grandview Farm Harvest Dinner

Take a look at these photos of past Harvest Dinners and set your alarm to go off next August so you can make a reservation to attend this culinary extravaganza. More details on past dinners at:

And the Portland restaurant:

Chef Lee Skawinski and the full staff of the restaurant cook up a feast. 

There are two True Brick Oven ovens that food is prepared in.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Talkin' Community Brick Ovens

This Friday, September 21st, I will be speaking at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine. 

The subject is, 'The Community Oven in Our Future'.   Talkin' will be supported by a equally stimulating set of photos taken at brick ovens from all over the world.  Because 'future' is the focus, I will answer questions about the social and culinary qualities of community brick ovens and any other questions that come along.

This blog is posted frequently in order to support the virtual brick oven community.  Your participation in contributing items is welcomed and encouraged.

Also coming up... is the Grandview Farm Harvest Dinner, location of the farm that produces much of the farm-to-table produce that makes Vignola/Cinque-Terre Restaurant in Portland Maine distinctive.

The farm has two brick ovens which I have built that will be roasting and baking food for the extraordinary dinner by Chef Lee Skawinski and his many sidekicks.  Grandview Farm owners, Dan Kary and Michelle Mazur-Kary enthusiastically host the event.

More on that later...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

French Community Oven Day

Every Tuesday in Audrix, France, Jose drives up at 8 am in his mini-panel truck, hauls out four tubs of bread dough and starts the fire in the community oven.  Four hours later, the local vegetable growers show up and the by 1pm all the bread and vegetables are gone. 
Pretty efficient way of dispersing fresh goods and seeing friends.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fresh Markets

With a presidential election on the horizon (more accurately, in our front yard), the question of government involvement in commerce appears to be the fulcrum on which voters will choose their MAN (again).
My fresh impression of France's small market economy (not to give the impression of pastoral purity, there were big box stores etc ), is that every town has an outdoor market with vendors of fresh local food convening in various towns regionally over the course of the week.
This is starkly absent from American culture.  Is it the box-store/supermarket over-shadow that knocks out small vendors or is it the lazy American who won't walk or drive to the center of town (or initiate a market setting) to shop, one item at a time from actual producers?  Or, is it something else, some combination of government encouragement and government relaxation?

Fresh markets are colorful, fun, social places that can supply nearly all the food needs for any family.  I live in a rural part of the country, certainly surrounded by producers of fresh products.  What would it take to make public markets a part of our economic and social landscape?
And, what can a president do???

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brick Oven Walks

Wouldn't it be amazing to walk from village to village, finding vegetable and cheese markets and fresh baked bread? Oh, and ripe fruit at hand from overhanging branches of trees?

The Perigord, a region in the Aquitaine of southwest France, has it all.  The government has had the good sense to create both 'Petite Randonnee' and 'Grande Randonnee' through out the country.  These are marked walks of short and long distance that meander along fields, through woods, and along country roads.

On an especially perfect August day (low 70's, puffy clouds, light wind, sunshine), we walked about 7 kilometers on a loop through six small villages.
Having gotten the sense of where to find and how to spot brick ovens, I found four 'fours' (ovens) along the walk.

What also made this day a petite miracle was the fruit.  We found, picked, and ate six different fruits, ripe and in season, finishing with figs at the only fig tree on our entire trip that had ripe fruit.

Although I have particular interest in brick ovens, a walk through the countryside creates a panoramic view of food resource.

On Friday, September 21, 2012, at 5pm  I will be presenting a talk on The Community Brick Oven in Our Future at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine.   The talk will be very visual and it is my hope that it will inspire communities to consider rebuilding their social framework around real food.