Como’s new bread oven still preheating

Pizza in the park could eventually become a reality for local residents.

by Nick Wicker

The Southeast Como Improvement Association is halfway through construction of a bread oven   in the neighborhood’s FairShare Farm Community Garden.
The oven will be constructed from sustainable materials to keep costs down and reuse otherwise wasted materials, and should be finished by spring.
SECIA members first discussed introducing a community bread oven, which would resemble a wood-fired pizza oven, to an area garden last March, SECIA Neighborhood Coordinator Ricardo McCurley said. 
Organizers wrote grant requests to pay for construction costs, he said, but they were denied.
Instead, SECIA and FairShare  farmers hosted a neighborhood-wide auction at Sporty’s Pub and Grill in August, raising nearly $2,000 that day, McCurley said.
Between May and September, the neighborhood raised about $1,000 additionally, which SECIA matched, surpassing by about $1,000 the estimate contractors Ramy Selim and his friend Mark Morgan, a long-time oven-builder, projected for material costs.
Selim, a local contractor and Como resident since the early ’90s, became involved with SECIA in 2008 and said working on the project reflects his dedication to the community.
“He’s a bit of a jack-of-all [trades],” McCurley said. “He’s done a little bit of everything, and we knew he did cement work.”  
Both Selim and Morgan specialize in work with sustainable materials and chose a clay, straw and sand mix, called cob, for the Como project.
“I do all types of construction, but I always try to steer people into more sustainable alternative building methods,” Selim said. 
Because cob can dissolve in rain, a local metal artist will design a roof for the structure, which will also be used as a space for growing herbs, he said.
Work on the ovens began in mid-September when a group of residents, led by Selim, laid the sand-filled tractor tire foundation. Over the next few weeks, Selim delegated about 20 hours of his free time to the project, he said.
“It’s cheaper, for one,” Selim said. “Hauling the sand is pretty physically demanding, but it wasn’t too bad actually. And tires are a waste product, so we’re reusing something that really doesn’t have a second life.”  
The oven will mainly be used at larger events because it takes hours to heat up, Morgan said.
“It brings community together,” Morgan said. “When you fire one of these up, you want to cook 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 pizzas. You’re not going to want to fire this thing up for one pizza.”
The oven will require weeks of above-freezing temperatures to dry and set, Selim said, so he’s waiting to finish until next spring.
The framework of the oven’s metal roof will be finished in early November.