Prospect Park plans to build oven

The neighborhood wants to build a community oven in one of its parks.

Alex Bitter

Prospect Park residents may have something warm to look forward to after the winter is over.

The neighborhood’s community organization is considering a proposal to construct a wood-fired oven that would be open to residents for baking next summer. The organization plans to apply to receive $16,000 from the University of Minnesota’s Good Neighbor Fund to pay for supplies and labor to build it.

The idea comes amid a resurgence in oven building in the Twin Cities, where residents have constructed several new community ovens in recent years.

Former Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association President Steve Cross said he got the idea after using a brick oven during a bread baking class last spring at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn.

Community ovens were common in the United States until the early 19th century, Cross said, when advances in technology moved most cooking indoors.

“Before that, every community had numerous ovens where [residents] did their baking and food preparation,” he said.

Cross brought the idea to PPERRIA in June, and other interested members started to work out the details. Since then, the Community Oven Task Force has been turned away from possible sites — including a garden at the intersection of Franklin Avenue Southeast and Cecil Street and the property of the St. Frances Cabrini Church, he said.

Cross said the task force is trying to secure support from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to build the oven in Luxton Park, which fronts Williams Avenue Southeast.

A group of PPERRIA volunteers, including a designated ovenmaster, would manage the oven. The proposed brick oven is 6 feet wide, 7 feet long and 8 feet tall.

Bryce Johnson, pastor at White Bear Lake United Methodist Church, said his congregation built an oven on church land in 2010. The church holds monthly bread baking sessions and pizza nights during the summer, Johnson said.

“It’s a pretty wonderful way to be together as a community,” Johnson said.

Mike Faust, a member of the church’s congregation and former engineer for 3M, said he collaborated with Johnson to draw the plans for the oven before building it with $6,200 and 40 volunteers.

Faust said city building inspectors had to approve certain aspects of its construction, like its placement on the property and its location relative to other structures.

The oven at White Bear Methodist must meet the same requirements as an outdoor fire, Faust said, although the oven’s brick exterior completely encloses the fire.

“They look at it basically as an outside fire, and in the case of the fire itself, it’s really contained — it’s not out in the open,” he said.

Unlike the White Bear Lake site in the suburbs, Faust said, Prospect Park’s proposed Luxton Park site in the city might draw smoke complaints from nearby neighbors.

Faust said the success of the White Bear Lake church’s oven convinced him to build another in his backyard — and other churches and organizations, including Cross’, have since come to him for advice on building their own ovens.

Susan Bruno, a saleswoman at Smith-Sharpe Fire Brick Supply on Broadway Street Northeast, said the company has seen more people buy supplies for ovens during the last few months.

She said the prospective bakers range from people taking classes on oven building to people with a do-it-yourself approach, and they’re different from the company’s normal business and industrial clients.

“People are excited about doing this at home,” she said. “It’s just one of those things that’s really caught fire.”