Elizabeth Ryan is a farmer in Upstate New York and an activist, who is one of the founders of the farmers markets in New York City and a passionate advocate for preserving organic farming. On her apple farm in Upstate New York, Elizabeth has put up for community use an amazing 3-ton wood-fired, cooper-covered oven on wheels. It was shipped brick by brick all the way from France to the USA, and for Christmas, 2011, it travelled all the way to Harlem, New York, all at Elizabeth’s expense, as she joined the cause of the Bread Houses Network to offer community baking events with the Theater of Crumbs and Kitchen Music methods. The mobile oven is still used for community baking at Elizabeth’s farm, especially for the few wonderful music-dance-and-food festivals she organizes annually, and people come sometimes driving a few hours to enjoy the unique atmosphere of the oven in its natural setting of a century-old apple farm.
Hearing about our popular Harlem Bake events, a homeless shelter, part of a Russian Orthodox Church in the low-income Brighton Beach area of New York, got inspired to build their own oven. The priest, Father Vadim, imagined building a wood-fired oven on wheels in order to take it out to the streets where the homeless gather and to try to inspire them to bake with other locals and, hopefully, to help break their skepticism, touch their hearts to open up, and help them change their lives. But how to build the oven, and with no money on hand? An angel showed up: an immigrant from Ukraine who turned out to have built the ovens of one of the biggest monasteries there, Pochaev! He volunteered his labor, invented the design, and in just a few days in January the oven was ready, and, indeed, it proved to open up the hearts of the homeless. On a freezing January morning, 2012, one homeless Muslim man, in particular, had tears in his eyes when he shared how the fire in the warm hearth in the freezing cold reminded him of his far-away homeland and it gave him new hope to go on!
Harlem, New York, is both world-famous for its jazz and notorious for its gang violence – a place certainly in need of bread breaking! I asked around and a friend of mine, Elizabeth Ryan, a farmer and activist from Upstate New York, joined my cause and offered her 3-ton wood fired oven on wheels, which had been shipped brick by brick from France to the USA, to travel down to Harlem for Christmas, 2011, all at her expense! The Christmas journey to New York, starting around 5am on a freezing morning, was the first adventure, but parking the oven was an even greater one! But all of our efforts were worth it, since the joy in the neighborhood was overflowing and the people who joined – totally unexpected: teenage boys visibly members of local gangs and hip hop fans along with policemen and grandmothers and kids from various ethnic groups. A mother shared with me that, for her, that experience was truly transformative, because she had just come out of prison and did not know how to reconnect to her daughter, but making bread together seemed to be the perfect way to bond! Our Christmas celebration culminated with a song that praised the real dough even more so than the financial “dough” (slang for “money) – indeed, a “Harlem bake” better than a “Harlem shake”!
The “Harlem Bake” events continued thanks to a local organization helping the homeless and the low-income families called Emmaus House, while the mobile oven is still used for community baking at Elizabeth’s farm in Upstate New York, and people come sometimes driving a few hours to enjoy the unique atmosphere of the oven in its natural setting of a century-old apple farm.
The Riviera Day Center for adults with mental disabilities in Varna have been trained and using the Bread Therapy methods of the Bread Houses Network since 2012. Inspired by the success of the methods with their patients with special needs, Riviera started inviting for larger community baking events other day centers and social institutions for mixed events, and managed to fundraise from a Dutch foundation to be able to build their own community oven in the yard of the center. The oven is expected to be built in 2016.
The Archangel Michael Community Center and Orthodox church (www.arhangel.bg) in the city of Varna, on the Black Sea coast, got inspired by the community baking methods of the Bread Houses Network, and in 2010 built their own community oven in the yard of the church and community center. There, around the oven, people of all ages and various social institutions come together to bake and build friendships: elderly people from hospices, orphaned or abandoned children, low-income families, and homeless people – all are helped by the church community and help each other!