Wood-fired oven in West Fairlee aims to stoke the flames of community

  • Steve Garrow, left, places a thermometer in the wood-fired oven at the West Fairlee Congregational Church as Nate Pero holds the door open. The oven, which Pero built, is now open for community members to use. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2019 8:56:45 PM

WEST FAIRLEE — Wood-fired ovens are different than the ones found in most kitchens. They require careful management, with users nurturing the fire, continually feeding it wood and monitoring its temperature. It means going about cooking in a whole different way, but with a little work and care the process yields an experience like no other.

Steve Garrow, of Vershire, and Nate Pero, of West Fairlee, kept that in mind when they proposed building a wood-fired oven at the West Fairlee Church — stoking the fire of shared knowledge and experience as a means “to get people together to build community again.”

“People don’t talk to their neighbors anymore,” Pero said.

While work on the oven, located at the church on Route 113, began in 2012, it hasn’t been open to the greater community until now.

“We’re asking nothing in return, just for people to use it,” Garrow said. Those who are interested are asked to contact the church at 802-333-4748 to schedule training.

On Thursday from 5-6:30 p.m., the church will host a dinner that Garrow will cook in the oven that includes baked ham, scalloped potatoes, vegetable medley, home-baked beans and gingerbread with whipped cream.

“It cooks at a lower temperature for a longer time. The flavors meld together,” Pero said. “It’s why grandma’s food tasted so great.”

“Part of the bricks came from my house,” Garrow said.

The pastor at the time, the Rev. Roger Daum, who died in 2013, washed each brick. On the oven is a plaque that reads “Inspired by the vision of Rev. Roger Daum” and “For the purpose of building community spirit and love in West Fairlee.”

“I put it together,” Pero said.

Another community member built the awning that protects it. Others have donated wood to keep it running. An area company will be taking slabs from the church grounds to create a patio near the oven. There are also plans to close off one side of the structure to better protect people from the wind and to build a countertop to use for preparing food.

“It’s owned by all of us,” Pero said.

“We’re only the caretakers here,” Garrow added. “Everything that has been done is with volunteer labor.”

Pero said that when school starts up again, he plans to teach area children how it works.

Both Garrow and Pero are of Native American descent and are “trying to teach people to live with Mother Earth.”

“She gives us everything we need,” Pero said. “We just need to find it.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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