Community gardeners grow and feast in outdoor kitchens

Fresh air food: Gardener Safi Mahaba and a young volunteer prepare a community pizza feast at the Burton Street Community Peace Garden. (Carrie Eidson/ Mountain Xpress)
Fresh air food: Gardener Safi Mahaba and a young volunteer prepare a community pizza feast at the Burton Street Community Peace Garden. (Carrie Eidson/ Mountain Xpress)

On a warm Saturday morning in June, the excitement is palpable. Craig Case, his wife and young daughter are preparing lunch at the Shiloh Community Garden on the family’s portable griddle. Case and his family have been active participants in the garden since they moved to Shiloh in January 2013, but in just a few weeks they will be able to experience a new outdoor delight — preparing and cooking their Saturday meals right in the garden.

Through fundraising efforts and the help of community partners, the Shiloh Community Garden will unveil its new oven and grill in early July.

“It’s great — community development, connecting people to their roots, teaching them how to cook and teaching kids where their food comes from,” says Case, as his daughter runs over with handfuls of red serviceberries to share.

The idea of “kitchen gardens” is not exclusive to the Shiloh community. Within the past decade, several community gardens across Western North Carolina have raised funds to install devices aimed at allowing garden participants to cook and eat their meals onsite. In 2008, West Asheville’s Burton Street Community Peace Garden installed a cob oven through the work of local nonprofit Green Opportunities. The Pearson Community Garden in Montford features a large covered pavilion, including commercial sinks and tables with a bread oven and solar food dehydrator nearby.

The Shiloh Community Garden will soon feature an amphitheater, a fire pit, a handmade wood-fired brick pizza oven and an industrial outdoor grill large enough for multiple meals to be made at once. The amphitheater, oven and grill are being installed on a budget of about $10,000, says Elizabeth Sims, marketing manager of Tupelo Honey Cafe, a sponsor of the garden. Owners Steve and Jennifer Frabitore decided to lead the expansion efforts after seeing the garden’s positive impact on the Shiloh neighborhood, Sims says. Landscape architect Joel Osgood of Beau Welling Design donated the design plans for the space, with G.E.M. Construction Associates donating its management services and construction equipment.

“The Shiloh Community Association is bound and determined to teach future generations about their community history, culture and traditions. And in many ways, the garden has functioned as an outlet to make that happen,” says Sims.

Diana McCall, garden manager of Wilson Community Garden in Black Mountain, says she believes that gardens can serve as the heart of the community — and is actively planting the seeds for a similar project in Black Mountain.

Rather than just gardening and going home, McCall says a meeting and cooking space “allows residents to bring more events, arts, music and plays into the garden.” With nearly 70 participating families, Wilson is WNC’s largest community garden, and McCall says the participants have hoped to add amenities for some time. She is currently working with the Town of Black Mountain Parks and Recreation division to discuss plans similar to those at Shiloh’s garden. McCall says Wilson’s gardeners would love to see multiple pavilions and a food-canning facility in the long-term plan — though the first priority will be to build a covered structure with potable water to hold educational programs.

“Most cooking classes we’ve done were outside the garden, and we’d love for that to change,” says McCall. Although she has organized successful fundraisers in conjunction with Dobra Tea House, the garden needs a few thousand dollars to reach its goal, she says.

McCall adds that a project of this nature requires outstanding community support, and she hopes to find the right partnerships to begin implementing construction plans at Wilson. “To be able to provide a place for the community to cook and share meals right where they are growing [their food] just seems full circle,” says McCall.

Sims agrees. “Taking the time to sit down and share a meal is important. It’s our hope that kitchen gardens will be a catalyst for more of that happening in the community,” says Sims.

For more information or to make donations to the Wilson Community Garden, contact Diana McCall at Diana.McCall@TownOfBlackMountain.org or 669-2052. 

For more information on the Shiloh Community Garden, email shilohcommunityassociation@gmail.com or call 274-7739. 

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