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Built from Scratch As part of an art class, W&L students built the university’s first earth oven, which will be a permanent fixture in the Campus Garden.

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Students in Washington and Lee University’s Eco-Art class weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. As part of Assistant Professor of Art Rotem Tamir’s class last year, they built W&L’s first earth oven from the ground up.

“One of the main objectives was to learn to work together as a group within a community and to learn to use the maximum resources a particular group has to offer for the good of the environment,” Tamir said.

In collaboration with Washington and Lee’s Campus Garden, the students used raw materials such as cob, a composite material made of clay, sand and organic binding fibers. “We also discovered that if you dig a few inches in the ground in the W&L garden you find very good clay,” Tamir said.

Tamir called the project a trial-and-error experiment. The goal was to be able to bake food in the oven. For some students, it wasn’t always easy to believe their labors would pay off, as the task was tedious and complex.

“The culmination of the project was to make bread, and, this was definitely the most celebratory of last semester’s event that everyone really enjoyed, ” said Tamir. “I have to say that I believe a big part of this celebration was due to the long, and not always smooth, process of making everything from scratch.”

The oven is smaller than a conventional kitchen oven (the opening is 13 inches wide), but it is able to cook wood-fired pizza and loaves of bread.

“Basically, if you plan it right, it can serve all your oven needs – from pizza and flatbreads when it is extra-hot, bread loaves as the heat starts to reduce, and granola and cookies as it is cooling down,” Tamir said.

This academic year, students used the oven, which was transported to the campus garden, to make pita bread from scratch. Focusing on sustainability and local goods, the students enjoyed the fruit of their labor.

“The objective for the course was to think about what is needed and how art projects can be of service to their surroundings,” said Tamir. “We decided that heat and food would create a more communal setting and attract people to the garden.”