In the middle of West Kensington, surrounded by wildly growing plants and trees, Zef Maguire contemplates as he holds a large silver sink in his hands.
“Would you put this here,” Maguire says, holding up the sink in demonstration against an open wood frame, “or here?” He moves it over a few inches.
This has been the daily scene at the César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden for the last two months, as garden members and volunteers have built, designed, and brainstormed their new outdoor kitchen. And on Saturday, the garden will be celebrating the opening of their new kitchen from noon to 5 p.m.
Situated in the middle of the rare green space at the corner of North Lawrence and Arlington Streets, the outdoor kitchen — which is supported by the Resistance Garden project — has actually been planned by garden members for about a year.
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The garden frequently hosts events and community meals, such as their renowned barbacoa cooking ceremonies. But while the barbacoa is slow-cooked all day in the garden’s underground oven, other dishes — such as tortillas — require more backbreaking work without the existence of a real kitchen. Garden members have created makeshift stoves by placing stones and a grill piece on top of a fire, but bending over the fire while tending to dishes that require more attention gets to be physically arduous.
Enter the outdoor kitchen.
“The original idea early last year was to be a sculptural piece with the element of the mesota, this huge table, combined with the idea that in the garden the food does not sell, and there is room for everybody,” said César Viveros, a Mexican muralist and garden member. “But by June, the consensus was the kitchen was needed.”
The vision and design for the kitchen ebbs and flows, with members democratically deciding where items such as the prep table or sink or oven should be placed. But there are a few unchanging consensuses.
One: The kitchen will not have walls, in keeping with the garden’s emphasis on openness to the community and access to nature. And two: The focal point of the kitchen will be the fogón — a large wood box standing over a fire, filled with dirt, and topped with hot stones and a grill piece — so the garden can stay true to its roots in Indigenous and Latino culture and customs.
» READ MORE: West Kensington’s community garden is a refuge. Advocates are trying to give all Philly neighborhoods similar spaces.
In some ways, the outdoor kitchen is just a pragmatic, organized solution. But in other ways, the outdoor kitchen will be an additional way for the garden to achieve its goals of community building and honoring tradition — after all, the heart of many homes, and particularly Latino homes, is the kitchen. Garden members are also hoping to use the space to widen their reach with workshops and cooking classes, with the potential of live streaming those events to social media platforms.
“The garden doesn’t have any fence. The kitchen doesn’t have any fence,” Viveros said. “I think in the long run, the kitchen is going to bring along more relationships with the garden.”
The work produced by the Communities & Engagement desk at The Inquirer is supported by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.