When Kevin Philippe-Johnson lost his job a few years ago, he and wife Donna decided it was time to downsize and give self-sufficiency a try. The decision paid off: moving into a cabin in the country and baking bread in a clay oven that cost them only $100 to build turned out to be a great way to maintain a simple but happy lifestyle.

The Phillipe-Johnsons built their traditional wood-fired clay oven to bake old-world sourdough bread, and soon learned that not only did the oven produce delicious moist bread with a crisp crust on just a few pieces of wood, but could make enough for them to sell at a local community market.

It all started with a simple and affordable plan from the book Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer, which laid out the building process for an oven that’s functional, decorative and very inexpensive to create.  The couple was able to make their oven all by themselves with cinder block, clay, sand and hay along with firebrick, mixing the clay with their bare feet.

This type of outdoor oven bakes with three forms of heat: radiant heat from the clay, convection from the movement of steam and conduction from the brick hearth. It’s large enough to accommodate eight loaves at a time and can produce two loads on one firing.

For the Phillipe-Johnsons, baking bread in their homemade oven may not be enough to make them rich – but they’re okay with that. The couple is so pleased with their simple life on their modern homestead, they’re sharing tips on voluntary simplicity at their website and offer a DVD on the art of sourdough bread baking.