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This weekend the boys and I attended a natural building workshop at a small intentional community near us called Ionia. 

It was the first workshop put on by the new Ionia Folk School offered completely in the spirit of the gift. They did not ask for money or "donations" of any kind. 

There is so much I loved about this. 

We were invited to participate in their community. Camp in their field. Eat meals with them. Make ourselves at home. 

A community member gave us a wonderful tour of their space. They taught us about building with light clay slip. And we helped them build a massive wall of a house. 

It was a beautiful exchange of energy, knowledge, and willing hands. 

I knew some of the participants. There was Leah, who took my course 7 or 8 years ago, and her dad, Will. There was my friend Angelina, another single mom interested in community and building a good life. I met Ivy and Jason at a Permaculture gathering some time ago. And Mariyam had actually stayed in my house one time when we were gone in Anchorage. 

I met new people too. Sherry and her teenage daughters. David and his brother from Portugal. Lovely Amy who came with Angelina. And enthusiastic Sue. 

Gregory and his brother Jimmy, whose house we were working on were leading the project. Jimmy's wife made sure we had snacks and water and their 3 young children made frequent appearances on the building site. 

As we worked, we fell into a rhythm. Everyone had a part to play and became an essential part of the action. As we went higher, we needed to ask for materials to be sent up, and the camaraderie increased. We needed one another. 

Even Graysen and Rylan were important members of the team. They needed to take time off to play, but when they were there, they could participate as equals. 

Building with straw clay is extremely accessible. Everyone can participate. You don't have to be particularly strong or skilled or male. The women and the kids were equally as capable of using the staple gun to fasten the lathe, stuff the straw clay into the walls, and pass materials. 

There was even a teenage member of the community who decided last year to build her own house. She took the lead and completed a one-room studio for herself with the help and support of the community, and is adding on this year. 

It confirmed my idea that this is how I want to build my house. It is something the boys and I can do together. It is inexpensive, long-lasting, natural and non-toxic.

The houses breathe through the walls. The clay slowly wicks moisture through the wall, equalizing the indoor and outdoor humidity. Toxins are not trapped in the home by sealed walls, creating poor air quality like most conventional homes. Mold is not an issue because any moisture that travels in travels back out again, and the straw is coated in clay to keep it from molding. 

It is a letting go of trying to control nature and instead working with it, exactly how I operate in my garden. 

Afterwards the boys and I talked about our experience and how excited we are to build our house. We now have a community of support and mentorship. We don't have land yet, but we are one step closer to our dream. We will continue to build it, one block at a time. 

We also learned a LOT about intentional community. Ionia has been doing it for 40 years and they have learned a lot in that time. Most of the community members are children of the original 4 families who grew up there. It says a lot that they have chosen to stay (or came back in many cases) and live there with their families. 

Permaculture is about way more than just gardening. It really addresses how to meet all of our needs in a way that makes the world a better place. It is about revisioning how we live on this earth. How we build our houses and our communities. 

It is obvious to me that the conventional way of doing it is failing us. Our homes are toxic, we are isolated, sick, depressed, and losing hope. 

But we have alternatives. 

The more we can learn, explore and use these alternatives, the more we can find path forward filled with hope and abundance. 

Ionia Folk School will be offering more workshops! July 9th-10th will be natural plastering, where we will do the rough plastering on Jimmy's house. And July 23-24th will be on rocket mass stoves, which use 1/10th of the fuel of regular wood stoves and provide a much more even, long lasting heat. 

For those of you interested in the process, here is a description: 

  • Local barley straw is fluffed up into a big pile and then fed into the tumbler, where it is mixed with local clay mixed with water, or clay slip. 

  • The mixture is piled into fish totes, which can be transported to the building site. It must be used within a few days or it will start to mold and dry out. 
  • The mixture is transferred into totes, which are then passed to the walls.

  • The walls have lathe on the backside all the way up, and on the front 2 feet up to start with. 
  • The lathe is attached to Larson trusses which give the walls structure. This building was a timber frame construction, but other buildings they have done have load-bearing walls. Generally these are 12" thick and solid clay slip /straw. 

  • For this home, the walls were 18" thick, so we put the clay-straw mixture in 6" thick against the back, then put in a 6" flake of straw bale, and then another 6" of the clay straw mixture. The intention of the straw flake is to act as a thermal barrier, preventing heat from being wicked out of the building, but it is a bit experimental. 

  • As we got to the top of the lathe, we added more lathe and continued up, until we reached the roof gables. These and the roof will be blown-in cellulose, which is essentially recycled newspaper. 

  • The process moved pretty quickly with a group of people, but slowed down the further up we went, since there was more passing of materials. 





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