Another adventure has begun, and it has been a month already. This time it is on the road, in a van. Her name is Ollie.
I am roadtripping around the Pacific Northwest (British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon) seeing where the winds takes me whilst looking for volunteer opportunities with organic vegetable farms. I would like to learn as much as I can in regards to gardening and permaculture and leading a truly sustainable lifestyle.
One of my first stops was on Denman Island in British Columbia, where I spent two weeks attending a natural building workshop facilitated by Mudgirls, a women’s natural building collective (workshops are open to all genders though). A guiding principle of natural building for the Mudgirls is to “work with unprocessed, natural and recycled materials to create beautiful and healthy structures that are earth friendly” – http://mudgirls.wordpress.com/about/.
It is evident that the Mudgirls’ priorities truly embodies being in harmony with the earth, and one another while creating inexpensive and long lasting homes or structures. The mudgirls’ lessons go well beyond building, they are part of a revolution in creating community and a movement for change towards sustainability and connecting with the earth. It was a humbling and inspiring environment to be a part of.
The natural building workshop cost a mere $385 for two weeks, including 3 delicious vegan meals/day, a snack, and camping as well as childcare if needed. Their non-capitalist view makes it open and affordable to anyone, as the idea is to trade labour for instruction. Natural building typically relies on human labour rather than technology, so a crew of people is essential. It was a natural flow that in the process of the earth building workshop, a community of people, no longer strangers, was also built. This was one of the most heartening aspects of this workshop as almost everyone felt it and commented on it with ease.
Each of the mornings involved an instructional on specific aspects of natural building before we got our hands (and feet) dirty. This workshop was specific to cob building and slipstraw, an natural building insulation. There was also opportunities to tune (or start) your carpentry skills, which was an added bonus. Individuals were easily empowered by learning new skills that once seemed so foreign or overwhelming.
Cob is a natural building technique in which sand, clay and water are mixed together, by stomping on the mixture. It is labour-intensive but rewarding.
The blend is then formed into a wall simply with one’s hands. In this case we were building a small self-supporting room attaching to a previous structure.
We had already put in place a foundation using dry stack. Dry stacking is an ancient technique using rocks without mortar to form a supportive stack. It involves some basic knowledge but more importantly love and patience. After the cob is completely done, a natural plaster is applied to the walls inside and out for a beautiful finished look.
Slipstraw is a hearty, durable natural insulation used commonly with wooden frames. Straw is lightly tossed with ‘slip’.
Slip is a clay/water mixture that coats the straw.
The slipstraw is then placed by hand into the walls, and ‘tappered’ firmly with long pieces of wood to ensure no holes and gaps. Wooden forms are temporarily used on the walls to manage the slipstraw but shortly removed.
The Mudgirls natural building workshop was a life changing and empowering experience. Each one of the women holds great passion, and love for the change they are creating, the change they are. They say it best on their website, “We are a collective that is human friendly: recreating our concepts of work to prioritize respect and care for our hearts, our bodies and our children while we work together. We create a work environment that nurtures us” – http://mudgirls.wordpress.com/about/. It is truth.
Thank you Mudgirls for sharing your expertise in such an open and accepting manner as well as for your unbelievable patience with each and everyone of us. I will continue my life’s adventure better for it.