My name is Liz, and I’m building the structure of my dreams at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, using lots of natural building methods and materials. This is my story.
When my adult son, Graham, came here to live, I was willing to let our relationship develop in a freeform way. We gardened together for the first year, while working in Cob’s 8000-square-foot garden. We talked while we worked, and our conversations were the hidden treasure of that season. We hatched a plan to contribute to the village’s housing supply, in ways that would encourage affordability and cooperation, while earning sweat equity. Teaching permaculture classes, and supporting a more robust work exchange program for the village, were also high on our list.
Our plan took many forms, most of which didn’t come to fruition over the following fall and winter, but along the way we learned a lot about co-op models for everything from raising seed money to growing food. We also learned a lot about natural building and design, as it pertains to Missouri’s hot summers and cold winters. Going to morning coffee over at the Mercantile during the winter was invaluable, because of all the casual conversations I was able to have with members of my community who have built structures in the village over the years. I learned from them what worked, and what didn’t.
Finally, in the spring, we caught a break and I was able to buy a partially completed strawbale building located in the neighborhood where we hope to form a sub-community within the village. The purpose of the building expanded from a family residence to a community hub building (hence its name, SubHub), where sub-community members can cook and eat together, and have access to a shower, clothes washer, woodfired boiler and a large pantry. There will also be a large room for classes, meetings and creative project gatherings. The kitchen will be large, and open for cooking and food production classes (fermentation and canning, for example).
Soon after I bought the building (and before too much panic and overwhelm could settle in), several experienced builders in the village offered their assistance with our project, and it became the focal point for Dancing Rabbit’s 2019 natural building workshops. Hassan, a community member and one of the workshop instructors, helped us to finish the foundation and frame the walls in preparation for the students’ arrival. Another village member, Kyle, worked with us on planning for all the different systems in the house, including: plumbing, electrical, radiant heating tubes in the floor, solar-heated water, the woodfired boiler, and a mini-split for additional cooling. He also helped us understand how these systems are implemented in a strawbale house. Hassan and Kyle even teased out a solution for how we could add two sleeping alcoves under the roof, (which was very challenging, given that the designs of the three prior owners of the unfinished house I bought did not include a second story, and the roof had already been constructed). After three weeks of assessing the building, we decided that our goal for the spring/summer/fall season would be to complete the foundation and walls, finish the exterior and interior plastering, and install the windows and doors, to enclose the building and protect it from winter weather.
Thirteen people attended the natural building workshop in July, with Hassan and Julia as the teachers. SubHub came alive with so many people laughing, joking and working together to stack bales and plaster them with clay and lime. The weather was hot and humid, but luckily we had a roof to work under, and plenty of cold drinks from the Milkweed Mercantile, Dancing Rabbit’s very own eco-tavern.
About half of the group was women of different ages. I watched as some of the women jumped in right away, while others stayed back until they were comfortable volunteering for things. By the second day, everyone was working, up to their individual energy level, and no one was left out of the process. I learned many details about how to make plaster look finished and professional, and about how different ratios of clay, sand and straw are mixed for each layer of the plaster: more straw for the first coat of plaster so it sticks better, and more sand for a finishing layer. The biggest change I’ve noticed is how much patience I have these days; how little my feathers are ruffled by a setback or a change in plans. I think this is because I am doing what I’m meant to be doing, (as well as my meditation practice, and because I feel supported by my community).
What has it been like working with my son on SubHub, over six weeks? There have been times when I have marveled at what he knows, that I didn’t know he knew, like his carpentry skills, for example. (I had forgotten the kid’s carpentry classes that he took as a homeschooler, and his time in Wales helping to build an environmental center). He also had many carryover skills that he gained in the village last year from a timber framing workshop. There are times when he gets frustrated with a process, or a result, and we are able to move through it fairly quickly, which I attribute greatly to the skills we’ve both learned while living in community.
I’m still elated, after the natural building workshop. I feel so much joy in creating a space for others to join me in learning new skills, and my heart is full of gratitude for so much help from total strangers; of course, by the end of the workshop they weren’t strangers at all!
If your dream is to create a natural building of your own design with your own two hands, join us for our next workshop from September 12-15. Hassan, Liz and the students will be building a living roof over the west entrance of SubHub, along with lots of other cool elements. Space in the workshop is limited, so confirm your spot today!