Monthly Archives: May 2016

Earth Plaster & Cob / Earth Oven Workshops


Blog by participant, Jacquelyn Baker … click on link for her original post & pics.

Natural Building Workshop: Building community, empowering people, connecting to earth

I worked alongside an Irishman and his wife, by some strange coincidence, and asked them endless questions about my upcoming trip to Ireland.This weekend I savored the feeling of dewdrops kissing my legs as I walked past emerald branches along a rolling path. I closed my eyes to appreciate a symphony of birds. In those moments, I realized I had truly hit treasure.

Have you ever come across a place that feels sacred? Or a group of people who just seem to get you? To share your values? To connect with you in a way that makes you feel like every moment is a worthwhile treasure?

I was fortunate to experience all this over the weekend when I attended a 2-day workshop at a private homestead called Strawbale Studio in Oxford, MI. The focus was on sustainable building skills: creating homes made of natural materials. The skills I learned were awesome and empowering, but beyond that, it was a place and a community that you could just tell had a profound connection to the planet.

The owner, Deanne Bednar, has a varied background in sustainable building, along with many other skills that help foster a connection with the earth and maximize our quality of life while minimizing our harm to the planet that we call home.

Deanne is often hosting guests, between her interns, apprentices, and people like me who stop by for a day or two to learn a specific skill. She’s teaching people about these little-noticed but easily-adopted skills that can help us save money and be more environmentally-friendly.

It goes far beyond teaching, too. Deanne’s nickname is “Joyful Weaver,” as proclaimed by one of her long-term visitors, and I could not think of a better way to describe her. Through the workshops, she’s connecting people to our environment. Through tours of the property, she’s inviting people to experience her own lifestyle that brightens her own little corner of the world. Through potlucks and social events, she’s weaving connections between people that perhaps never would have met otherwise.

In short, she’s building community, setting a strong example and equipping people to brighten their own corner of the world, simply by opening her own home.

The weekend was full of delightful surprises, but mostly of simple gratitude as I realized that there are people who are taking steps to protect the things that matter in this world.

The course tied in beautifully to the skills I’ll be learning in my permaculture course next month, and I’m happy to have a foundation on which to build. The course created a mindset of understanding that we all have the ability to create our own environment. We’re so used to hiring people to do things that we’ve lost our innate resourcefulness, but we’re empowered when we witness someone who has reestablished that, and created something wonderful with it.

In the case of Strawbale Studio, the wonderful things are many, from a home beautified with natural elements to a studio structure make entirely of natural materials. Her outdoor oven smiles in the shape of a golden sun, inviting visitors to stoke a fire and enjoy a wood-fired pizza (which we most certainly did).

The newest structure, the “Hobbit Sauna” stands cheerily toward the back of the property. Green herbs and shrubs pop up from the entire surface of the roof, transplanted from their original homes but also looking fully at home from their perch. They’re a gleaming reminder to visitors that nature is not simply a backdrop, but a living part of our world.

This Hobbit Sauna was our primary focus on Saturday, and as you’ll see from the photos, it was quite a day. We learned principles of sustainable building, planning and design considerations, how to make and apply cob, and so much more.

The next day I stayed and learned how to make an earth oven, getting back in touch with my inner artist and building a model scale.

We then enjoyed the best pizza I’ve ever tasted from the full-scale oven on the property. There’s something about making ingredients from scratch.

Slow food.

It warms the soul and really connects you with the energy and the living things that have gone into it. Fresh herbs. Active yeast. One can’t help but appreciate the care put into it.

By the time I left, I felt like part of the family. After warm wishes and goodbyes, I drove away thinking how grateful I am to have found these types of connections. At Strawbale Studio, in my home state. At Carraig Dulra, during my upcoming adventure in Ireland.

Wherever I go, I know I’ll be connected to and contributing to the immense tapestry that Deanne and so many others are embellishing and strengthening day by day.

Have you ever experienced something that connects you so thoughtfully to a place or people? Spread the joy, let’s hear about it!

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MOTOWN Movement

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3 fabulous young architects from the Netherlands come to Detroit to follow a dream … transforming an urban home sustainably.  Bob Hendrikx, Dominik Lukkes, Ronen Dan
They visited the Strawbale Studio and met with Deanne and the Interns, Andrew Newton & Eric Rose, also interested in the theme.
See their website:
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MSU Strawbale Wall Installation


This unique project was a collaboration of many folks, woven into one inspiring and joyful project sited at the MSU Botanical Gardens. This Strawbale Wall Project is called Beeing Inn, because it hosts tubes that native pollinator bees now inhabit.

This rich co-creation was brought together by Steve Baiback, art instructor for the Reclamation Studio Class at the MSU Residential College of Arts and Humanities (RCAH) to explore and demonstrate natural building materials.

Integrating the Strawbale Studio, Deanne co-designed the installation and was brought in as artist-in-residence for a week to share hands-on skills involved with strawbale construction and earth plaster with the Art Students who enthusiastically participated in the construction of the wall.

Folks at Pekham, a facility for people with challenges, also contributed by making tiles that were embedded into the surface of the wall. This part of the process was assisted by  RCAH ceramic instructor Doug DeLind.

What a great team !   We all really had a good time dancing through the practical and artistic challenges…and successfully “bringing into being” our vision !

9 amazing facts about native american pollinator bees.

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