Archive for February, 2012

When we first embarked on our investigative journey into natural building and sustainable living, we were amazed by the diversity of people involved in the lifestyle. I suppose I went in with a lot of the preconceptions that we encounter ourselves today. I was somewhat surprised to find that there are as many ‘types’ of people involved in sustainable building and living practices as there are in any other field, or belief system.

The one common refrain seems to be concern for the planet. Whether they came to it by necessity, passion, practicality, or concern, everyone we have met has claimed a deep concern for the planet, for our environment and our impact on it. Similarly, many claim an equal concern for the planet’s inhabitants.

That all sounds very good but it didn’t take long to realize that self-concern rates higher for a lot of this group than many would like to admit. I would argue at least as high as that of our consumer-minded brethren that many would like to distance themselves from, and are happy to point out the differences between.

I understand the need to make a living. Everybody has to get by, though the means may differ. But then don’t hold yourself up as a paragon of virtue, wandering around chanting in breathy tones about saving the planet and concern for your brother-man whilst your hand is in his pocket.

I could go on to list the number of individuals, organizations, cooperatives, and ‘movements’ that exploit their money making potential to the extreme- to the point that they exclude not only the poorest among us, but those below the upper-middle class. All the while wearing “save the planet” t-shirts and hemp friendship bracelets and tsk-tsk-tsk’ing after those mainstream sorts who are “all-about-the-money”. Puh-leaze, they’re just begging for an article all their own. But instead I’ll focus on those individuals who really walk the talk and make a real difference in the world, without requiring payment in advance…

Topping my list of oh-so-awesome world changers are Dr. Owen Geiger and Kelly Hart. These guys are amazing! With a wealth of natural building experience between them, they host several extremely informative sites (the Earthbag Building Blog is one of several) that answer pretty near any question you may have about building. And if you don’t see the answer to your question on one of their sites, ask away. They will actually answer you rather than directing you to “buy the book” or “take the course”.

Both Kelly and Owen show a real concern for the environment and for people and it shows in everything they do. Their hard won experience and wealth of knowledge is readily shared and easily accessed. Now that, to me, is integrity.

Ianto at work on a fireplace

Another, more elusive but no less altruistic individual, who immediately comes to mind is Ianto Evans. Ianto is a natural builder (with a definite preference for cob), landscape architect, ecologist, wild inventor and just plain all around great guy. You won’t find him online but you can take courses with him at Cob Cottage. Right, so this sounds like a contradiction, “I have to pay to talk to him??” Yes, yes you do. Unless you can’t. In which case you’re free to tag along on courses in exchange for work trade.

We went down to Oregon a few years ago to take a (very reasonably priced) course and it remains one of my most cherished experiences. We came away with more than simply new skills- it was a new way of looking at the world and our place in it. And while there were quite a few other ‘paid participants’, I was amazed at the number of people who dropped in for a day, or six, and simply pitched in with work. Time spent with Ianto is rich with information about not only the subject at hand, but his experience in building communities, alternative heating, permaculture gardening, and much more.

In connection with Cob Cottage, we met Kirk Mobert (aka Donkey), another natural builder and rocket stove enthusiast. While Donkey’s building experience is extensive, what he is at least as well known for is his experience with and passion for rocket stoves and heaters. You can often find him at Cob Cottage teaching or assisting in the Rocket Mass Heater course, he also has a forum online. Here you’ll find a wealth of information, questions and answers, based on his own experience and that of others all available *free of charge*.

One of my husband’s favourite sites is OtherPower, a site dedicated to informing people about alternative energy, primarily wind turbines. Taken directly from their home page, this says it all: “We could never have made it to our current level of electrification up here without the help of friends, neighbors–and folks we’ve never met, thanks to the internet. Our goal is to share our information about experimental successes and failures alike, free of charge, with anyone who is interested.”

These guys bring together an abundance of knowledge and experience that they readily share with the public. They’re informative, enthusiastic and friendly. Everything you’d expect of people trying to make a difference in the world. In fact- that’s true of everyone I’ve mentioned in this article.

Now, as I’ve alluded to, all of these people have books, services, courses and/or DVDs on offer for sale. Among the many offerings are Kelly Hart’s DVD Building with Bags: How We Made Our Experimental Earthbag/Papercrete House, Owen Geiger’s Earthbag Building Guide and accompanying DVD, as well as many (many!) building plans, Ianto Evans has the Hand Sculpted House and Rocket Mass Heaters: Super Efficient Woodstoves, Homebrew Windpower is available by Dan Bartmann and Dan Fink (the “OtherPower guys”), along with hands-on courses… and much, much more.

There are too many things to list here, all to help you in the course of becoming self-sufficient and sustaining. However, if you are unable to afford products and/or services offered- all of these people have made their assistance publicly available in the interest of serving the community. How absolutely fan-frickin-tabulous are they? So guess who’s stuff I’m willing to pay for? I hope that you will too.

Feel free to list your favourite people who offer services and/or support for *free* (or close to it) in the comments section. Let’s support the people who support the people.

Donkey & a rocket water heater

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It’s official- there’ll soon be another princess in the house. We just ordered the beautiful Pioneer Princess for our new home. We spent a good deal of time researching our options and finally settled on the Princess. It’s good value for the money, has excellent testimonials, and is not only solidly built but quite a beautiful piece of work. With up to 8 weeks lead time, we could be waiting until mid April for delivery but I’m already excited! 🙂

pioneer princess

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Admittedly, I’m not a big Valentine’s day fan. Never have been. It just seems silly to me, and to those who would argue that it is the opportunity to show the one you love just how much you care I would ask- what’s wrong with the rest of the year? If you’re ‘saving it all up’ for one big day, it’s probably not a relationship worth trying to save with flowers and chocolate.

Needless to say, I don’t celebrate Valentine’s. I do, however, acknowledge that for some wild and crazy reason it is a significant day to a lot of people, and those people will be shopping for the big event. So, if you’re going to shop anyway, why not put a little thought and creativity into your gift giving?

There are some really wonderful books out there that are not only beautiful to look at and extremely informative but will potentially lead to some really cool projects, maybe even a home. Two of my all time favourite’s are Gaia’s Garden, a brilliant book that will have you developing your own permaculture gardens, and the Hand Sculpted House, capable of inspiring even the most non-technical among us to go on and build a house. The Natural Plaster Book is another nice addition to any library, chock full of practical information.

Another idea to consider is buying services or a product from someone local. Support your local economy directly. I signed Shane and myself up for a power yoga class put on by a woman from town (not a gym). It has been fantastic, and I have the added satisfaction of knowing that I’m supporting local talent. (And- my ass looks ah-mazing in yoga pants. I never would have known that had I not been looking for something local to be involved with.)

Is your partner a gardener? How about seeds, or gift certificates for his/her favourite seed company? A fabulous little company that sells some quirky seed packages (“Kissing Booth Beets”, “Storybook Peacock Cabbage”) might be right up your alley. Maybe your partner would like to garden, but is limited for space like many apartment dwellers- consider buying a vertical garden kit.  Or buy a membership with a CSA for fresh fruit and veg weekly from a local farm.

If you’re determined to go with something more traditional consider shopping somewhere that screens its products for ethical impact, such as Ethical Ocean. A few of my personal favourites from this seller are the water powered clock, the Shira Wing fake gauge earrings, and the David Suzki organic t-shirt. With so many options to choose from, you’re sure to find something she or he will like.

All of these gift ideas are more thoughtful than the regular standby of chocolates and dead flowers. If you’re absolutely bound and determined to shop on this most-holy-of-Hallmark holidays, take the opportunity to show that you care about more than just staying out of the dog house, or adhering to tradition. Consider your partner’s personality, interests and passions. There are innumerable ways to show him/her that you believe in their capabilities, to support your local economy, to give back to the planet (while harvesting it’s abundance!), and to support companies and/or individuals making a difference in the world.



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