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2008 Review and Photos

Page history last edited by Deanne Bednar 10 years, 10 months ago

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   2008 Year-in-Review REPORT


                  for the 


             Strawbale Studio



 This year Strawbale Studio Natural Building Education Program (SBS) has provided tours and hands-on training to individuals, families & home-schooling teenagers through workshops, weekly programs, internships & volunteer activities. A wider audience has been reached through Natural Building presentations, exhibits and various forms of communication such as the Strawbale Studio listserve and the Strawbale Studio website.   Assistance was also given to several off-site projects including the earth plastering of a strawbale tool shed at Tall Trees Community Farm, and an Earthen Playscape in a private home.


                                       Projects & Outreach in 2008 include: 


  • The Oxford Kid’s Cottage with its beautiful round pole frame and thatched roof
  • The Spiral Chamber, a small thatched-roof wattle & daub structure
  • A Year-round Greenhouse frame construction and food production
  • Strawbale Studio retrofit: installation of heating tubes in the floor & benches.
  • The Kid's Cottage at Kensington Metropark Farm Center is toured by 1000's
  • Tours, Classes, Exhibits, Presentations, Consultations, Publicity & Internships



       Oxford Kids Cottage ~ battons up!        Oxford Kid's Cottage ~ thatching!              The Spiral Chamber ~ almost done !



 Greenhouse construction - teens help.    Strawbale Studio Radiant Heat Retrofit     Kensington Kids Cottage activities.


Public interest in “Green” has been increasing greatly and with the assistance of interns & other volunteers, numerous presentations & exhibits were made in 2008. Our presence at these events now includes our new Earth Oven called “The Turtle” and an expanded slideshow presentation updated with natural building projects from the Great Lakes Region. A sign up sheet is offered at all events so that folks can receive email postings about our activities and other significant happenings where the SBS is presenting, such as the Detroit Bioneers, the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Fair (GLREA Fair) and Natural Building Colloquium East (NBC East).  The Strawbale Studio networking list now reaches out to over 1500 people, and "strawbalestudio.org" is ever evolving website, deepening over time. It posts the SBS Calendar, information on sustainable living, and the Great Lakes Natural Building Network” an online guide to a wide range of regional natural building resources: projects, architects & builders, programs & guilds.



 Mixing mud !                       GLREA Fair Exhibit.                                        Wattle & Daub, Kaleb.       NBC East, thatching demo


Within each week, each day, there are the ongoing “micro-events” ~ the conversations, experiments, consultations, phone calls and emails ~ each seeking to re-weave the relationship between people and nature.  The Full Moon Potluck & Bonfire is a very successful monthly event which brings together new-comers and old friends for an evening of community. This gathering provides an opportunity to tour the projects, discuss ideas, share a meal, spend time around the bonfire and create local ties.  I believe that we are instinctively and profoundly being drawn to reconnect and reconstitute the “local”. The terms “re-localization”, “locavore” and “local living” are swiftly coming into our vocabulary, our collective consciousness and our reality, as we creatively respond to the challenges of our times.  


I am so blessed to be on this path with so many others who are eager to learn and create sustainable ways of living that are supportive of a Great Turning toward a restorative future.


                  “We have turned the corner” I believe (and I hear others say with hope).

                                Are we like the Caterpillar transforming to Butterfly?


An example of how this transformation spreads is Brenna Mahoney, who is a student at Eastern Michigan University, receiving her Masters in Historic Preservation.  Brenna conducted an interview at the Strawbale Studio, took photos, then presented a powerpoint slideshow & paper on Strawbale Construction to her Principles of Building Technology class. She writes, “There seems to be a growing contingent of people in my Preservation Program who are interested in green and sustainable design and its relevance to preservation ~ so I hope I can be a bridge to that for you.” 


             We are bridges, making a connection from the past to a sustainable future.



Below are more photos & details about Strawbale Studio 2008 projects and programs.

I hope you can take the time to scroll down, see the pictures and details of our activities.  




OXFORD KID'S COTTAGE. Four hundred bundles of reed grass (Phragmites) were collected last winter for the thatched roof of this new structure. The bundles were leaned together to form a huge teepee shape near the cottage awaiting the thatching process. But first we needed to construct the foundation and frame of the building!  In the spring of 2008 we set to the task of finishing the digging of the foundation trench. To protect the trench from rain, we constructed a low temporary tarp system. We climbed under the tarp to dig the trench and also do repair work (reconstructive sculpting) on parts of the trench wall which had collapsed due to freeze/thaw damage from the previous winter. The trench was dug down below 42”, the depth of the “frost line” in this region. To make sure that no water collects in the trench (the water can freeze, expand, and move the foundation – which is not good), the bottom of the trench is slanted downward toward the dry well, which is a deeper pit located several feet to the north of the building. The dry well gives any water that might get into the trench a place to go so that it doesn’t freeze, expand and possible heave the foundation. The base of the trench then received an 8” layer of small drain rock and a loop of perforated polyethylene drain pipe leading to the dry well. Both of these strategies assist water out and away from the foundation trench. The framing posts that support the roof were set directly on the stable stone base at the bottom of the trench, thus keeping them, too, safe from “frost heave”. The posts were cedar trees (6” in diameter) hand-harvested from a nearby cedar swamp. The posts were stabilized with braces and the entire trench and dry well filled with fieldstone, creating a “rubble trench”.  All stone used was off the land. 

                  We now had our cedar posts strongly in place. The beams and rafters were made from a combination of cedar and dead ash trees, killed by the Emerald Ash Borer. The trees were harvested, skinned (debarked), notched and bolted to become horizontal beams that tied the posts together, trusses which make up the triangular part of the roof and a small sleeping loft. The roof was prepared for thatching by nailing purlins (2” diameter maple saplings) horizontally across the rafters at 12” spacing. The bottom and side edges of the roof each received a 4" diameter pole that serves as “lift board” to push the reed upwards a bit, creating compressive strength. The reeds were attached to the roof with hand-carved wooden needles and strong stainless steel wire. A ¾” diameter maple sapling was placed on top of the reed and sandwiched down to the purlin beneath with the wire.  This is repeated on each purlin up the roof.  The thatching process is about three quarters completed, with a few rows and the ridge yet to finish next spring, 2009.


The SPIRAL CHAMBER. This small wattle & daub building has its base coats of earthen plaster and thatching.   50 bundles of reed were collected by the Teens for this project.  Many hands, young and old have contributed to this project thus far. See further description under the “Teen Build” Program. 


The STRAWBALE STUDIO.  During 2008 the Strawbale Studio has received many tours and hosted several parties, workshops, and even a Renaissance Evening which raised funds for the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy. A few guests have enjoyed staying overnight in the Studio.  

      In 2008 phase one of a radiant heating system was installed in the floor and benches of the Strawbale Studio ~ putting the “heat by the feet and the seat”!  The goal is to bring the studio to comfort level more efficiently and quickly. The existing floor was built up by adding a layer of natural insulation followed by ½” diameter pex tubes to carry hot water, then 1 ½ inches of poured adobe, an earthen mix. Christina Snyder & Chris Coon designed and helped install the system assisted by 13 others in a weekend workshop. Intern Emily & I finished applying the cob mix to the remaining floor and benches. This in-floor tubing system will be connected to a heating source with funds from Scott Cameron.


LOG LOFT   A round-pole loft is under construction in the main house in the East wing.  It will be a sleeping loft with storage shelves built-in underneath. Trees have been felled from the property, primarily dead ash trees.  It uses variety of joining techniques: notching, bolting, wooden pinning, and lashing.   (Finished April, 2009)


The TURTLE EARTH OVEN  was constructed in 2008 with help from Intern David Smith & Teen Builders.  It has been exhibited, with firing and baking demonstrations, at the Detroit Bioneers, the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Fair, Manistique, MI and a Solstice Festival at Tall Trees Farm, White Lake, MI.


The ROCKET STOVE HEATED BENCH which has been functional for several years, received additional aesthetic sculpting with the theme of "Totem Animals".  A small barrel was incorporated over the burn chamber, and with the assistance of intern Bethany, a 3-Day Test Burn proved the system to be performing successfully. 


EARTH SCULPTING took place in the main house, and a strawbale bench was added in the East Wing, the hallway walls and sculptures were further expanded and developed during workshops and by interns and me.  Several areas were also sculpted in the Strawbale Studio as a result of the radiant floor retrofit.  This year I sculpted a number of small clay figures I call Faerie Earthlings, Moonface, Circle of Life, and Sun Face.



Homeschooling Teens from a 30 mile radius, carpool their way to the land each Wednesday to learn natural building and sustainable living skills. I teach skills and both interns and parents supervise. This season the teens, numbering from 5 to 12 per week, participated in a variety of projects: 


  • The Spiral Chamber:  During the winter the teens went reed harvesting a number of times for the thatched roof of the Spiral Chamber. A total of 50 bundles of reed were collected from a local field, tied on the roof of a car, brought to the land, and leaned together into a teepee shape for storage until the weather was warm enough for thatching.  In the spring the teens made the "wattle & daub" walls of the Spiral Chamber by collecting twigs & poles woven to construct the basket-like "wattle" which formed the framework of the wall ~~ then dug, mixed and applied the "daub" (earth plus straw) over the wattle to complete the wall system.  In the fall we collected poles which were lashed horizontally across the rafters. A base layer of the reed was then tied with twine to these horizontal roof poles (called purlin or battons) to form the beginning of the thatched roof.                                                                              




  • “Zandala” Garden phase one: sheet mulching (the “lasagna” method) for a circle shaped garden (often called a Mandala garden) and thus named by one of the teens the “Zandala” Garden!  Teens spread cardboard sheets on the ground, harvested horse manure from the neighbors’ piles, spread the manure and bags of leaves!  Next year…planting!


  • The Oxford Kids Cottage:  Teens help excavate the foundation trench, perimeter trench, and the dry well for the Cottage. Several hours were spent (picture this) pulling out buckets of mud and water, a result of heavy rains and an unprotected trench. They transported many wheelbarrows of fieldstone from nearby stone piles to fill the trench, and laid up a stone wall at "grade" (ground level) using cement. Going out into the woods the teens harvested many maple saplings from which they pealed the bark using chisels and drawknife. They helped nail up some of the saplings (purlins) and assisted in thatching by preparing & attaching some of the reed to the roof.  


  • Reed Collection & thatching for the Spiral Chamber & Oxford Kid's Cottage 


  • Tree house design was planned for back woods by swamp. We love to take walks back to this area! 


  • Apples were harvested off the land and made into dried apple slices, frozen slices, apple sauce & an apple pie! 


  • Teens helped to scrape a deer hide to make raw hide.  


  • Lashing was learned and used to make a ladder screen with saplings


  • Teens assisted at the 2008 Earth Day Expo, held at Oakland University, helping to  set up the Strawbale Studio Natural Building exhibit, answering questions and assisting with the Cob Demonstration.


  • A ¼ scale Earth Oven was made with the help of the teens in the shape of a turtle. It is being used as a demonstration at conferences & natural building exhibits.


  • Making music together, inventing songs and teaching each other guitar is a favorite pastime.   


  • Greenhouse construction.  Teens enjoyed assisting with bolting together the greenhouse frame with the help of Jared Bogdanov-Hanna, who comes occasionally to assist.



WORKSHOPS given during 2008.


  • Earth Plaster Workshop at the Strawbale Studio land, February 2, 2008


  • Cob Workshop for Oakland University & Michigan State University Students (plus tour &. overnight stay).  Students made earthen mixes & sculpted in the main house. Feb. 17, 2008


  • Reed Collection Workshop,  March 4, 2008


  • Thatching Workshop. March 8, 2008 


  • Students from Oakland University & MSU receive reed collecting training. March 12, 2008, harvesting 31 bundles.


  • Volunteer Reed Collecting ~ numerous days throughout the winter individuals help. Assistant: Intern Amber Weber. 


  • Earth Plaster Workshop at the Strawbale Studio land, March 15-16, 2008. 


  • Creating an Earthen Classroom This workshop transformed the walls of a basement space used as an herbal classroom to a cozy cave-like atmosphere for herbalist Jim McDonald.  Assistant: Intern David Smith.  March 20-21, 2008


  • Eco Learning Center, Traverse City, MI.  Consultation & Hands-on training for plasters for the Strawbale Drying Shed and Earthen Oven. Events included soil testing, mixing & application techniques. June 28 - 30, 2008.


  • Open Build  This was the name given to several weekend workshops where participants learned by joining in on current projects, such as framing the Oxford Kid's Cottage.  July 4-6, 2008 July 19-20, 2008 


  • Natural Building for Kid's Family Workshop. June 22, 2008. 


  • Playscape Workshop. Intern David Smith assisted in this workshop for parents and children, to sculpt a play area in the basement of in a private home in West Bloomfield, MI.  A collaborative project with Lance Bowan of New Harvest Homes.  September 4, 2008  


  • Earth Plaster & Sculpting Workshop for Althea Northage-Orr’s group from Chicago October 21-23, 2008.  12 participants plus intern Bethany Cook and Jason Howard. 




In 2008, a number of interns were able to come learn and help for varying amounts of time. Room and board and skill training was provided to them in exchange for 35 hours of their effort toward various projects. In addition to those listed below, other volunteers helped for shorter periods of time. 



Amber Weber helped in all aspects of natural building, preparing for and assisting in workshops, maintaining & improving the land for over a year. June 1, 2007 - July 1, 2008 


Joan Kovach assisted greatly with reed collection, cooking, and baking.  She did a work trade for the Herbal Workshop with David Winston, held on the land. January 8 - February 8, 2008


David Smith came with a background in engineering, having volunteered on an organic farm in Hawaii, and in Costa Rica in marine animal conservation. He assisted on the Playscape Workshop, earthen wall application for the McDonald’s, including prep of materials, application of adhesion coat, sculpting and earthen plaster over dry walls and cement walls.   April 1 - 28, 2008


Jazz from Teaching Drum Wilderness Skills School in WI, stayed one week, helping with the garden, mixing cob, trail clearing and painting the tree mural in the front hall.  .  April 10 - 17, 2008.


Rachel Herman from Leonard, MI, helped out with the Kid's Cottage trench and fieldstone infill several days a week over 1 ½ months until she left for her ecological studies at Humboldt College in CA.  May - June, 2008


Martha Murphy helped on the trench excavation of the Oxford Kid's Cottage and skinning poles for the frame. Coming from the Chicago area, she owns property by Lake Michigan on which she wished to build. June 15 - 22, 2008


Emily Mentzer assisted the Strawbale Studio Educational Exhibit at the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Fair and helped throughout the summer on the Kid's Cottage, skinning logs, carrying rocks, digging the trench.  She has been seeking to transition to a sustainable life and brought many books on natural building & water storage to share.  Summer of 2008


Tim & Sonja Burke and their children Cameron, 6 & Kaleb, 4, assisted on the Oxford Kid’s Cottage.  Tim worked from July 23 -26, 2008 then brought the family Aug 2 - 9, 2008.   They helped on the framing of the Oxford Kid's Cottage, prepping the reed & thatching the roof.  Cameron made a lean-to, and Kaleb helped on the Spiral Chamber, right. 


Emilie Anderson, Outdoor Education instructor, helped with the radiant floor system, insulation, installation of pipes, and earthen plaster on the floor and benches.  She brought her friends to help on construction and got me to go swimming!  July 2 - August 2, 2008


Denise Mounts a professional farrier, one who shoes horses, and musician. Interned for 1 1/2 weeks. working on the  Kid's Cottage and making lots of good music on her fiddle. September 2 - 15, 2008


Scott Anderson. Assisted at Bioneers Conference.  Kid's Cottage foundation & thatching.  Prepared Garden by removing stone borders, helped with Zandala Garden.  Construction of Greenhouse.  Explored design and materials for a DYI water filter with clay, coffee grounds, fired by horse manure.  October 2 - 25, 2008 


Bethany Cook, with a background in working with youth and outdoor education, is looking to get natural building skills.  She is from Chicago, and has returned on the holidays to be with her family.  Skills to date: earthen plaster workshop with Althea from Chicago, sculpting and finish earth plastering, round log construction, harvesting, skinning, notching.  Fermenting.  Lots of reading and use of resource library & videos.  November 15, 2008 - January 30, 2009, 


Jason Howard, returning intern from 2006 & 2007, helped out with friend Sen, during the Earth Plastering Workshop in October, 2008.  Jason was instrumental in setting up a beautiful website for the Strawbale Studio Program.  October 21 -24, 2008. Visiting past-intern. 


Jared Bogdonov-Hanna  Helper throughout the year.  Graduated from Oakland University, Certificate in Permaculture.  On fire about sustainability and growing food!  Assisted with projects and the Teen Build Program occasionally throughout 2008.




There are tours almost every week, for individuals and groups. 100’s of people have had the opportunity to see the Strawbale Studio & the other sustainability components of The Strawbale Studio Land.  Below are some of the groups:


  • The Fisher Tour of Strawbale Studio  (4)  2/23/2008


  • Oakland University & Michigan State University Students. (7) Tour & Cob Workshop.  Overnight stay.  2/17/2008


  • Professionals from India, a Rotary Club exchange, arranged by Sonya Boone of Lapeer, MI. (12)   5/18/08


  • Monthly FULL MOON POTLUCK & BONFIRE. This ongoing event, free & open to all, gives a great opportunity, especially for new people, to come to tour the buildings & grounds, and gather together with the other folks who are also interested in sustainability.  The potluck & bonfire connects us to each other and to nature.  From  5 to 30 people come each month, averaging about 13. 


  • New Year's Eve Party & Fundraiser.  Held each year. In the Strawbale Studio.  An opportunity to have an enchanted evening based on ecological values. 


  • A Renaissance Meal in The Strawbale Studio  An Auction Item & donation to the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy. The event was coordinated by Lois Robbins


  • A Birthday Party in the Strawbale Studio   An Auction item & donation to the Upland Hills School:  by Karin Nanos, to be used for a future party with her family!



OFF-SITE EDUCATION: presentations, exhibits, demonstrations


Earth Day Expo at Oakland University, Rochester, MI, April 19, 2008. Natural Building Presentation, Exhibit & Cob Demonstration.  Assistants: Teen Build Students & Jerod Bogdanov-Hanna.


Huron Valley Earth Day Festival, Clarkston, MI. April 20, 2008 Natural Building Exhibit & Hands-on Demonstration: how to mix earth and sculpt an Earth Oven.  The little kids LOVED it.  Assistant: Intern David Smith. 


Tall Trees Community Farm. White Lake, MI. June 21, 2008 Solstice Gathering.  Hands-on Project:  Earth Plastering of a Strawbale Tool Shed in collaboration with Lance Bowen.   Lots of volunteers: College-aged and the “under 6" (years-old) crowd. Earth Oven firing demonstration.


Great Lakes  Renewable Energy Fair.  Manistique, MI. June 26-8, 2008.  Natural Building Exhibit, 2 PowerPoint Presentations & Earth Oven Demonstration.  Assistant: Emily Mentzer.


Natural Building Colloquium East. Peaceweavers Conference Center, Bath, NY.  July 1- 4, 2008. Thatching Demonstrations. Participants helped bundle reed & attach it to the exhibit frame.  


Oakland County Heritage Festival at Upland Hills Farm, Oxford, MI, September 25, 2008, organize by Jim Keglavitch of Oakland County Planning & economic Development Services in conjunction with Oakland County Historic Preservation Society.  Natural Building Exhibit & Hands-on Strawbale Wall demonstration & bench (pig-shaped) made from a strawbale.  Assistant: Lois Robbins. 


Bioneers Detroit Conference, Mary Grove College, Detroit. October 19 - 21, 2008.  Natural Building Exhibit table & Earth Oven Cooking Demonstration.  Assistant, Intern Scott Anderson 


Plan C Conference: Community Solutions to Peak Oil Oakland University, Rochester, MI November 1, 2008. SBS Natural Building Program information, sign in sheet, were available at a table there.



  • Awarded:  DeWald Foundation donation towards the programming and expenses. 
  • Awarded:  by an Anonymous Donor for educational programming.
  • Awarded:  Monetary gifts from Scott Cameron toward gutters on the main

                        house and radiant heating components for the Strawbale Studio.

  • Renewed: A fiduciary sponsorship with the non-profit SEEDS. www.ecoseeds.org.
  • Proposal made:  Traditional Arts Grant.  Not received. 
  • Proposal made:  Sisters of St. Joseph.   No response.



OUTREACH: publicity, professional connections


Free Press Article on Kensington Kid's Cottage for Earth Day 2008, in the YAK section for children.

Detroit News, April 16, 2008. The Kensington Kids Cottage was featured in the in the section: FunFamily Picks for the Week by Ellyse Field who writes: 

   "Best bets for the week include lots of Earth Day-related events!

   Kensington Metropark unveils its new Kids' Cottage,

   the Detroit Science Center's opens its newest IMAX movie,

   Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk and Greenfield Village reopens for the season.” 


Mother Earth News Magazine.  Article on “Earth Sculpting” includes 2 photos of the Strawbale Studio interior: the "truth window" tree and the spiral sculpture on the cob bookcase. Visit



Oakland Press  Article & Associated Press Video on the Kensington Kid's Cottage.  May 19, 2008.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRjx87lnQSw .


Strawbale Studio Natural Building Events were posting in local & national calendars and regional publications: Natural Building Network, Crazy Wisdom Calendar, the Natural Awakening Calendar, and Sustainable Detroit Calendar.  Additionally the website is connected to various other websites such as the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center, Herb Craft: Jim McDonald.  


Strawbale Studio Website includes the Calendar of Events, and Sustainability Links.  Information is added in an ever deepening process at www.strawbale.pbwiki.com &  www.strawbalestudio.org.


Great Lakes Regional Natural Building Network.  This resource list was brought together on www.strawbale.pbwiki.com website 2007 & is updated regularly. 


Michigan Educational Benchmarks. Carol Fink and I met with Michelle, Interpreter at the Indian Springs Metropark, regarding Michigan Learning Benchmarks for sustainability curriculum programs designed for the Kensington Kid's Cottage. March, 2008.


Anna Wolfson, Earth Plaster Artist from Chicago.  A professional connection was established with Anna through intern Martha Murphy.





  • Linda Schweitzer, Oakland University coordinator of Environmental Internship Program at Oakland University. Linda visited, toured & suggests that the SBS be included in future OU grant proposals. 


  • Fay Hanson, Oakland University.  She is creating community, connecting natural building and organic gardening, attending natural building events. We have collaborated on projects


  • Lawrence Institute of Technology.  Dr. Janice Means brings her architecture students to tour at the Strawbale Studio, and I present to her Solar Design Architecture Class.  


  • Oakland Community College,  A “Strawbale Construction Presentation” was made by student Kathleen Fisher to her Ecology Class. After touring & photographing the Strawbale Studio, conducting an interview, and researching the resources I shared with her, she created an inspiring PowerPoint presentation for her class.


  • Students & graduates of Oakland University and Michigan State University volunteer at the SBS.  Volunteers included Jared Bogdanov-Hanna, and students from the MSU Organic Farming Program ~ Brett Leventar and Alexis Bogdanov-Hanna, plus others.


  • Eastern Michigan University, Principles of Building Technologies Class.  After interviewing, touring & photographing at the Strawbale Studio, Brenda Mohoney created & presented a PowerPoint and paper on Strawbale Construction to her class (and emailed me a copy of both). Brenna is working on her Masters Degree in Historic Preservation at EMU.


  • Glass Academy in Detroit. Natural Building & Youth.  A connection has been made with Allision Nowacki of Glass Academy in Detroit.  She has visited the Strawbale Studio and we plan to have a connection between our programs in 2009.







  • Natural Building Concept Sketches for a Day Care Center proposed for White Earth Reservation, Minneapolis, MN. Intern Amber Webber and I researched and sketched ideas with the goal of furthering the prospect of a natural building project on this reservation at the request of Mike Neumann, Board member of White Earth Reservation,.


  • Design Consultation for Robin Mallor, Three Roods Farm, Columbiaville, MI on future natural building on this land, and greenhouse attached to the main house.  We walked the land, discussed building sites, designs, materials.  July 19, 2008  


  • Consultation by phone and email to over 100 people who contact me with questions regarding natural building or their projects.  


VIDEOS shown to Strawbale Studio visitors & participants: 

  • “The Strawbale Solution”
  • “Ecological Design: Inventing the Future”
  • “What a Way to Go”
  • “Zeitgeist”
  • “Living with Thatch” & other thatching videos
  • Permaculture videos by Bill Mollison & others. 




Permaculture & organic garden development  


  • 12’ X 18' Greenhouse.  Carolyn Koch purchased the materials and began the building process which was finished with help from interns, the Teen Build Program and me. It will grown food year-round without heat following the MSU model, usingfreeze-tolerant plants & row covers in addition to the plastic frame cover.


  • Permaculture Lecture. I attended a presentation at Michigan State University by friend and author of “The Forest Garden”, David Jacke and purchased his permaculture manuals at the potluck gathering afterward. I also bought & read other books on Permaculture during 2008.    


  • Organic Farming Collaboration & meetings with the “Seeds Group”, a collaboration of Faye, Hanson, Tall Trees Community Farm, MSU Organic Farming students, Oakland University students, to share seeds, the growing of seedlings and construction of year-round greenhouses. 


  • Zone 1 garden beds were expanded outside main house with herbs & plants that need attention or frequent harvesting.  Horse radish, sage, oregano, chives, nodding onions, basil, sun roots (aka. jerusalem artichoke), lambs quarters, tomatoes, lovage, potatoes, squash, mint & lemon balm. 


  • Worm Composting ~  A three-tiered bin is located in the kitchen of the main house and has been in use for 15 years! . Food scraps are put in the bin and worms (with the aid of soil organisms) break food down to rich soil and a liquid, both of which are natural fertilizers.  The worm population was shared with 4 different folks this year to start up their new bins.


  • Outdoor compost pile.  Food scraps not put in Worm Compost are put in this pile. This soil was used in the new greenhouse and on the Zandala Garden, below.


  • Lasagna/ Mandala (Zandala) Garden is being created in the Crescent Garden area west of the main house. Stage one, sheet mulching, suppresses weeds and builds the soil. Our sheet much is composed of a layer of recycled cardboard and local, natural materials: horse manure, worm (and regular) compost, leaves and old straw bales 


  • Sheet Mulching in the South Porch Garden.  See description above.  


  • Visit to Pine Meadow Farm Greenhouse, Clarkston, MI, owned by Chris and Jug Tarr.  This  new ½ scale commercial size greenhouse produced its first full winter of “greens”.



Energy-Efficient Cooking & Heating ~ techniques used:


Solar Cooker. Used on a regular basis, demonstrating for as many people as possible.


Pressure Cooker.  Reduces cooking time by about 2/3’s. Pre-soaking overnight reduces cooking time.


Insulated Box Cooker  &  Cooking with a Thermos . After partially cooking, the cooking process is finished, with no additional heat, by “insulation”, reducing fuel use by about 2/3’s.


Jars of hot water keep an insulated box warm when making yoghurt, and can be used to preheat a bed! 


Toastie Toes foot warmer & space heater uses only 90 watts of power instead of the usual 1500 watts of regular space heaters.  In 2008, the hot water radiant floor system in the main house was heated (very conservatively) by propane for a 5 hour block about every 3 days.  In between heat cycles the Toasty Toes and a radiant space heater is used for localized comfort.    


Foraging & Food Preservation


Foraged foods:  wild garlic chives, plantain, dandelion, violet flower and leaves, nettles, lambs quarters, ground cherries, wild grapes, black cherries, stag horn sumac, sun root, comfrey, peppermint, lemon balm and more.


Chicken of the Woods !  I found a huge 2 X 5 foot mushroom (also called Sulphur Shelf) growing on an old tree here on the land. The teens & I harvested it. Intern Amber & dried some, and the rest was cooked up, eaten or frozen, and is being enjoyed during the winter.! pic


Eating Locally-grown Food !   This year being a “Locavore”* really happened.  I now purchase local eggs, vegetables, herbs, grains, beans, flour, bread, milk, and a little meat. Additionally I forage from my land and grow a few things. This year I joined 3 Roods Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and got most of my vegetables and fruits from there.  I paid $550 to the CSA “up front” in January for “one Share” and in exchange I received a big basket of food each week for 20 weeks.  It was so much I split the food with neighbors Will & Janice.  Once a month the Interns & I helped harvest at the farm. I also bought organic eggs from their happy chickens, honey from the farm and milk from another local farm.  Wow!  Between these all these sources I predict that our household ate about 85% "local" (and organic) this year ~ without even trying, just enjoying ...all the quality & connections!    (*Webster’s Dictionary “Word of the Year: 2007”)


Fermenting: Sauer Kraut, Kim Chi, Kombucha Tea, Mead, Wine, Sour Dough, Injira Ethiopian Sponge Bread, Yoghurt, Kefir, goats’ milk farmers’ cheese.


Canning:  Choke cherry jam from this land, and black currant jam, high bush cranberry jam and canned tomatoes from Three Roods Farm CSA.   Amber made the tomato sauce & apple sauce. 


Dried Food & herbs . The following were dried ~apples, nettle, lemon balm, mint, oregano, lovage seeds, chives, dandelion, curly dock seeds, clover blossoms, basil, lambs quarter leaves & seeds, wild grapes, tomato slices dried and also in olive oil.


Home -made apple pie.   Teens collected apples and made them into a wonderful apple pie. We also froze & dried these apples from the land.



Land Improvements


·Assessment by Sustainable Forest Management expert of the land around the main buildings. Jack Knight, Organic Certifier, shared principles of sustainable management & gave recommendations. 


·Dead ash trees were harvested for building projects and firewood.  The central woods circle is cleared of dead trees.   



NATURAL MATERIALS used and experimented with this year


Zebra Mussels. Inspired by Danish research and experimentation in which mussel shells are used to insulate building foundations, I contacted many regional resources, including the Department of Environmental Quality, Detroit Edison, and others. My goals was to find a large source of mussels to use as insulation in the stem wall of the Oxford Kid's Cottage.  Sterling Park outside Monroe, MI gave us permission to harvest on their beach after a strong east wind, although we did not do that.  Erika Chaffin from Ohio & friends harvested 3 tubs of mussels from a private beach in Ohio & brought them up to the Kid's Cottage project.  It is a smaller amount that was originally imagined, but is a beginning.  They will be used in the foundation.  


Hand-made Felt. Using raw local wool, shoe liners & catnip mouse toys were felted. Last year mittens & a hat were made. Experiments are in process to use felt to create a thick insulating blanket for the interior stone stem walls of the Strawbale Studio. 


Rawhide from deer skin: We obtained a road-kill deer.  Intern Amber processed the meat, and we both processed the skin into rawhide which Amber used to re-cover her bongo drum heads.  I used the rawhide to make long cords for lashing.  Future plans include additional drum heads and sheaths for our reed-cutting sickles. 


Tanning Deer Skin . Intern Bethany, Robin Malor & I met with Peter McCreedy to begin the brain -tanning process at the Willows Outdoor Education Center, a 5,500 sq. ft. Strawbale building in Lapeer Michigan 


Big Bluestem Grass was harvested at the Willows Outdoor Education Center in Lapeer.  Peter McCreedy has made a test roof with youth, using this as a thatching material.  I collected several bundles to check out for future potential of growing on our land. 


Home-made Ink was made by DB & teens from locally-gathered walnut hulls, and Brooke made pen quills from Phragmite reed grass, our thatching material. 


Natural Lashing on a Wigwam at Cranbrook Nature Center, Bloomfield Hills, MI. Intern Scott Anderson and I helped assisted Jim Miller of Willow Winds Traditional Skills attach 3 1/2’ x 5’ sheets of hand-harvested cedar bark to the tamarack pole frame of a wigwam with lashing made of the inner bark of Basswood soaked in a running stream. 


Fire-making from scratch!  I participated in a 2 hour hands-on experience in the woods at the EcoLearning Center in the Leelanau Peninsula west of Traverse City, MI.  Jayne Leatherman Walker brought in an expert to share the skill with her grandchildren and we all attempted the techniques.  Tools from that workshop are on display at the Oxford Land.


Harvesting Round Poles from the land.  Various folks including Teens, volunteers & interns went with me out into the woods and harvested logs for our current projects:  4” diameter posts, 2" diameter poles for roofing purlins, 3/4" branches for thatching “sways”, & even 4 poles to support a Jewish marriage quilt, a Chuppa !  Most poles were scraped of their bark by those who harvested them, using a draw knife or chisel.





Throughout the year participants were taught the following "HOW TO" skills:


Framing.  How to

  • use a saw, harvest small trees
  • use a draw knife to remove bark from tree poles
  • “read” a log, make reference lines with chalk line
  • use a chisel and hammer to notch poles for ladders, lofts & Kid's Cottage.

Pole construction.  How to

  • construct a wattle and daub structure
  • select and harvest poles for wattle & daub, "sways" for thatching, poles for building.
  • lash poles and weave branches, mix and apply daub (mud, sand & straw).
  • remove bark with draw knife.

Thatching.   How to

  • design and construct a roof suitable for thatching.
  • identify, collect and store reed.  .
  • thatch a base row, main rows, and eaves. 
  • whittle and drill a wooden thatching needle.

Foundation construction. How to

  • design and dig a Rubble Trench and Dry Well,
  • fill (and tamp) the trench with fieldstone we collected.
  • tarp the trench and dig perimeter drainage. 
  • mix and apply cement to lay up a stem wall using fieldstone

Earth plasters and sculpting. How to

  • find, identify, mix and apply a variety of earth plasters.
  • make a finish plaster, and use a Japanese trowel, as well as a disc made from a plastic lid, and sponges to make a finished earthen surface. 
  • round corners when sculpting with earth. 
  • attach earth sculptures to an existing wall.
  • make flour paste, mix and apply an adhesion coat.
  • construct various supports & armatures for cob projects and earth sculptures.
  • extract pure clay from clay/sand subsoil for use in clay slip and ceramic filters.

Heating.  How to

  • fire up and run the Rocket Stove Heated bench
  • design, install and insulate tubing for radiant floor heating
  • use a solar oven and thermal cookers

Insulation.  How to

  • use various natural materials as insulation: horse manure, sheep wool, straw, mussels
  • use re-cycled manufactured items such as bubble wrap, polyethene foam.

Living skills.  How to

  • make ink from walnut hulls, pens from Phragmites (Brooke taught us this).
  • make rawhide from a deerskin, scraping, stretching and cutting the rawhide.

Food production.  How to

  • use natural local materials to create a “sheet mulch” turning weeds to garden soil.  
  • design and construction of  metal frame & wooden ends of a greenhouse
  • fermentation, some cold storage methods, drying.



HOSTING       The Strawbale Studio (SBS) has hosted outside workshops and guests.


  • SBS hosted the David Winston Herbal Workshop, coordinated by Jim McDonald The Red Pole Barn was used for presentations, the main house for eating, and 8 participants stayed overnight. Tours were given of the Strawbale Studio and other buildings. 


  • Overnight accommodations for several presenters from the United Plant Savers Conference held at Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center, 5 miles down the road. This connection lead to a SBS natural building workshop created for Althea's group from Chicago


  • Hosted Permaculture Presenters from the “Plan C: Community Solutions Conference”. 



LOCAL CONNECTIONS  This is a year rich in new connections and the deepening of old connections.


Getting to meet the neighbors!


  • Ruth & Tom Hoyt  & their 4 children live on a farm down the road. We have a new and growing alliance as they volunteer here, and we all learn from each other.


  • Neighbors to the west have allowed us to use as much of their horse manure as we want for our finish plasters, floor insulation and gardens this year, and even created a connecting path between their barn and the SBS land!


  • Neighbors to the north have visited and toured and we are exchanging food and ideas!


  • A local surveyor gave us permission to collect reed for thatching in the nearby field he owns. People often stop while we are collecting and have conversation.  As a result, Nancy & Jerry offered free firewood.


  • Don & Colleen, visionaries and artists. Don coordinates the local cable TV station where they broadcast many topics including a series on sustainability where the Strawbale Studio was featured.  


Regional Connections are very numerous.  Here are a few: 


  • Don and Connie Barlow who helped on the Kensington Kids Cottage started their own small building this year in preparation for building a strawbale home next year.   


  • Paul Angelini, built an Earth Oven in Clarkston, MI this year, and has visited a number of times.


  • Sharon Howell, a local sustainability friend, helped with the SBS website this year and started construction of a natural building project on her own land!


  • Christina Snyder, Chris Coon designed the radiant floor system and along with 11 others installed the piping in the floor. 


  • Lance Bowan, New Harvest Homes, Ferndale, MI and I collaborated on a strawbale toolshed.


  • Jim McDonald, earth plaster workshops at his place, herb workshops here.  


  • Carol Maday from St. Clair County is looking for a collaborative building group in her region.  


  • Service People: such as Daniel who delivers my propane fuel, is excited about the Strawbale studio, will do organic gardening with a greenhouse and raise pigs next year. Sharon, the UPS delivery woman is thrilled about the Strawbale Studio. 


  • Email support.  I receive and respond to many requests for natural building information such as a request from Jill Hallowell, education director of Clinton River Watershed Council  fro reed collection pictures, and a request from Jim Walters, the cousin of Cob Cottage’s Linda Smiley, for regional references.


 SUSTAINABILITY LEARNING      During 2008 I was able to  

  • Attend a lecture by Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods" on “natural deficit disorder” and a child’s need for wilderness in order to be healthy  
  • Assist the Fox Natural Building crew during construction of a 5,500 sq. ft. strawbale structure in Lapeer Michigan: The Willow Outdoor Education Center in Lapeer, Michigan. Intern Amber Weber & I worked on earth plasters one day along with folks who did the strawbale components of this public building.  Additionally, I helped set up a tour for the LTU architecture students, and promote the Willow Center in my slideshow presentations.   
  • Visit The Eco Learning Center, run by Jayne Leatherman Walker outside Traverse City.  She is building a Bio Shelter for year-round growing of food, finishing up a strawbale/earthen plaster drying and storage structure, and has a full scale organic growing operation going.  She has hosted Green Building Workshops on her land.  We stay connected through visits and phone calls.   
  • Visit The 5 Springs Farm, which has an organic CSA.  Stayed overnight in their strawbale intern cabin saw the gardens, wind generator and other sustainable components of the farm.  
  • Study plants and local foods: Read "Botany in a Day".  Attend United Plant Savers Conference, in Oxford at the UHEAC.  (Put up presenters overnight here.) Study Permaculture from books: Gaia's Garden, The Permaculture Way & others. Collaborated on seedling growing and greenhouse construction.
  • Attend sustainability presentations at conferences: “Detroit Bioneers”, “Plan C Conference”, “Great Lakes Renewable Energy Fair”.  




  • Collaborate with the newly established Upland Hills Farm CSA.  The SBS has volunteered to provide housing and meeting space for CSA Interns, and assistance in constructing a small natural building tool shed at the CSA. The CSA is “Phase 1” in the creation of a sustainable “Learning Community” a collaboration of the Upland Hills Farm, School & Ecological Awareness Center and other regional individuals and entities including The SBS Natural Building Program.


  • Make a presentation in 2009 at LTU, Lawrence Technological University, to Professor Janice Mean's Architectural Class.  She will also invite them to the Strawbale Studio for a tour, and encourage them to take part in projects and Internships.  (The presentation took place on January 22, 2009.)


  • Invited to present at Lansing Community College for Fred McLaughlin's Alternative Structures Class.  We have had collaborations before. (We are currently awaiting funding to support this.)


  • Invited to Assistant Teach at the North American School of Natural Building in Coquille, Oregon, scheduled for May 16 – 25, 2009 ( A contract was signed 2-15-09)


  • Glass Academy in Detroit. Natural Building & Youth.  Allision Nowacki has visited the Strawbale Studio and we plan to create a connection between our programs in 2009.


  • Earth Works Garden, and Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit.  Janelle Palmer is interested in collaboration on a class to teach youth natural building techniques. 


  • Invited to contribute Earth Oven photos to a website and upcoming book by Kiko Denzer on making Earth Ovens. 


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