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End of Year Report 2008

Page history last edited by Deanne Bednar 13 years, 11 months ago


Strawbale Studio NATURAL BUILDING Program                       


earth1  2008 Year-in-Review REPORT       



2008 has been diverse and full ~ with education on & off site through building projects and hands-on training, tours, presentations and exhibits. It is a time of transformational change as we come together in local collaborations, to help create structures and practices that are sustainable and noururing for all life. 




New structures 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, and the frame of a year-round greenhouse.  The Strawbale Studio received phase one of a radiant hot water system which will warm both the floor and the benches, and on the land several Permaculture Garden beds have been prepared including a sheet mulching for a Mandala Garden.  See pictures in the report below !



In 2008 hundreds of folks have had an opportunity to tour the Strawbale Studio & grounds, and hands-on training has been shared with individuals, families & home-schooling teenagers ~ through, workshops, weekly programs, internships & volunteer activities.  The Kensington Kid’s Cottage (pictured to the right) continues to impact 1000’s a year at the Kensington Metropark Farm Center through programming and tours.  Assistance was also given to several off-site natural building projects off-site such as the earth plastering of a sStrawbale tool shed at Tall Trees Community Farm. 




Our presence at Eco Fairs has increased, as has the public interest in “Green”. With the assistance of interns & other volunteers, we provided numerous presentations & exhibits 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 in the Great Lakes Region. is areaA sign up sheet is offered at all events, so that folks can receive email postings about our activities and other significant happenings, such as the Detroit Bioneers, and Natural Building Colloquium East.  The networking list now reaches out to over 1500 people. The strawbalestudio.org website is ever evolving, deepening. It lists our Calendar, shares information on sustainable living, and hosts the “Great Lakes Nnatural Building Network” a listing of which is regional natural building resources, including architects, builders, programs and guilds.



And within each week, each day, there are the ongoing “micro-events” ~ the that bring together conversations, experiments, consultations, phone calls and emails ~ each seeking to re-weave the relationship between people and nature.   each focused on coming into  “natural balance” …each exploring the sensibility and joy of being “directly connected” to nature.




Monthly at the And eFull Moon there is a bonfire and potluck here which brings together new-comers and  old friends for an evening of community. This gathering provides an opportunity to tour the projects, discuss ideas, 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”, “lLocavore” and “lLocal lLiving” are swiftly coming into our vocabulary, our  and collective consciousness and our reality, (and 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 also are on fire and eagerly learning and helping to and create the Great Turning toward a sustainable, restorative future.



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


                                Are we like the Perhaps we are Ccaterpillar transforming to Butterfly?. 




Brenna Mahoney is an example of how this transformation spreads. A student at Eastern Michigan University, receiving her Masters in Historic Preservation, Brenna conducted an interview at the Strawbale Studio, then presented a powerpoint & 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.







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. for storage Trees have been felled from the property, primarily dead ash trees.  It uses variety of joining techniques: notching, bolting, wooden pinning, and lashing.  



The TTURTLEurtle EARTH OVEN  was constructed in 2008 with help from Intern David Smith & Teen Builders.  It has been exhibited with demonstration cooking 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 built five years ago, received Aadditional dditional sculpting with the theme of "Totem Pole" .  A small barrel was incorporated over the burn chamber, and with the assistance of intern Bethany, a   3-Day Test Burn was successfully conducted to assess the system.



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.  I created a number of small clay figures this year: Faerie Earthlings, Moonface, Circle of Life, and Sunface.rface.  











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 interns and parents supervise. Attendance ranges from 5-12. This season yearthe teensprojects TEEN BUILD has  participated in a variety of projects:


are the:


  • The Spiral Chamber:  During the winter teens collected 50 bundles of reed from a local field over several Wednesdays, tied them on the car and put them into a teepee shape (for storage) here on the land. In the spring they collected twigs & poles to construct the wattle wall, then dug, mixed and applied earth plus straw (daub) to make the walls. In the fall poles were collected and lashed to the roof, then the base layer of the reed was tied on with twine.



  • 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 the reed to the roof.  



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



  • Design a tree house for the back woods by the swamp. We love to take walks back to this area!



  • Harvested Apples and made dried apple slices, frozen slices, apple sauce & an apple pie! 



  • Help process a deer hide to make raw hide. 



  • Learn lashing and make a ladder screen with saplings



  • Assist at the Earth Day Expo, Oakland University, at the Strawbale Studio Natural Building Exhibit. Teens helped set up the exhibit, answer questions and assist with the Cob Demonstration.



  • . 



  • Help build ana Earth Oven, in the design of a turtle, which is being used as a demonstration at conferences & natural building exhibits. 1/4 scale.



  • Play music together, making up songs and teaching each other guitar. 



  • Assist in the greenhouse construction. Teens enjoy helping to bolt together the greenhouse with the help of Jared Bogdanov-Hanna, who comes occasionally to assist when the teens are there. 







  • 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 and sculpted in the main house. February 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. 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  ap. Internship length: about a year.  




Henna 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.  1 month.



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 ap



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.  1 week



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 intermittantly



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 ap  1 week



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.  ap  2 weeks. 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 ap 1 month.



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 ap 1 1/2 weeks




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  ap 3 weeks. 



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, 3 months.



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!  AssistedHelps with projects and the Teen Build Program occasionally throughout 2008. 







There are tours almost every week, forboth individuals and groups. 100’s of people have had the opportunity to see the Strawbale Studio & the other sustainability components of  this placeThe Strawbale Studio Land..


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. 



The Full Moon Gatherings, monthly. 


  • 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.   . 




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-onn 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 pic



 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  Organized by Jim Keglovitch 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. Information table and sign in sheet on Strawbale Studio Natural Building Program





  • 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:  Traditional Arts Grant.  Not received. 


  • Proposal:  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



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.  Web link.



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. Try Copy network to another page.



Michigan Educational Benchmarks. Carol Fink and I met with Indian Springs Metropark Interpreter (Michelle xxxx) regarding Michigan Learning Benchmarks for our upcoming sustainability curriculum for programs designed forat 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, visits here, & 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.



  • Lawrence Institute of Technology.  Dr. Janice Means brings her architecture students to tour. I present to her Solar Design Architecture Class. 



  • Oakland Community College, Strawbale Construction Presentation to Ecology Class by student Kathleen Fisher. She toured & photographed the Strawbale Studio, conducted an interview, researched the resources shared with her & created a PowerPoint presentation for her class.



  • Volunteer students and graduates from Oakland University, including Professor Linda Schweitzer and Jared Bogdanov-Hanna, and students from Michigan State University University, Organic Farming Program, including Brett Leventar and Alexis Bogdanov-Hanna



  • 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 Mmasters in Historic Preservation at EMU.







  • Natural Building Concept Sketches for a Day Care Center proposed for White Earth Reservation, Minneapolis, MN. Intern Amber & 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.  Materials purchased by Carolyn Koch, with construction by Carolyn, interns, Teen Build Program and me. It will grown food year-round without heat following the MSU models that use  freeze-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. 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!  I have used my worm composting system for 15 years.



  • Outdoor compost pile.  Food scraps not put in Worm Compost is put in this pile. This soil was used in the new greenhouse and on the 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. 



  • Visited the new Pine Meadow Greenhouse, Clarkston, MI, owned by Chris and Jug Tarr.  This is a new ½ scale commercial size greenhouse, going through its first winter production of crops.




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  and Cooking with a Thermos . After partially cooking, these methods finish the cooking process with no additional heat, reducing the amount of fuel needed 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 radiant floor in the main house was heated 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 & I cooked it up, ate some, dried & froze some and we are enjoying it throughout 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, 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 $500 to the CSA “up front” in January for “one Share” and in exchange I received a big basket of food each week.  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 the land, and red currant jam, high bush cranberry jam and canned tomatoes, all produce from Three Roods Farm CSA.   Amber made the tomato sauce & apple sauce. 



Dried Food & herbs I dried the following ~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. He shared principles of sustainable management and gave specific 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 using mussels to insulate building foundations, I contacted many regional resources, including the Department of Environmental Quality, Detroit Edision, and others 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.  They will be used as insulation in the stone stem wall. 



Hand-made Felt. Using raw local wool, we felted shoe liners, catnip mouse toy. Last year mittens & a hat were made. Experiments are in process to use felt to create a thick insulating blanket for the interior stone stemwalls 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 woodsman xxx  attach 31/2’ 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 including 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 with a draw knife by those who harvested them.






This year participants learned how to use a saw, harvest small trees, use a draw knife to remove bark from tree poles,. We learned how to “read” a log, make reference lines with chalk line and notch round poles for the frame of the Oxford Kid’s Cottage (and Teen-built ladder frames) using a chisel and hammer…  



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



How to make rawhide from a deerskin, scraping, stretching and cutting the rawhide. How to fire the Rocket Stove Heated bench.  How to find, identify, mix and apply a variety of earth plasters. How to construct a wattle and daub structure, How to lash poles and weave branches, mixi and apply daub (mud, sand & straw) mix. How to make ink from walnut hulls, pens from Phragmites (Brooke taught us this). How to design and dig a Rubble Trench and Dry Well, and how to fill (and tamp) the trench with fieldstone we collected. How to tarp the trench and dig perimeter drainage.  How to mix and apply cement to lay up a stem wall using fieldstone. How to use natural local materials to create a “sheet mulch” turning weeds to garden soil.  How to bolt together the metal frame of a greenhouse, and design / construct  wooden end walls. How to insulate and install pex tubing in an earthen floor, using a 1” layer of horse manure combined with and slip (clay & water).  How to extract pure clay from clay/sand subsoil. How to 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.  How to round corners when sculpting with earth.  How to attach earth sculptures to an existing wall. How to make flour paste, mix and apply an adhesion coat, and construct various supports & armatures.








The Strawbale Studio 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”. 




More 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!



  • We were given permission to collect reed in a local field owned by a local surveyor,.  Reed Houstan Kennedy, a local surveyor, gave us permission to collect reed for thatching in his local field. People often stop while we are collecting and have conversation.  As a result, Nancy & Jerry offered free firewood.



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.   



  • Jared Boganov-Hanna, and a number of students from OU and MSU have come a number of times to volunteer and socialize. There is an alignment with regional folks to do organic gardening, Permaculture & year-round greenhouses without heat, including Fay Hanson, Chris & Jug Tarr. Paul and others constructed an Earthen Oven in Plymouth, MI this year.



  • 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. 



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



  • 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.



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



  • Collaborations this year with Lance Bowan of New Harvest Homes, Ferndale, MI



  • 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.  



  • There are quite a few local connections formed in 2008 such as Daniel who delivers my propane fuel. He is excited about the Strawbale studio, will do organic gardening with a greenhouse and raise pigs next year.



  • Email support.  I receive and respond to many requests for natural building information.


             Reed collection pictures sent to Jill Hallowell for her Clinton River Watershed Council


             presentation. Regional Natural Building resources emailed to Jim Walters, Cob cottage


             Company Linda Smiley's cousin.




SUSTAINABILITY LEARNING      During 2008 I was able to:



Attend a lecture & read the book by Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods" on “natural deficit disorder” and a child’s need for wilderness and



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 outsideTraverse City.  She is building a BioShelter 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 and 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. Met with others, shared information on seedling growing and greenhouse construction and planting.  



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 rooms for CSA Interns, and assist in constructing a small natural building 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. 



  • Invited to Assistant Teach at the North American School of Natural Building in Coquille, OR.


This is scheduled for May 16 – 25, 2009. 



  • 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. 







Go “L.O.W” !  Remember to buy & live Local, Organic, Whole. In our food choices and in our building materials.   By keeping things local we lower transportation costs, fuel use, carbon emissions, global climate disruption, ecological damage to soil, humans & all living things.  We are helping to create a strong local economy, healthy ecosystems & healthy bodies, healthy community relationships.  When we are local organic & whole, we use less fuel in transportation, less oil by-products with organic farming methods (herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers are currently made from oil), less processing and packaging,  thus reducing energy use, fossil fuel pollution, Global Climate Disruption, and destruction of ecosystems, including soil, water, air, animals, and of course, us. 






This year my goal is to effectively impact sustainability practices in this region by providing training and education to those who wish to teach others by




  • “Training Trainers” in natural building skills &


  • “Teaching Teachers” a broad range of sustainability strategies.



This will be accomplished through collaborative planning and teaching, and programming on & off site, in workshops such as these:





Design & Construction of a Small Natural Building. 



This workshop series is for individuals or groups who want to do a project on their land or in their community: Special outreach will be made to folks involved with community gardens, youth programs and the development of sustainable community, and will include:



  • Design Principles & Considerations


  • Construction Steps & Resources


  • Hands-on Training




Potential workshops include:



Oxford Kid’s Cottage Construction 2009 Hands-on workshops will include stone foundation laying, thatching, strawbale wall constructions, framing of doors & windows and earth plastering. Interns will assist.  Potential teaching collaborations include Will Rex, carpentry; Don Barlow moisture monitors; Tom Hoyt, rock work; Sharon Howell, facilitator,  Paul McCallough, Earth Oven. 




Earth Ovens & Earth Plaster Workshops to train those who will teach others. i.e. Outdoor Education Programs, Community Gardens. 



Oversee design & construction of a small, natural Agricultural Outbuilding.  Teach Youth-at-Risk how to construct a chicken coop or garden shed, supported by an Urban Agricultural grant. Collaborator: Mike Zuberla, or a small outbuilding at the new Upland Hills Farm CSA.   



Youth Training Project: Earthworks Garden & Cappucio Soup Kitchen, Detroit, MI Collaborator: Janelle Palmer. 



Tall Trees Community Farm, White Lake, MI.  Coordinate a demo project: earth oven or tool shed.



Initiate & help organize a Regional Natural Building Gathering or Colloquium with the purpose of developing a Great Lakes Natural Building Network. Collaborator: Will Rex of Peaceweavers Conference Center.



Create an Advisory Board to guide and support SBS Educational Programming. 



Host Herb Workshops & presenters


Upland Hills CSA.  Potentially house their CSA Intern at the SBS land. 




Teach Teachers 



Develop a class to teach sustainability strategies to educators, supported by a grant from the Great lakes Strategic Initiative.  Collaborator: Carol Fink of the Kensington Farm Center.  EMU and IHM Motherhouse.



·Development of sustainability curriculum in collaboration with the Kensington Metropark educator, Carol Fink, Dr. Debbie Rowe, Upland Hills Learning Community, and other regional resources to provide natural building and sustainability education, through tours, hands-on training and educational programming to teachers, community leaders, groups and individuals for the purpose of promoting sustainable living practices in this region.





Brief 2009 Resume:


Deanne Bednar


PO Box 733


Oxford, MI 48371


248 628 1887





  • 30 year background in sustainability education.  1981 – present.



  • 12 year background in natural building hands-on training.  1996 – present.



  • Master’s Degree in Social Ecology. Project: building attached greenhouses low income houses. Masters Thesis: “Wholly Connected”: Drawing relationships between people, the planet, and empowerment.




  • 15 years of experience teaching a course on sustainability in the West Bloomfield School System, at the middle school level.  Developed an interactive small-group project, The Global Ecovillage, through which students collaboratively create a 3-D model of a sustainable local community. 



  • Natural building educator since 1996. I am a learning, a teacher and an illustrator of 3 books on natural building.  Co-Designer/builder of the Strawbale Studio, the Kensington Kid’s Cottage at the the Farm Center in the Kensington Metropark, Milford, MI, and other natural building projects.  Coordinator of the Strawbale Studio Natural Building & Sustainable Living Skills Education Program since 2003.  



  • Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center, (UHEAC) past Board member and Board President. 



  • Coordinator of 8 grants from the State of Michigan Energy Office for the UHEAC, the Detroit Green Map and the Strawbale Studio Program. 



  • Projects: Co-Initiator of the Detroit Green Map.  Illustrator of the World Pledge, coordinating artist for the Children’s Peace Quilt, and other collaborative art projects. Recipient of the Peace Educator’s Award from the Wayne State University, Department of Peace and Conflict Resolution.  Detroit, Michigan.









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