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Natural Building & Sustainable Arts.   




2008 Strawbale Studio NEWSLETTER

Add an activity you hear about . . . email ecoartdb@gmail.com to add to this newletter.





In Washington, Granholm presents renewable energy plan for Michigan . 2/2008


Governor Granholm Takes On Alternative Energy

In mid-November, 2007, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm embarked on

a nine-city tour, campaigning for Michigan to become a leader in the emerging

alternative energy industry. Visiting with existing businesses that are

involved in cutting-edge alternative energy work, she discussed with them and

others how she feels Michigan can foster further growth in the industry and

create jobs doing so. INTERVIEW:



GREEN DRINKS?  I just found out that two of my sustainability friends are part of "GREEN DRINKS" in Toledo, and in New Havens, CT. Have you heard about it?   Cool concept. Sounds like fun. 

Green Drinks International says, on their website


"Every month people who work in the environmental field meet up for a beer (or whatever. db) at informal sessions known as Green Drinks.  We have a lively mixture of people from NGOs, academia, government and business. Come along and you'll be made welcome. Just say, "are you green?" and we will look after you and introduce you to whoever is there. It's a great way of catching up with people you know and also for making new contacts. Everyone invites someone else along, so there‚Äôs always a different crowd, making Green Drinks an organic, self-organising network.

These events are very simple and unstructured, but many people have found employment, made friends, developed new ideas, done deals and had moments of serendipity. It's a force for the good and we'd like to help it spread to other cities. Contact your local node to get the latest info about coming along."  Why not start a Green Drinks in your neighborhood?


 2 minute Permaculture Video by instructor, Penny Livingston, GlobalOneness series.

This is an awesome, inspiring introduction to the principles of Permaculture.  Worth your time!


Earth Day EXPO  Saturday April 19, 2008 at Oakland University. Michigan's largest Earth Day Event!

Earth Day 2008 international website.

Sustainability Events .  Energy Fair, Green Building Workshops and more. 


Click here for calendar of 2008 Natural Building Events by the Strawbale Studio Program.


 Deanne's Journal





What about GMO's?

AM.  I share a dream about a room, a life, constantly guarding against Genetically Modified monsters who inhabit our spaces and constantly threaten us.  The room is bare.  One table.  No furniture.  All energy is spent in clustering, watching.  Oppressive, scary.


In the dream I come back into the room in a later time period. People are not afraid, the room has warmed. Where are the scary ones? "Self-terminated". They died out.  I am so relieved. 


Yesterday I talked and read about GMO's.  A friend said they didn't like when people were "alarmists" about GMO. I reply, "I am alarmed that people are not alarmed."


Today Amber Sez:  Re GMO's.  "Even though I don't know a lot about them... I know nobody does!" 

"Back when the artificial sweeteners came in, my whole family was excited about diet drinks and loosing weight.  Then 10 years later I hear about all the cancers and problems caused by it.  That made me think "maybe I'd better pay close attention because obviously those people aren't."  (the folks who are making testing, producing, advertising, consuming)


DB:  We are the first generation of the synthetic (sin-thetic?) experiment: the making of chemicals by recombining the molecules of nature (usually oil, ancient plants & animals) in new ways. These ways are not evolved over the generations, but since 1946 chemical labs have been bringing into our environment over 100,000 newly occurring substances, such as plastics, artificial foods, colors, flavors, fragrances.  Some are tested, some are not.  Certainly the infinite combinations have not been tested.  Our generation of humans, we are the guinea pigs. Are we o.k. with that? !


Can we stand outside the waters we swim in, and look at this situation with perspective? As humans it is natural to trust the "tribe" to tell us what is good and bad.   When our tribe was family and kin, mutual survival would have guided that process. Time and experience would have guided the process.   Now it is "corporations"  that tell us "what is good and bad".  Is trust deserved?  Does production motivated by "sales" and "profit" deserve our trust? Does synthetic production have the ability to be worthy of trust (unjudged by time)?


Should we claim our right to live in a world guided by life-affirming values? I we were to pay attention, where would our awarewness and values guide us?


Ecovillages in Michigan? Sharon Howell (a friend who is pursuing natural building and all things sustainable) calls.  She is  looking into Michigan ecovillages, Deep Lake, Manatou Arbor, and . . . . is researching an ecovillage forming around Mancelona, MI.  It is on the IC website.  Intentional Communities.  Buy timber and fieldstone from on the property, and lease the land for 50/renewable at currently $300 a year.  Would you have to live there year-round? 


Week of Feb 17, 2008

February 16 & 17, twelve University Students from MSU and OU came out to the Strawbale Studio to learn.  They arrived Saturday evening after a day of tour sustainability sites in the city of Detroit ... organic gardens, greenhouses, Avalon Bakery (organic flours).  Earl Worthington, organic gardener extrordinaire also came by for the Saturday evening activities. We gave a tour for those who hadn't seen the Strawbale Studio yet, and then the gang stayed overnight.  In the morning we were surprised to find freezing rain and ice.  So much for our plans to collect reed!  We re-grouped, and had a fantastic Earthen Plaster Workshop.  They learned to identify the correct soils, mix cob, do a cob toss, prepare the wall surface and apply Cob (the clay-sand-straw mix)!

By mid afternoon we had a new tree sculpted in the entry hall, and some additional sculpting done on a creative hall/doorway area.

They also mixed and applied an "adhesion coat" to a new surface, getting it ready for the next plastering adventure! 


These students are doing some awesome sustainability work . . . collaborating with the Strawbale Studio in Oxford, Tall Trees Community Farm in White Lake, and connecting up with others who are doing organic gardening, greenhouses and permaculture, ordering seeds together, assisting in putting up greenhouses for others.  Making Rain Barrels from recycled 50 gal drums. 

Several will get a Permaculture Certificate in May from the Midwest Permaculture Association.  The students are learning together,  shopping and cooking together, and practicing the art of community and they explore a variety of components of sustainability!  You Go!


250 reed bundles down, 150 to go! We are collecting reeds (phragmites) each day that we can.  Amber Weber, Intern leads the way with the Zen of Reed Collecting . . . her personal approach, making it an "art and meditation".  We need helpers.  We cut M-W and Saturday and also other dates.  Call to schedule a day!  248 628 1887 Deanne.


Natural Building Design for White Earth Reservation, MN.  We are making a preliminary sketch of a day care center made of natural building materials. Mike Neumann will present them to the reservation board in March, in hopes that this building will get constructed in 2008.



2/28/08 Meeting with Kensington Metropark Farm to design Natural Building Educational Displays for the Kensington Kids Cottage, so that each person that visits or tours the structure can learn the basics about the construction techniques: radiant slab floor, dead ash cut and sawed on site for the timber frame, thatched roof, strawbale and compressed earth block walls covered with earthen plasters and a wonderful mass bench.  This building will be a classroom for programing on sustainability! See photos of the Kensington Kids Cottage, located at the Farm Center in Kensington Metropark, outside Milford, MI.  This was a collaborative project by the Strawbale Studio, Raisin River Institute, the Metropark System and many others. We will begin with producing an informational trifold, and then do educational signs for the building and the area around the building. 



The Kensington Kid's Cottage Trifold draft has been sent to the Kensington Farm for approval, and Carol Fink and I met with Michelle from the Indian Springs Environmental Center, to see how future sustainability programing at the Kid's Cottage can meet the new Michigan Guidelines for Education.  Another woman who was teaching a class that day at the Center ran into Carol, and ended up staying for the meeting as well.  She is a younger person who is working in the Natural Resources Division of the Metropark system, and also leading tours of the Dana Building (Department of Natural Resources Building at University of Michigan, which underwent an impressive )"Green Renovation", which includes bamboo hardwood floors, daylighting, composting toilets and much more.  These sorts of projects and educational programs signal to me that as a culture we are turning a corner. We are moving sustainabilty into the mainstream as a consciousness and as a value.


Today Carol Fink called, and there is a fellow Jim doing a demonstration of native maple sugaring techniques.  He has an organic bakery in Royal Oak.  Such things were almost unheard of several years ago.


This month has seen a lot of activity here at the Strawbale Studio land ! 


We finished collecting the 400 bundles of reed needed to thatch the Oxford Kids Cottage.  Yahoo!  The bundles are beautifully present here, made into huge "tipi" of reed.  They are lovely to behold.  The tipi form allows hem to be stored for long periods of time.  The water just runs off the outer reed, and the inner bundles remain bright and dry.  Easy.  Thanks YOU to all the helpers who harvested reed this year: Intern Amber Weber, the Homeschooling Teens, the OU & MSU gang, Carol Fink, Monte Fowler who videoed the harvesting process, and many others!  


We had several earth plastering workshops this month, and local folks as well as a woman from Chicago enthusiastically learned to mix and sculpt with cob (clay/sand subsoil mixed with straw).  We expanded the current sculpting by the East Wing door, and built a new earth covered strawbale bench inside the East Wing, and a new "tree" in the entry hallway.  Fun. 


The Full Moon Potluck was especially musical this month.  Starting with Trevor, who brought out his ukulele, joined by others playing the guitar from here, and harmonizing.  Trevor just got the job posted by the IHM nuns of Monroe to manage their organic farm for this season! Congrats, Trevor!  The gang brought wonderful food, and after eating, the 14 or so of us spent some time around the campfire, and then in the Strawbale Studio around the wood stove. 


Folks are collaboratively ordering organic, heirloom seeds, and fruit bushes.  Earl, Fay & Terry of Tall Trees Community Farm, the OU and MSU students who are studying organic gardening and permaculture, Carolyn Koch and myself.  It feels good to be part of this "tribe", this community of people who love to grow things in an aware way! 


The Schedule has been made for the 2008 Natural Building Season at the Strawbale Studio and is being publicized !  It will be interesting to spend most of the year here, on this land, rather than being at Kensington Metropark Farm Center.  They are different experiences and I love them both.  The Kensington Kid's Cottage surroundings and programing continue to evolve, and I will have some part in that, but basically they are carrying the energy forward.  So Great! 



The "big event" of 2008 will be the construction of a new Start-to-Finish Kid's Cottage here on the land!  There will be a series of workshops spanning the spring and summer to teach natural building skills through this project.  By doing a small 8' x 10' building, we can learn many techniques in a short period of time. I seek to improve on the Strawbale Studio construction process. 


Foundation: My goal for the foundation is to minimize or eliminate cement, and incorporate natural, local insulation in the floor and the foundation wall. The foundation trench will go down below frost line (42 inches in this climate) and be filled with "rubble" (miscellaneous sized fieldstone rocks from the land).  Just below ground level (at "grade") we will start building a short wall about 12-14 inches high, which I am calling the "knee wall" or "stem wall".  We will utilize three different types of techniques into this knee wall (explained in detail below) thus making this a "hybrid knee wall system".  The north side will be round stones, the east and west sides will be made of "urbanite" and the south wall will be "dry-laid". 

Cement will be very, very minimized and used only for the north side of the foundation knee wall ~ a 10' long segment ~ which will use round stones from the land, that need the support of cement, since they are round! (Perhaps we will make our own "Roman Cement" like they did in the Cob Wall in Madison, Wisconsin.  (See the "Making a Cob Wall video by "Outta the Box")  This fieldstone wall will have a cavity which we intended to fill with zebra muscle shells which will serve as insulation to keep the heat of the cottage in, and the cold out!  Yes, Zebra Muscles, based on research done in Denmark with using Muscles as non-degradable insulation in floors! The east & west stem walls will be built with "urbanite", pieces of broken cement sidewalk that I picked up in Oxford Michigan: a section of sidewalk on a side street was being replaced, and the old broken pieces were no longer needed.  Thus this is "recycled cement".  The south-facing segment of the above-grade foundation will be "dry-laid".  This means that flat stone (which we are selectively harvesting from our primarily round fieldstone piles on the lan) will be stacked, with out any mortar, so that they are stable in themselves.  Then the spaces between the stones can be "chinked", filled in, with lime, gypsum or an earthen (cob) mix. By combining these three techniques into a "hybrid" foundation wall, a lot of skills will be taught, and we can gain experiential feedback as we see how the different systems perform.  I expect them all to do great, really.  They are all time-honored techniques, with the exception of the "urbanite", which is considered relatively long-lasting. 


Insulated floor:  We really missed this in the Strawbale Studio, so this time we have a design insulation strategy that should keep the floor and stem wall "wraped cozy" like a nest.  The top soil n the interior of the building and the subsoil will be removed down about 8 inches (this needs to be figured out more specifically).  On top of that will go rock, and then muscle shells.  These will serve as a capillary break so water doesn't wick up from the ground, and also as an insulative layer to some degree.  On top of that will be some "light clay" (straw or chopped phragmite coated with slip ~ a thick clay and water mix).  This strategy will be used on the floor, and also up the sides of the interior of the stem wall, creating a kind of "nest" of insulation.  The stones will not show on the inside, which will be an aesthetic loss, but stones can be shaped into the base of the earthen benches which will wrap around much of the interior anyway! 


Round Pole Framing:  My goal here is to have a roofing system that doesn't take 4 professional men and power tools to build.  What could a few people like me find, prepare and put up?  So this Oxford Kid's Cottage will be made from small trees on the land, with the bark taken off, and joined together by some simple notching (not fancy, beautiful timber framing) and some drilled holes and bolts for pinning.  We will also do lashing with rawhide in some non-load bearing areas to gain more experience with how that performs over time.  Round pole framing is completely compatible with thatch which does not require a flat surface like asphalt shinges or a metal roof might need.  Thatch simply flows over these variations in shape, naturally.


Design:  What would people likely build?  A gable roof rectangular building.  How can we keep it simple, but still have it be totally enchanting?  Through some small modifications, like rounded interior benches, and by having an interesting, flowing roof line, which is totally possible with thatching and round poles!  What about solar orientation?  have lots of south facing windows, and lift the southern roof eaves a bit to let in more light, and drop the north eaves a bit, like a Shaker New England design. There needs to be about 1 sq foot of glazing (glass window) for every 8 square feet of floor space in the building ( Deb Rowe sez) This will be an easy ratio to accomplish in this small building. 


Thatching: I still am totally in love with thatched roofs, so that aspect will certainly stay in our design.  But since it is going to be a gable roof this time ( two slanted side meet at the top, our average, typical roof) this will mean that the thatching will be a little different than on the hip roof (all four sides slant in) where the thatching just wraps around the building and keeps going.  Instead we will have to do a special application of reed to protect the edges of the roof.  The reason I have chosen this design is because most people will probably not construct a hip roof, and also the gable roof allows for windows up in the gable, which will be sweet for a little sleeping loft.  We may try a different type of ridge application (cattails), or stick with the "butt up" technique using Phragmite reed grass.  This is not easy to put in words, so I won't try.  Come to the workshop on thatching! 



The Strawbale Studio will have Exhibits  & Hands-on Earth Activity at several fairs in 2008, starting with the Earth Day Expo at Oakland University, Auburn HIlls, MI, followed by th Kensington Spring Fair, in Milford, MI. the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Conference in Manestique, MI, The Natural Building Colloquium East, Bath, NY, and our very special Great Lakes Bioneers, Detroit !

See the Calendar for dates &  links to these events. These will all be wonderful gatherings of people who are moving towards a culture of restoration and sustainability!  I hope you can bring your energy to them! 


Other 2008 building and sustainability projects on the land will be: 


Retrofitting of the Strawbale Studio floor to create a radiant floor where water, heated to about 110 degrees by the wood stove in the studio, will flow through the mass of the floor, heating it up, and putting the "heat by the feet". We may or may not get the funding to buy the electronics, storage tanks and new wood stove needed to put this sytem up and running, but we WILL put  the pex (PolyEthalene) tubes in the floor at both levels, and in the benches at the lower level, so that WHEN WE GET THE FUNDING, the floor will be ready to hook up and we can start being really comfortable in that building which is so tall, with so much thermal mass. Wanna help?  Can you "dig it"? (help with digging out the old earth floor, etc.) Do you have any ideas for getting the funding (probably about $2500 or so) to make the system functional? 


Greenhouse & Permaculture development. The greenhouse will probably go up in the spring and we are working on our zone one and two beds, as well as continuing to forage on the land. 


Rain Barrels.  4 previously-used plastic 50 gallon barrels (from Coca Cola) will be converted to rainbarrels by a simple proceedure of adding some holes and faucets.  The Rain Barrels will be hooked up to the gutter system and be "phase one" of integrating the rainwater from this huge roof of the main house, into the Permature aspects being created around the house.  Jerod B. from OU is championing this, as well as the Great Lakes Green Initiative and other organizations.  It is one of those simple uses of natural local resources.  Cool.


March 30, 2008 Phone conversation with Jared, university student, about real vs virtual life .

March 30, 2008 Phone Conversation with Jared, university student about real vs virtual life



2008 Activities: Workshops, internships and worktrade opportunities:

  • Oxford Kids's Cottage plans are underway for a season of natural building ~ creating a start-to-finish at the Strawbale Studio Land. 
  • Teen Build.   A group of homeschooling teenagers come together each week on the land to explore natural building and sustainability. 
  • WORKTRADE opportunity. 


    ingSustainableArts.Natural Building & Sustainable Arts.

Upcoming Natural Building Exhibits & hands-on Activities by the Strawbale Studio Program:


  • Sept. 13 & 14 2008              Enchanting Spaces Sustainability Weekend  at the Oxford Kid's Cottage and Strawbale Studio
  • Sept. 15          2008             Full Moon Bonfire & Potluck, Monday, 6 - 9 pm, Oxford, MI
  • Sept. 24          2008             Natural Building Tour & Video Evening at the main house, Oxford Kid's Cottage & Strawbale Studio
  • Fall                  2008             Check this website for Fall & Winter workshops, or call to set up an event for your group.
  • October 19-21                     Attend the Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit ~ Sustainability Conference !  SBS will be exhibiting there.




Archived Events:



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