Friday, November 14, 2008

Natural Building Apprenticeship at Pun Pun Farm Thailand

Welcome to Northern Thailand! Here now, I am staying put for a couple of months to learn about organic farming and earthen adobe building. So far the place has been simply wonderful and new experiences have been walking into my life in all sorts of ways.

I am living in a simple bamboo hut with three very large spiders. This took a while to be comfortable with, but I now see them as my protectors from all the other bugs. My daily schedule starts with yoga every morning at 7am. It is a very mindful practice and a great way to wake my body and set an intention for the day. Then we have breakfast around 8am. For me this consists of fresh papaya and bananas and homemade soymilk with barley and brown sugar. We have two work sessions throughout the day, 9am-12noon, lunch, and 1:30-4:30pm, these are dedicated to gardening and building. We each have our own garden beds and will be learning about seed saving once they are grown. The building project is a two story house for Peggy and Jo, the founders of Pun Pun. It’s a really beautiful design including a main circular form and rectangular extensions of from that. We will doing all aspects of the project with few resources, so there is a lot too learn, even for the experienced builders like myself. Once a week we have an Appropriate Technology Practicum, where we’ve been split into different group to build projects around the farm including rainwater catchment, UV water filtration, solar hot water production and testing the effects of Bio-char on garden beds. An amazing amount of information and practical application! We have a bit of free time before dinner where we can go swimming in the village reservoir (twenty minute walk through the village Mai Jo) or grab a pineapple coconut shake at the You Sabai Cafe on the neighboring property. You Sabai is a beautiful, peaceful place to read, contemplate, or meet with friends with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and daily sunset. Lunch and dinner are always healthy and delicious, we usually have brown rice with a soup full of organic vegetables or sticky rice with a spicy thai sauce and raw vegetables to mix with it. This is by far the healthiest eating I’ll have ever had for a prolonged period of time. It feels great! The evenings we usually have free, but on Monday nights we watch movies, mostly documentaries of current global concerns (my favorite!) and on Tuesdays we have a discussion group on globalization or on food production. We have lots of reading to do in preparation for these discussions, but so far I have learned a lot from them. I had no idea this place was going to be so academic. Other evenings we have been blessed with festivals in the local community and parties for birthdays of the folks in our group. There is nothing better than a chocolate cake when you haven’t had any sweets for a week.

Most of what I am learning here is actually about living simply and finding inner peace, which I am grateful to be able to focus on at this point in my life. I’ll try to keep this blog focused on the natural building aspects of what we are doing, but if you’d like to see more about the other things going on at Pun Pun, I’ll be starting a blog for that too. Stay tuned. Enjoy the photos!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2009 Natural Building Colloquium

This year’s natural building colloquium was loads of fun! There was a great turn out of the full spectrum of builders from novice to very experienced and many who were leaders in activism and policy reform.

sky island

The site for this year's colloquium was Orella Ranch, a spectacular hilltop dropping off steeply into the Pacific Coast just north of Santa Barbara. Normally rented as a place for weddings, the facilities included one cob structure, a stage made from old wine barrels, a stone bar with concrete counter serving area, great camping and a prized lawn which we found many uses for. Just before the event we also built several bamboo structures to facilitate our presentation areas, bamboo showers, and several portable orchard toilets. ‘Sky Island’ as it became known, was an amazing place for our gathering of natural builders.

The hosts were also avid natural builders and environmentally concerned folks. And the thing that bothered them most about their business was that they always had to rent chemical port-a-potties for the weddings they would host. Naturally, with 70+ natural builders, we were able to conceive of a beautiful and functional way to deal with this problem. A Timberframe with six stalls was built by the owner and a ‘Watson Wick’ was built by Tom Watson himself to deal with 500 flushes per day. Then we were ready to have some fun, since each stall wall provided an opportunity to test a different wall system! These included various types of wattle and daub, light clay-straw, cob-mesh and more. The exterior walls were built using woven split bamboo and then plastering either side of the framework. In front of the structure we built a beautiful Manzanita privacy screen and hand washing area. I particularly enjoyed the end walls, because I got to try doing stained glass in a cob wall with out using lead—a technique I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I used cob rolled into tiny sausages to set each piece of glass and then pressed the mud around the edges of each piece. They turned out really good and I can only imagine where my new found art form will grow from here.

The most significant aspect of week however was not the building project, but the relationships and networking between the builders. I really started to feel my place in the community and how much each of our presences are needed in the movement. The support system that developed from this week alone is sure to carry me into the future and the projects of 2009 now feel totally do-able. Thank you all—you know who you are.