By: Amanda Garratt

Today I woke up with extremely sore calf muscles. Not having run, or done any form of exercise in at least a month, except for some mild yoga, I was a bit alarmed. Then it dawned on me…I’ve been an adobe-stomping-maniac-woman for the past two days!

I just finished my first week of a 5-month Natural Building School, hosted by Kleiwerks International and Ashevillage in Asheville, NC, and not only am I learning a lot and having a lot of fun doing it, it’s also giving me fantastically-sculpted leg muscles!

Except for a stone wall I made as a WWOOFer in Spain, (one of my proudest accomplishments), and some constructions with plastic bottles (eco-bricks), this is my first time learning about natural building, or even building for that matter. So why did I decide to launch headfirst into a five month school?

Eco Bricks

Building with Eco-Bricks

Well, I have been working in the Peruvian Amazon for the last four years, working with indigenous people in waste management, environmental justice and permaculture. Even the Amazon rainforest is not immune from plastic and packaging. As Western influence grows and forests become more and more degraded, indigenous people are relying on packaged goods, and with no waste management services or knowledge of non-biodegradable waste management, these communities are quickly filling up with trash. One technique we are employing to minimize waste is “Eco-Bricks”, plastic bottles filled with non-recyclable plastic trash used as “bricks” in construction projects. 

Traditionally, indigenous housing in the Amazon used wood flooring, leaf roofing, and natural vines for binding. However, with deforestation, it is becoming harder and harder to gather these resources, and indigenous people are beginning to use tin roofing, cement and other non-indigenous forms of building methods, which cost money that they don’t have and create further waste. By using eco-bricks, we can use free, locally occurring materials for construction, while also minimizing the waste problem. However, we have been using cement for these constructions.

Cement is a big problem in the Amazon. Cement is a major way for regional and local governments to launder money, and they use a TON of it.  The majority of government expenses seem to be in infrastructure. They like to build big schools out of cement, but not supply any books or adequate teachers, or spend millions of soles to build unneeded roads, while their constituency goes hungry.


Ashevillage Institute

As I was researching different building methods for our constructions, I found Ashevillage Institute and Kleiwerks International’s website, and I was instantly hooked. Pucallpa, where I live, means “red earth” in Quechua. Why not learn how to use this naturally-occurring clay for building, and reduce dependency on cement and trees? So I uprooted from Peru and just got to Asheville about a week ago.  Asheville is a MARVELOUS town, and once I get to know it a bit more, I will write a blog about it to entice some of you to come and visit.

The school is run through Ashevillage Institute, and takes place at their headquarters on just one acre, but it is amazing what they have been able to do on that one acre. There are beautiful gardens and vegetation, an aquaponic system, and natural buildings that provide a great learning environment.

The school happens Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and while I’ve only been there three days, I feel like I’ve learned so much. We are a group of 10 students, all of different backgrounds and ages, but with a common interest: mud! Our main instructor, Steveo Brodmerkel, is a brilliant, hands-on builder, who teaches through doing —  the best way to learn.

adobe making

Making Adobe Bricks

After the third day, we have already made over 100 adobe bricks, learned how to test soils, learned the difference between pier foundations and perimeter footing foundations and the pros and cons of each, and on top of all of that, have come together as a cohesive team  (it’s amazing how quickly mud can bring people together)!

Over the next five months, we will be building two distinct buildings, and through this, get hands-on knowledge about different natural wall, flooring and roof systems, natural finishes, sculptural details, passive solar design, carpentry, and much more! It’s such a great group of students and instructors on a beautiful site in an amazing city. I’m so excited and grateful for this opportunity, and excited to keep all of you posted throughout the journey! (not to mention, looking forward to my new muscles!)

Mud love!

Kleiwerks International and Ashevillage Institute will be hosting a 9-day Natural Building Extravaganza from August 9-18, offering 20 hands-on workshops on all things natural building. There is still space available, so sign up now! 

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