When Building with Straw, Beware of Pigs with Strong Lungs

Sorry to have been off-line for so long, but AT&T has no service where Mary Anne and I attended a week-long workshop on straw bale building techniques. Blue Rock Station is Jay and Annie Warmke’s home and farm (llamas, goats, chickens, fruits and veggies, but no longer any pigs!) in rural eastern Ohio. They, plus instructor Aaron and summer interns Michelle and Jina, had us working on multiple phases of three current building projects. We learned very hands-on about rammed earth foundations using old tires, framing with straw bales, sealing with cob and lime plaster finish coats, plus the nice artistic touches of glass bottle widows, built-in shelving, and using broken ceramics to create mosaics. We got very dirty and very tired, but had a great time! We learned a lot, and met many wonderful people (staff and fellow attendees) who are likely to become long-time friends!

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Perhaps, not so surprisingly, Jay and I share a passion for solar energy. He’s the current vice-president of Green Energy Ohio, who I had just learned about last month at the ASES conference. More surprisingly, it turns out Jay was previously the executive director of BICSI, so we had good time reminiscing on the heydays of the telecom industry. Then about 13 years ago Jay and Annie decided to “chuck the whole corporate way-of-life” and moved to Europe for 3 years. They then decided to return to their roots in rural Ohio, where they had previously purchased their dream property: a 38 acre abandoned farm and ex-logging camp on a south facing ridge overlooking a beautiful aspen-oak-maple forest valley. They built their earthship home themselves, and have been farming, writing books and teaching to spread the word to others ever since. Their message is much more than about straw bales or green building techniques. It’s about living sustainably while living richly (and without much money). A great life lesson, especially for me, with my recent exit from nearly 30 years of corporate life and currently searching for my best path forward — Argh! That’s definitely corporate-speak, so I guess I’m not fully weaned as yet!

Thanks to all! – Jack

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