Sunday, October 21, 2012

Earthineer Day at Blue Rock Station

Andrea and I recently had the opportunity to visit Blue Rock Station, near Philo Ohio. We had been planning to visit for some time, so were very excited when it was announced that the owners, Annie and Jay Warmke, were hosting an "Earthineer Day" for members of the Earthineer community.

Our day began with a 7 hour drive, which left us arriving about an hour later than we had hoped. Most of the group had already arrived by the time we made it, although fortunately we hadn't missed anything other than conversation. After a quick introduction, and a briefing on the privy, the tour began.

The center piece of the tour is the 2200 square foot Earthship, which serves as the Warmke's home. This was my first visit to an Earthship, so I was very excited. I felt very at home inside the Earthship. I can't quite describe the sensation, but it just felt right. In fact, the Earthship felt much more homey, to me, than most traditional stick-frame houses. In addition to the Earthship itself there were several other interesting features, including the rocket stove, sun room with brick floor, and a large larder.

Several other structures were also featured on the tour. Since the Warmke's offer regular straw bale construction workshops, there are many small buildings throughout the grounds. Some of these buildings are used as sleeping quarters, either for the interns or for overnight visitors. There is also a summer kitchen, shed, barn, and shelter for the animals.

In addition to the many buildings on the site, there is also plenty to see for those interested in animals and plants. The animals of Blue Rock Station include chickens, llamas, goats, dogs, and cats. The small patch of willows, the wetland garden, and raised strawberry beds are among the plant life of the farm. We didn't spend much time discussing either of these topics, but I am sure that either Annie or Jay would have been happy to go into more details had we asked.

After the tour we took part in a group exercise during which we helped to fill in a living roof with soil. The exercise clearly illustrated how much a group of people working together can accomplish. We had two people filling coffee cans with dirt, a line of 4 people passing them from the dirt pile to the ladder, one person on the ladder, and two on the roof spreading the dirt. I'm not sure how long we worked, but the roof was covered in a surprisingly short period of time. Not only did the work go quickly, but, with so many people doing different jobs, there was ample opportunity to switch positions in the line in order to get a break. It seems that the benefits of being part of a community is a subject that keeps coming up. Its becoming clear to me that, while it may be possible to build a homestead alone, it is certainly not the most efficient way to do it.

After the group exercise we made our way back to the Earthship and ate. The meal was a pot-luck, so Andrea had made some homemade bread as our contribution. In addition to the bread she took some herb butter, garlic butter, basil oil, and herb oil. The arrangement looked very nice, presented in a basket she made, which was lined and covered with towels on which she had embroidered flowers. The bread seemed to be a big hit, and I had to brag on her presentation just a bit.

 After the meal we were able to just sit around and talk or explore the grounds. We did explore a bit, but mostly just enjoyed visiting with the others. Topics of conversation covered many subjects, such as renewable energy, beekeeping, raising goats, and raw-feeding of dogs and cats.

Before leaving Andrea and I looked at the various books that the Warmke's have written and ended up buying four booklets: Building a Tire Foundation, Building a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse, Building a Vaulted Straw Bale Wall, and Restoring Health to Cats and Dogs. I had wanted to buy the book on building tire foundations for a while, but had been waiting until we visited to avoid the shipping. I was able to not only buy the booklet, but also see an in-progress wall being constructed of rammed earth tires.

Even after several days of reflection, I can't decide what my favorite part of the visit was. I enjoyed meeting several fellow-Earthineers that I had not met before, as well as getting to chat with a couple that I had previously met. I really liked getting to see the Earthship, and other buildings, first hand. The straw bale privy was interesting, as it was my first experience with a composting toilet. I also left Blue Rock Station with several ideas that I want to consider implementing here at home.

One of the first of these ideas was the self-watering system that the Warmke's use for the animals. They  collect rainwater from the roofs of the animals' shelter, which gets stored in barrels. These barrels are connected to watering containers, so that, as long as there is water in the barrels, there is water available for the animals to drink. I can see this being a real time saver, and is the type of efficiency we need to keep in mind. I was also very interested in the vaulted straw bale cabin. I've looked into straw bale building before, and we actually plan to experiment in the future with a small straw bale structure. I had never seen a vaulted straw bale building, though. I can see some distinct advantages to the design, especially in a small structure. I look forward to reading the book on the topic that I picked up. One idea that I saw at Blue Rock Station, which I had already been considering, was the use of the exhaust from the rocket stove to heat a nearby bench. The idea is that a bench, or bed, can be built of material that serves as thermal mass, such as stone, concrete or cob, which will store the heat from the stove. By running the exhaust from the stove, through the bench itself, even more heat can be collected, making it one of the warmest spots in the house, even when the fire is not burning. Another idea, which Andrea and I both liked, was the covered deck, which wasn't connected to the house. We always picture a deck as being a physical extension of the home, but after our visit to Blue Rock Station we realize that isn't actually necessary. The deck was close enough to the home to be convenient, but by being separated was able to have a much nicer view.

I look forward to visiting Blue Rock Station again in the future. I hope that we have the opportunity to attend one of their Green Skill-Building Workshops at some point. I may eventually attend one of their straw bale workshops as well, especially if we ever decide to build more than a small structure from straw bales. For anyone in the area, I can't recommend a visit to Blue Rock Station enough. I found our visit to be very inspiring, and left with several ideas and increased motivation to continue down the path to increased sustainability.

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