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Affordable, Sustainable Building Inspires at the Annual California Straw Bale Convention

It was Canelo Project Founders Bill and Athena Steen who first introduced us to the enchanting world of straw bale construction and natural plasters. We learned that, if done right, straw bale can be the most insulating, economical, and least labor intensive method of building—and it can even sequester carbon, meaning that straw bales actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, whereas other building materials are carbon emitters.

Emily Niehaus is founding director of Community Rebuilds, a nonprofit in Moab, Utah), that provides a platform for educating natural builders. To date, Community Rebuilds (CR) has built 28 strawbale homes, and the organization has proven that affordable housing can also be sustainable (they build homes for $70/sqft—half the standard cost of construction in a region where housing and land costs are high). CR also offers its program to students for free—they only ask for your hard work, sweat, and dedication in return. Learn more about Community Rebuilds here : https://www.communityrebuilds.org

Emily Niehaus, the founding director of Community Rebuilds, is also the mayor of Moab, Utah.

It was a weekend full of presentations, demonstrations, and old-fashioned networking. It was also a celebration of badass women in natural building: architects, designers, builders, master plasterers—we left with a feeling of glee for all the females we’ve learned to look up to in the sustainable building movement. Michelle from Boa Constructor (Santa Cruz, California), Erica from Day One Design (Eugene, Oregon), and Rebecca Tasker from Simple Construct (San Diego, California) were just a few of the female contractors that inspired us over the course of the weekend. These women, along with those we have worked with for the past few years (Mary

Rosas, Athena Steen, Heather Konz, Jen Weibel, etc.), have shaped a powerful movement for women in natural building.


Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria, California provided a breathtaking backdrop for our weekend of presentations.

Through the looking glass...

“Oh, didn’t see you there!”

It has been incredibly encouraging to meet so many wonderful people in the straw bale field: structural engineers who are working hard to gather data about sustainable design, women who are proving that construction is not just a man’s business, and everyone else, all of them working to make natural building more accessible. The CASBA conference was but one more step on Solstead’s journey, but it was doubtlessly an important one.. We look forward to applying the new insights and knowledge gleaned there to our networking and educational efforts in the near future!

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