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BC Students ''Dig'' Sustainability

Their shirts spattered with mud and hands caked with earthen plaster, several students had a chance to learn natural building techniques on October 7. With Campus Sustainability Month in full swing, there are numerous opportunities for students to learn new information as well as get their hands dirty.

Students participate in a natural building workshop for Campus Sustainability Month.

One of the events coordinated for Campus Sustainability Month was a natural plaster workshop taught by Philip Hawn and Jessa Turner. Turner interned at Yestermorrow School in Vermont during the summer, where she learned plastering and other skills. Hawn teaches natural building workshops as part of his labor position, having taught five workshops last spring and two over the summer.

"We attempt to provide an environment where participants have the opportunity to get their hands dirty from start to finish in the techniques being taught," said Hawn. "There are no secrets, we share all."

Ten people participated in the workshop, and many passersby stopped to watch the and ask questions. "It tends to draw a crowd," said Hawn. The workshop took place in the Ecovillage, and participants worked to plaster the walls of the solar shed next to the SENS House. The solar shed's main educational purpose is to act as a demonstration building for natural building techniques, and is currently going through its third transformation. Once the walls are complete, benches will be placed around the interior and the space will be used as a conference/meeting room for the community.

On the day of the workshop, the walls on the solar shed were plastered using a combination of earthen plaster base coats topped with lime and sand plasters to provide durability and water resistance. Because the plaster is not waterproof, water vapor can pass through and help keep the earthen walls under the plaster healthy and living.

"Earthen plasters have a long history in building," said Hawn. "It has only been since the industrial age that manufactured plasters came into vogue. Prior to that era, most plasters were mixed and applied by hand, often using horse hair as the fiber to prevent cracking."

"It's fun, being able to play with the mud and smooth it on," said Ben Trute, a senior technology management major and agricultural minor. He joked, "If I was able to, I would just drop my senior year and do this instead."

When asked his reason for being at the workshop, Trute said, "When I graduate, I'm interested in rural development I think this kind of construction offers safer, more affordable housing than current options."

"There's not a lot of places to get quality instruction in [natural building]," said Elizabeth Nolan, a senior SENS major. Berea has offered a rare opportunity to learn a variety of natural building techniques through a series of workshops offered this past spring and summer, for which this workshop acts as capstone.

But why is natural building so important?

"The limited amount of processing that goes into our materials makes them a sustainable alternative to the energy intensive materials used in modern building," said Hawn. "[For] example, the cement industry is responsible for as much as 25% of the carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere by the United States each year. That is a lot of pollution that could be avoided by simply using the materials at hand at the building site."

"That's the best thing about natural building," Turner remarked to the workshop participants. "You work with what you've got."

Taking place on the same day as the workshop was the National Solar Tour in Kentucky, which visited 6 solar-powered homes and businesses, four of which were in Berea. The SENS House received many tour visitors, both larger groups on bus tours and smaller groups that chose to explore the tour sites themselves. In addition to the solar features, visitors were shown aspects of the house that help promote sustainability, such as skylights. More information about the Solar Tour can be found here.

Upcoming activities for Campus Sustainability Month include:

10/18: A showing of "An Inconvenient Truth" on 7:30pm in the Science Building (room 106)
10/19: A free tour of the Ecovillage from 1:30 to 3:30pm. (Meet at Commons house.)
10/21: A free tour of the Ecovillage from 10:30 to 12:30pm. (Meet at Commons house.)
10/22: Swap Shop in Ecovillage Commons house, 3 to 4:30pm.
10/22: SENS House Open House and free dinner, 6 to 8pm.

For more information about these and other CSM activities, contact Megan Naseman at

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