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The Abundant Edge
47 minutes | Dec 27, 2019
Checking in with Granja Tz'ikin and the season finale, with Neal Hegarty: 144
Here we are! The end of 2019 and season three of this podcast. For those of you who’ve been following this show for a while you know that I went through a lot of big changes this year, most notably a big move from the permaculture farm startup that I worked on for for about 16 months in Guatemala. From there I took some big trips through southern Mexico and the US and a bit in Canada to where I finally settled down in the Catalonia region of north easthern Spain. Though I live really far away from where I started the year, I thought it’d be a good chance here at the end of the season to check in with Neal Hegarty, the co-owner of Granja Tz’ikin in Guatemala, where this year began for me, to see how things have progressed and developed since I moved away. I know a lot of you followed along on our journey through the regenerative round table sessions of last season as we planned and started building out the design for the farm, so hearing how the design is starting to mature should be a good update. In this interview Neal fills me in on how the animal enterprises that were just taking shape while I was there are becoming more consistent and regimented and how they feed the other enterprises on the farm like the cafe/restaurant, the permaculture courses, the development of the hostel space and much more. They’ve also made some important alliances in their community and around Guatemala that are helping them reach more people in their village in their goal to facilitate a better market for high quality local farm products and a better price for wholesale goods. We also talk about some of the promising big design projects that Neal is taking on which have the potential to regenerate large acreage of damaged land in some of the most biodiverse regions of Peten in the north of the country. As I mentioned, this episode wraps it up for season 3. 2019 was a really major year for me personally and for the audience of this podcast. Together with you listening we more than doubled the subscribers to this show and I got so much beautiful and heartfelt feedback from so many of you that it really renewed my faith that this show is bringing the information and the inspiration that many of you are looking for. So thank you sincerely to everyone who has supported this show and sent feedback this year. Thanks to New Society Publishers especially for their collaboration and support and for making it possible to provide this content without any long pleas for patreon donations. Being able to advocate for an organization with integrity and strong ethics means the world to me. Season 4 of The Abundant Edge podcast will kick off strong again with brand new episodes starting on February 7th but stay tuned because I’ll be reposting the most popular shows from this last year again until I return.
65 minutes | Dec 20, 2019
Turn your orchard into a resilient ecosystem with these steps! From Stefan Sobkowiak of Miracle Farms: 143
We’ve covered so many different ways to approach reforestation, both with native species and mixes of natives and orchard trees. In today’s session, Oliver wanted to focus on fruit orchards and he got to speak with the wizard behind Miracle Farms and the film, “The Permaculture Orchard” Stefan Sobkowiak. Oliver has been a fan of Stefan’s work for a while and he has spent a lot of time on his excellent youtube channel where he offers tons of tutorials and solutions to practical aspects of managing a whole ecosystem around his orchard enterprise. In this interview we break it all down from the beginning, from how Stefan began to look for land in the challenging climate of Canada all through his great advice for how to get started from selecting species, building soil, propagating trees and growing from there. We also go into how Stefan leverages nature’s tools to create a healthy and balanced ecosystem that not only brings more resilience to the operation but helps to reduce labor and external inputs. Towards the end we also unpack some invaluable advice on how to make meaningful money through innovative marketing strategies so you can make a respectable living on a modest amount of land. We cover a really wide range of topics and Stefan really knows his stuff so don’t forget to check out the links in the show notes for this episode and maybe even keep a notebook around for good measure.
50 minutes | Dec 13, 2019
Why forests are key to the future of agriculture, with Darren Doherty, co-author of the Regrarian's Handbook: 142
The last time I caught up with Darren Doherty for this podcast was back in season two. We talked a lot about his background and entry into ecological agriculture and how that journey informed his development of the Regrarian’s platform and outlook on the potential of regenerative farming. I recently caught up with him again to investigate the new chapter of the Regrarian’s handbook which he and his team just released. Chapter 5 of the 10 in the book which are being relseased one by one in digital format on their website focuses on forests and all the configurations that they come in. Since I’ve covered many of the first few topics from the chapter in other episodes in this ongoing series on reforestation and agroforestry I wanted to get Darren’s take on specific management techniques in a commercially productive woody perennial system. This covers more than just trees and includes plants of that classification at nearly every level of a forest ecology such as bushes and understory crops. In this interview we start by going over the three main techniques for managing established woody species which are pruning, thinning, and coppicing as well as the incredible amount of things you can accomplish if you understand how to use them effectively. From there we look into harvesting from all the different major types of yields and balancing the need to incorporate efficiency into your system while maintaining a healthy ecosystem that wants more diversity and organic patterning. We also talk about how to mitigate the initial cost of establishing tree and perennial plants by using upcycled and salvaged materials to start sprouting trees quickly and cheaply right away. By the end Darren also touches on the importance of intervention in our landscapes to more effectively manage wildfires and fire prone areas. Before we get started I’ll just point out that the interview starts really abruptly because I lost the beginning of the audio with the introductions and pleasantries. Try as I might after 3 season of producing this show I’m still a complete amatuer with audio software so forgive me for another awkward start to this session. The good news is that it all goes smoothly after the start. If any of you want hear more about Darren’s background and journey to become the world renowned regenerative farm designer and educator that he is, I highly recommend the first interview we did for this show back in season two. I’ve put a link to that show as well as all his other resources in the show notes for this episode at abundantedge.com
46 minutes | Nov 29, 2019
A strategy for a global shift to perennial agriculture, with Professor Peter Kahn from Rutgers University: 140
In all the research I’ve been doing for this ongoing series on reforestation and agroforestry I’ve struggled to find any reports or serious articles that outline the potential steps to transition the world’s agricultural model on a large scale from one that’s based on annual crops and the intensive cultivation that they require to one based on perennial crops. The advantages are obvious, from a decrease in soil disturbance and fertilization due to the natural cycles that keep roots in the ground and hold soils in place against erosion, to increases in biodiversity and animal habitat. The list goes on and on, and though many people have advocated for this switch, I couldn’t find any longer term strategy until I came across an article called “Investing in Perennial Crops to Sustainably Feed the World” which was co-authored by my guest today, Peter Kahn. Peter is a tenured professor of Biochemistry at Rutgers University who became interested in the potential of perennial crops from speaking with a colleague of his who was studying this topic. We cover a lot of ground in a short time in this interview. Peter starts by explaining how every previous society throughout history that has relied on annual grain production as their primary food source has collapsed, and how up until now we’ve avoided that fate by exploiting the great carbon stores of the earth in the form of petroleum in order to compensate for the damage we’ve been doing to our ecology. We move from there to the already proven methods of perennial cultivation that could be expanded to start to replace the annual grains we now rely on. Peter also breaks down some of the steps proposed in the article on how international organizations and alliances would need to be fostered to promote new cultivation methods and also to develop perennial grain replacements for the short term transition. We also get into the tough questions of breaking down the exploitative economic and political structures that have given us the extractive industrial models that rule the agricultural landscape and some of the existential issues that we need to grapple with before real change in our society can be accomplished. It was really encouraging for me to see that serious academics are starting to explore the strategies towards a global transition towards regenerative agriculture and how the revival of forest ecosystems is included in that strategy. There’s obviously a long road ahead, but the increasing awareness of the urgency of this transition is a good sign that respect and value for the earth that we all depend on is increasing. I’ve included a link to the article that we discuss in the show notes for this episode so you can take a look for yourself and decide if the plan outlined by these professors seems feasible or if there are pieces missing. If you have alternative ideas or ways to expand on the plan in the article, I would love to hear your ideas. You can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave comments for this episode on the website.
61 minutes | Nov 22, 2019
How your web searches can help reforest the world, with Pieter Van Midwoud, lead tree planting officer at Ecosia: 139
Continuing with this series on reforestation and agroforestry, I got the chance to speak with Pieter Van Midwoud, the lead tree planting officer of the search engine company Ecosia. I’ve been using Ecosia as my default search engine for a couple years now because of their claim to plant trees around the world with the profits from ad revenue every time you search, but I wanted to know more about how their tree planting initiatives actually work. In this interview Pieter and I start by talking about how Ecosia as a company functions and how the simple act of searching the web with their service can support reforestation initiatives around the world. We then go into detail about how funding is distributed and how Pieter and his team vet different partner organizations that they support. He also unpacks some of the difficult and often unknown risks behind poorly planned and executed tree planting projects, the difference between tree plantations and healthy forests, the importance of promoting biodiversity, the social aspects that determine the success of new forests and much more. We even get into the indirect ways of supporting native reforestation without ever planting a tree by protecting damaged landscapes and creating the conditions for forests to reseed themselves on their own. I was really impressed with the holistic and context based approach to ecological regeneration that Ecosia has. After researching many different reforestation initiatives for this series I found very few organizations that address the needs of local communities and biodiversity over arbitrary numbers and targets for success, especially following up on the success or failure of a project and publishing the results transparently. I’ve included a few extra links in the show notes for this episode that examine and analyze Ecosia’s model and the accountability of their projects. As always you kind find all of them at Abundantedge.com.
49 minutes | Nov 15, 2019
Alley cropping as a remedy for slash and burn agriculture with James Potter from the Indga Foundation: 138
The first three interviews in this ongoing series on reforestation and agroforestry have highlighted small personal projects on private land, each with a different person in south or mesoamerica whose primary motivations are to restore the forests and biodiversity of their land. In all three cases producing a viable agricultural product was an important aspect of the project and one which brought in funds to keep the operation running, but profitable agriculture wasn’t the primary goal for any of them. In this interview I spoke with James Potter with the Inga foundation who talked with me about the work and project model of the foundation. In my own travels I’ve seen a lot of slash and burn agriculture all over the world from the rice paddies of the Philippines, the coffee plantations and corn fields of Guatemala to cattle ranching in Mexico and clearings for new palm oil plantations in Thailand and Malaysia. It used to baffle me that such a strategy for land management could still persist in this day and age. A lot of what I’ve tried to learn about in my time in those places centered around how people farmed and managed fertility on their parcels. In my talk with James he helps to explain the origins and motivations for slash and burn farming and the impact it has on the soil as well as the economics for the people who practice it. From there we talk about the Inga Foundation’s unique approach to integrating inga trees and all of their beneficial properties into the farming strategy for people who are used to burning their land in between crop seasons. We also look into the pilot projects they’ve helped to create and the results of the implementation of this method over time. James also helps to unpack the common challenge of the transition period between the maturation of longer term perennial species where yields might be too low for subsistence farmers to sustain themselves. While I remain wary of any plan that promotes a standardized approach across many different contexts, I’ve been impressed by some of the fundamental challenges that this alley cropping solution presents for helping farmers transition into practices that take much better care of the soil and biodiversity of their land in the process. This is an episode that I would love to hear opinions and feedback from any of you listening. Especially if you have personal experience working with alley cropping systems and intercropping within orchards or other tree plantations. Does the division work against the efficiency of the farm? Can the trees develop to a point where they shade out the crops in the alleys? How much diversity is beneficial for the trees and crops selected and at what point do they start to compete for resources like light and nutrients in the soil? As always you can leave comments on the website or email me directly at email@example.com.
77 minutes | Nov 8, 2019
Restoring degraded land to agro-cloud-forest with Kristen Krash of Sueño de Vida: 137
I was first introduced to Kristen Krash through Atulya Bingham, the well known author and natural builder who’s been on this show a few time. She told me about this incredible little project in Ecuador focused on regenerating the native cloud forest and off-grid living, and that I had to speak with Kristen about her journey. When I got to chat with Kristen I was amazed at how well she knew her bioregion and the experience she could speak from about getting her dream project off the ground with her partner in the last few years. Three short years ago Kristen and her partner Juan bought a degraded piece of land that she describes as a green desert, because though it was covered in non-native pasture grasses, the original tropical forest had been logged and was struggling to grow back. They called their project Sueño de Vida and set out with the goal of turning it into a nature reserve, permaculture farm, natural building project, and education center dedicated to forest restoration and sustainable living. In this interview Kristen gives a remarkably well informed explanation of how the industries in her area have left damaged ecosystems in their wake and the challenges of trying to restore them. She and I talk about the similarities and hilarious mishaps that we’ve both experienced with our respective projects and getting them off the ground with limited time and resources. She also walks me through the evolution and stages of their reforestation plan and some of the experiments they’ve done and the sites they’ve observed around them to help them move forward. She also gives great advice for people who are interested in starting this kind of lifestyle and how to plan for an off-grid transition. Before we get started, if you want to know more about similar projects to this one, check out the previous episodes from this series on reforestation and agroforestry. I’ve got great interviews from Jairo Rodriguez in southern Mexico and Alex Kronick, a good friend of mine from Guatemala who are both working to regenerate the tropical forests in their area through different techniques and resources. The three of these interviews are meant to be something of a trilogy of relatively small size private land projects dedicated to a mixture of native forest regeneration as well as ecotourism and minor farming for economic viability in the tropics. All three have a lot in common, but with different approaches to reach their goals. You can find links to all these episodes on the website at abundantedge.com
63 minutes | Nov 1, 2019
Regenerating native forests on a large scale with Alex Kronick of Caoba Farms: 136
I’ve been so fortunate to get to speak directly with so many people who have created incredible examples of permaculture abundance and ecological health and resilience through this podcast, and though I’ve also gotten to visit many permaculture projects and practitioners, many of the ones I’ve seen in person are either just in the early stages of getting off the ground, or haven’t quite found their balance between financial and ecological prosperity. The best examples that I’ve seen in person are the projects that Alex Kronick and his team have managed in the area around Antigua Guatemala, namely Caoba Farms and his new project in Paramos. Now back in season 2, Neal Hegarty who I used to work with on the Granja Tzikin project interviewed Alex in an interview we called “The Most Impressive Permaculturalist You’ve Never Heard of.” Since then I’ve been back many times to visit Alex both at his farm/event space/restaurant at Caoba farms, and even more notably, the larger project that’s been underway for just a couple years in the town of Paramos, northwest of Antigua. There Alex has been combining pieces of land that he’s been able to acquire as he builds towards his dream of restoring the native forest of that region and strategically incorporate agroforestry, market gardening, eco-tourism and event space to ensure the value and protection of the native ecosystem is preserved indefinitely. Though I didn’t have the time to bring recording equipment along on the few trips I made up there in person, I got to catch Alex on a call later to ask him to go over a few of the many intricacies of his plan and steps for development that are still in the early stages, but gaining incredible traction on his site. In this interview we cover many of the details of the unique climate and context where the land is located and how it informs goals and designs that Alex is developing. He talks at length about how he and his team are choosing which of the native species to propagate and use for reforestation and how they are creating nurseries to grow thousands of trees at a time. We also talk about how the government incentives for reforestation in Guatemala are not as beneficial as they might appear and how navigating the regulations can both help and hinder ecological goals. We even cover how different trees can affect the water table on your land, passive irrigation methods, even education programs for school age kids and much more. I’ve learned so much from Alex and his methodical approach to land based projects. He’s definitely one of the voices in permaculture and ecological business that I hope more people look to and reference as examples of no-nonsense, results based progress. I’ve also included a bunch of pictures from his farm and nursery that Alex sent me and you can check them out on the website at abundantedge.com
63 minutes | Oct 24, 2019
Restoring Native cloud forest in southern Mexico, with Jairo Rodriguez of Teyoapa Farms:
Today I’m going to kick off a new series focusing on reforestation and agroforestry. I’ve been motivated to return to this subject as it seems to be unusually pressing these days. The wild fires in the western USA and in the Amazon rainforest are not only destructive to those regions in isolation, they also have major ripple effects across the globe and in our collective resiliency. I’ve been fortunate to work directly with people and organizations through my travels who are working on the front lines of reforestation and in the next few episodes I’ll be sharing interviews with people who represent private land projects, agroforestry pioneering, corporate innovation, NGO initiatives and more in an attempt to understand the challenges and also the potential of bringing trees back into a landscape either in an attempt to re-establish the native ecology, or to adapt it to our economic needs while still addressing the need for wild habitat, species diversity, soil health and so many other benefits of forest and jungle ecosystems. Given that this is the first episode in the series I would love to hear from anyone listening if they know of any reforestation or agroforestry projects that I should know about or think that I should highlight here on the podcast. Especially if anyone knows of initiatives in the Iberian penninsula, Spain, Portugal, Andorra or throughout the mediteranean and northern Africa. As always you can send information and feedback to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact page on the websites at abundantedge.com So let’s get started. Back in May of this year as I was backpacking through southern Mexico. I learned about Teyoapa farms in Xico, Veracruz and reached out to them to volunteer for a short time and get to know their project and help out. I spent just over a week with them and was amazed at how they had transformed the land that they had purchased only about 15 years ago from degraded pasture land into a young native cloud forest. Jairo Rodriquez, the co-owner and manager along with his family, sat down with me on a visit up to their land to talk about how they got started. In this interview we talked about the urgent need for protection in the quickly dwindling areas of remaining cloud forest in Mexico and around the world. Jairo has a very strong world view and philisophy that guides his investments in time and energy and the enterprises that he runs. I had the pleasure of learning how they make yogurt, cheese, ice-cream, chocolate, and many other artisenal products from their farm and the producers around them, and how they use those to build community more than generate profit. Jairo also co-owns a company that makes high quality tents designed to last a long time and have a light footprint on the land so people can live comfortably in nature without leaving a scarring impact. In general I left the place inspired by the potential of what a few people can do with the right motivation and how humans have the power to do as much to heal the land they interact with as they do to damage it when their hearts are in the right place. As a short preview of my time in Xico and Teoapa farms I also made a short video with Jairo, which I’m releasing today to accompany this interview. I really encourage you to see the incredible forest that Jairo has helped to create. You can find the video in the show notes for this episode where you’ll also find information on how to contact Teoapa and help contribute to their reforestation goals.
87 minutes | Oct 18, 2019
Voices of natural and alternative building, an Abundant Edge special episode
I haven’t done a special episode in a long time, in fact I haven’t done any at all this season and it’s been a while since I’ve done a Regenerative Round Table since I’ve been transitioning from the farm where I lived with my colleagues in Guatemala until May of this year to where I am now, which is a small town about a half hour north of Barcelona in the beautiful Mediterannean region of Catalunya in Spain. In the last few months I backpacked up through southern Mexico, spent a month visiting family in Spokane Washington, then another month visiting my brothers and nephew in Minnesota where we grew up. I’ve been in Spain just under two months and am working with my partner here to start a whole bunch of exciting new projects both online and in the community here which I’ll be sure to talk about in future episodes once things get off the ground. Today I’m going to be giving a review of the previous series on natural building and regenerative living and design from the last handful of weeks for those of you who want the cliff notes and the most important information from about a month and a half of episodes. I’ll be talking about some of the main takeaways and things that I learned from these interviews as well as presenting new questions to you out there listening while sharing some thoughts and stories from some of my own experience as a builder and traveller that have taught me a lot over the last decade
80 minutes | Oct 11, 2019
Meet the team that's making cob legal, an interview with members of the Cob Research Institute: 133
Today’s episode is very important in that there’s a limited window of time for those of you, especially in the USA who care about natural building and want to see cob and other natural building materials legalized and approved by building authorities to help this happen. An incredible opportunity is coming up in the last week of October, which is just over a week from now when members of the Cob Research Institute, some of whom you’ll hear interviewed in a minute, will present a proposal for cob to be included in the ICC/IRC code (international code council/international residential code, the governing body for building standards across the whole country). To gain approval, the proposal will be voted on and this is where you come in. This is your chance to call your local fire marshal or building inspector and voice your support that they vote to approve this measure which would allow legal permitted cob buildings in the USA. You might be new to natural building or you might think that you’d never want a cob house yourself, but if this proposal passes it’s likely to have a ripple effect for the approval of other earthen building materials and alternative building methods in the future for everyone. The guys from the CRI will give more details about how you can help to support this initiative, but if this is all you have time to listen to, just know that you can go to cobcode.org and get specific instructions on how to contact you local building official directly or to put them in contact with the CRI to help get out the vote on this potentially historic advancement for earthen and natural building. Don’t hesitate though. Like I mentioned, the vote will take place during the last week of October, this month, 2019! In this interview I got to speak to John Fordice, Martin Hammer, and Anthony Dente who have been working for years to compile the data and engineering properties of cob in order to better understand the material and write the proposal to have it approved as a legal building material in the US. Between them they answered a lot of questions about the advantages and limitations of cob, the tests and simulations they’ve done to get proper measurements of its performance and what they recommend to builders who are considering using cob to build their homes. It was such a pleasure for a natural building nerd like me to get to talk to these guys who’ve worked so hard to get verifiable information on the material that got me to fall in love with earthen building in the first place
60 minutes | Oct 4, 2019
The essential guide to lime. Plasters, paints and cretes, with Aulya Bingham from "The Mud Home"
I’ve talked about many different building materials through this series, but one of my all time favorites often gets overlooked because it isn’t commonly used as a structural element. Lime in all of its various forms as a plaster, paint, mortar, grout, poured floor or even in newer applications like hempcrete, has so many advantages and applications in just about any style of natural or conventional building. That’s why I reached out to the “Mud Witch” Atulya Bingham, who’s been interviewed twice on this podcast before because she just released a new online course covering everything you need to know about this incredible natural material. In this interview we cover the lime cycle and the various products that can be made or bought from the original limestone. We talk about different additives to make all kinds of plasters, paints, mortars and more. Atulya shares a lot of experiences of her own in working with lime as she builds her new off grid homestead in northern spain and why it’s an ideal material for damp and humid places. We also compare and contrast lime to other alternative materials as well as its limitations and compromises too. This is one of the materials that I’ve seen people struggle with the most and that I’ve noticed that many people avoid because it can be made to seem that it’s more dangerous or complicated than it is. There are very few resources out there that simplify the use of lime to the layperson or amateur builder which is why I was so glad to cover this in a way that hopefully demystifies the practical use of lime for so many great applications.
55 minutes | Sep 27, 2019
Benito Steen of "The Nito Project" on exploring new natural building techniques and teaching around the world: 131
Today’s guest, Benito Steen is one of the people that I’ve most had requested from you listeners to do an interview with, in large part because of the success of his YouTube channel called “The Nito Project” where he works with his younger brother Panther to make beautiful educational videos on natural building techniques, earthen plasters and even the japanese method of making polished clay balls called Dorodango. Benito is the first of my guests who grew up in natural buildings since his childhood rather than coming to the trades later in life. His parents Bill and Athena Steen being well known natural building advocates and educators since the 80s, their family moved around the southwestern US and Mexico teaching workshops and collaborating on projects that became the base for the skill set that he now teaches and showcases in his videos. In this interview Benito talks about his early experiences and interest in building trades and craftsmanship not only with natural materials but metalworking and blacksmithing too. We talk in detail about the high end finishing work that he’s been learning and showcasing in his videos. We then explore the things that he and I have both learned from teaching natural building in different parts of the world; not only the challenges of different materials and access to tools, but also the different cultural and historical contexts that change the way people relate to buildings from the start. He and I also talk about some of the realities and challenges of building as a vocation and the process of working with clients and making a project come to fruition. This ended up being less of a formal interview and more of a conversation so don’t worry too much about getting concrete information and techniques out of this as much as a perspective from two young builders who’ve traveled around a lot and love to experiment and play with different materials and techniques. If you’re looking for more actionable information on these topics I highly recommend the interview I did with Benito’s dad Bill Steen in the previous season and also the interview with Kyle Holtzhueter, both of which we reference in this chat and that I’ve linked to in the show notes for this episode.
64 minutes | Sep 20, 2019
The best options for home scale renewable energy with Dan Chiras, author of "The Homeowner's Guide to Renewable Energy: 130
We’re now well into this on-going series on natural building and design, and we’ve covered bamboo building, rocket stoves, design at the building and community levels, and so much more already. One of the biggest topics that I haven’t yet explored on this podcast and has always interested me is the subject of renewable energy. Renewables have been in the media for a long time both branded as a solution to our collective reliance on fossil fuel energy and also criticized for being too expensive for most people to install or implement at the home scale. Luckily I had the chance to speak to Dan Chiras, the author of many books on renewable energy and other regenerative living skills including, Power from the Sun, Power from the Wind, Solar Energy Basics, Solar Home Heating Basics, The Homeowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy, Solar Electricity Basics and many more. The best part about Dan’s knowledge is that he has implemented the systems that he writes about for himself and can speak from experience about living long term with solar and wind energy systems as well as the maintenance and repair costs over time. In this interview Dan goes into detail about all the practical differences in solar, wind, and other renewable energy systems. He walked me through the process of examining the potential of each resource, calculating the size of the system based on your consumption, and more. We also talk about the advantages of grid connected versus fully off grid systems as well as hybrid options. Dan also gives great advice to homeowners considering renewable energy installations and even how they can look into tax incentives and cooperative buying schemes to reduce the initial upfront cost of installing a system. I’ve also included links to all of Dan’s books on renewable energy for anyone looking to get a more in-depth understanding of a particular application so be sure to check out the resource section in the show notes for this episode.
48 minutes | Sep 13, 2019
Does aircrete have a place in natural building and regenerative living? With Daniel Allen of Tiny Giant Life: 129
Until getting to know Daniel and his understanding of building design and healthy living, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do an episode on aircrete. I’ve focused only on natural building techniques and materials up until this point because I honestly believe that nature provides all the materials we need to build high quality and healthy structures. But since Daniel comes from the perspective of natural building experience and because I like to remain open to new ideas and not become too much of a purist or a zealot for one way of seeing things, I spoke to him about this increasingly popular way of building. In this episode, Daniel explains what aircrete is and how it differs from traditional concrete. He walks me through the necessary tools and materials all the way to pouring forms, bricks, mortars and final coverings. We talk about the advantages and disadvantages, not only of the construction process, but also of using industrial materials over natural ones and why someone might choose to throw up a quick and durable industrial structure as a stepping stone towards a longer vision for a regenerative lifestyle. Just as importantly, Daniel and I go back and forth over the complex issues around the consumption and waste associated with different building methods and also the fact that a regenerative life is different for every person and every place based on their unique context. I really enjoyed this discussion and exploring some difficult concepts with Daniel, but even more, I would love to hear from you, yes YOU about what your personal lines of acceptability in building materials and industrial processes are and what your own definition of regenerative living is. What are the hard lines that you draw, if any, and what are the permissible consumptions or waste that you feel alright with given what the world we live in demands? You can comment below the show notes on the website at abundantedge.com or email me directly at email@example.com.
59 minutes | Sep 6, 2019
Limecrete and renovating old homes with natural materials, with April Magill of RootDown Design: 128
90 minutes | Aug 30, 2019
The architecture of healthy communities and designing for connection, with Mark Lakeman of Communitecture: 127
As I continue to explore the topics of natural building and ecological design in this ongoing series, I had the pleasure of speaking again with Mark Lakeman. Mark has been a big inspiration to me through the architectural work he’s done at the community level, and in exploring what it takes to design neighborhoods and gathering places that help humans to reconnect to their sense of place and overcome the colonial infrastructure that continues to separate us from each other and from lifestyles that include all facets of healthy living. Since I’ve mostly studied design at the building level, learning about ecological and life enhancing ways of designing the infrastructure around us has been very eye-opening to me as I start to consider the larger impact that our built environment has on the way we live and how our cultures are shaped. In this episode we take more of a philosophical approach to design than in previous interviews where I’ve focused on techniques and methodologies. Mark speaks in detail about how, especially in North America and other colonized regions, we operate in communities that were designed for efficiency and expansion rather than the health of the inhabitants. As a result, even the basic grid of our streets and the zoning separation between commercial, residential, and industrial areas creates lifestyles where all functions are separated and impersonal. One of my favorite enduring quotes of Mark’s from a TED talk he gave a while back is, “What good is our right to assembly without any place to assemble?” In turn we talk about some of the many projects that he and his teams have worked on to bring places of gathering and assembly back into disconnected neighborhoods and the uphill battle they’ve faced in navigating the bureaucracies and regulatory bodies that make it difficult for people to contribute to public spaces. We also explore ideas on how to renovate and rejuvenate our community infrastructure to reclaim our space and in turn become “people of place” once more. This is a thoughtful interview that links in with other conversations that I’ve published in the past so I’ve put links to the other interviews that we reference in the show notes for this episode including the original conversation that I had with Mark and his colleague Rhidi D’Cruz from a previous season, if you’d like to go back and hear more about Mark’s background and how he started in community architecture.
82 minutes | Aug 23, 2019
The most efficient stoves in the world and how to make them, with Kirk "Donkey" Mobert of Sundog School of Natural Building: 126
In this continuation of the series of regenerative building and design, I checked in with a good friend of mine and a hero in the rocket stove and masonry heater sphere. Kirk Mobert, more commonly known as Donkey, is the founder of the Sundog school of natural building in northern California and has literally been on, and in, the ground through the development and maturation of rocket stoves and all of the innovations and advances for the last 20 odd years. This session might be a little heady for people who are new to rocket and masonry stoves, but for anyone looking to start from the beginning, you can check out the link to the first interview I recorded with Donkey back in the first season by typing either Donkey or rocket stoves into the search bar on the website or just clicking on the link in the show notes for this episode. In this episode we nerd out on the inner workings of the simple engineering behind some of the most efficient cooking and heating machines ever made. Donkey and I talk in detail about all of the potential applications for cook-stoves, home heating and even ovens and water-heaters that can be made from the same base that super heats wood or other biofuels into complete and clean combustion. We talk about some of the innovations that have come from tinkerers in the online forums around these topics as well as how you can get started making mad-scientist type pyro-experiments in your backyard with natural and recycled materials. We also go into detail about why the full journey of our energy and fuel sources need to be taken into account when calculating the efficiency and thermal output of an appliance. Since we describe a lot of aspects of stoves that can be hard to visualise just through audio, I’ve included a lot of links to images on the online forums that you can find in the show notes for this episode to make it easier to follow along. This was a really fun conversation, but I’ll warn you listeners that the nerd factor, much like when I get talking about earthen plasters and design theory, is really high on this one so get your pocket protectors and thick glasses on for this one
77 minutes | Aug 16, 2019
The incredible potential of bamboo and building design for the tropics, with Trey Abernethy of "Natural Building Costa Rica:" 125
Continuing with this series of exploring natural building materials, design techniques and traditions, I spoke with my friend Trey Abernethy, a long-time builder and now a bamboo craftsman. For over a decade Trey worked in the industrial building trades before moving to Costa Rica where he took a bamboo building course with Rodolpho Saenz that changed his trajectory. Trey now co-teaches bamboo building techniques with Rodolpho and designs and builds for clients in Costa Rica. In this interview we cover a bit of every part of bamboo as a construction material. From the environmental benefits of planting bamboo culms and selecting varieties for construction, to treatment methods, joinery techniques, design consideration and longer-term maintenance. I’ve been passionate about the potential of bamboo for a while now and even did an internship with my friend and mentor Charlie Rendall which lead to designing and building a few hybrid structures and homes around Guatemala. If any of you are looking for more information on bamboo after you’ve listened to this episode, I would recommend the previous interview I did with Charlie Rendall which you can find links for in the show notes of this episode. We also refer to a handful of other natural building materials and techniques in this session so don’t forget to have a look in the archives of the abundant edge podcast including articles on various earthen building techniques. Gradually I intend to build an audio library of natural building so stay tuned.
60 minutes | Aug 9, 2019
Everything you need to know to get your natural building off the ground, with Chris Magwood, founder of the Endeavour Center: 124
I’ve been looking forward to speaking with my next guest for a long time now. Chris Magwood is the founder and director of the Endeavor center, which provides experiential education at the intersection of high-performance and natural building. Chris is a self proclaimed building “omnivore” who experiments with any and all materials and techniques he can get his hands on. He has dedicated his career to making the best, most energy efficient, beautiful and inspiring buildings without wrecking the planet in the attempt. I’ve followed his work and especially his books as I’ve been learning about all sorts of natural building innovations because Chris has done an amazing job of comparing and contrasting various natural materials to make it easier to choose which of the options available would be best suited for the context and design of a building. In this interview Chris talks about how he fell in love with natural building as he aspired to build his own home. From there we go into detail about some of the most important considerations when designing a sustainable home and how even natural buildings can be consumptive and wasteful if designed incorrectly for their place and climate. Chris also unpacks some of the popular building standards and why using them as design guides can limit the full potential of an ecologically responsible project if followed too rigidly. We also discuss one of the biggest challenges for natural builders, and that’s the codes and regulations that can be tricky to navigate if the regulatory bodies are treated as adversaries from the beginning. I especially like his observations from his extensive experience working with, rather than against the building inspectors in Canada for so many years. This is a really practical and pragmatic look at the wide variety of options and considerations for natural builders and owner-builders. This episode kicks off a series dedicated to all aspects of building and design that facilitates a regenerative lifestyle. Be sure to stay tuned to the next few weeks of episodes as I’ll be speaking with builders and designers focusing on in-depth topics and natural building materials.
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