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Starting the journey to be a natural builder

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I realized there's already been a few posts from people looking to make natural building a career, but they didn't really address the questions I was looking to have answer. Please pass me some information, if you've got it!

Here's my deal: I'm 24 and was born and raised into a macrobiotic (natural living/simple diet) family. I just recently quit a lucrative job as a videographer/video editor in the Washington D.C. area to find a better way to live. I've been working in this field since I was 18, starting as a news videographer at a small station in Pennsylvania while I was still attending community college. I made it all the way to be working at a government agency in one of the richest counties in the United States and making more money than people with 20 years of experience in other regions would. And I flipping hated it. So, moving in a few days back to my beautiful, rural Pennsylvania to figure out my next move. And I think natural building might be it since I want to return to working with my hands and with the Mother (Earth), and be around forward, innovative people whose focus is the same as my own. Ideally, I would like to become proficient in this field and learn enough to be able to travel to different communities and pull my weight with my skills.

My question is - where do I start? I have some money saved up, probably for a few workshops or a full apprenticeship, but where would be the best place for me to go? I am willing to travel anywhere in North America and I will accept any long term commitment. I have no expert skills in this field, except for basic carpentry, and I want to be immersed in it all - design, construction, heating, sustainability, incorporation with natural environment - I want a place where I can learn it all. But I also want to work with people who are serious and thoughtful, but also are the laidback type that will crack open a beer, will utter a few curse words, and have a sense of humor. Diet is also a big consideration for me - I need an environment where I can have access to a mostly grain and vegetarian diet.

Where do you think I would best fit in?

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Hello Chantelle,

Well first welcome to Permise, I hope you find what you are looking for. I want to be, as a teacher, as encouraging as I can, but be warned that you are jumping into something that many are jumping into at the same time. That is a good thing in one way, as you will meet many wonderful and energetic folks, that have little experience but wonderful ideas. Now, the making a living part, that is going to be much harder. Just like any craft or field, you are going to be competing with folks that have already been doing it for over ten years, or more. They also, quite often, have other supporting backgrounds that further there marketability in sustainable green architecture, (natural building.) I know that may seem a bit discouraging, but I want to be honest about what you are going to face, and must learn, to be competitive in this rapidly growing field. For example, if you had been working in an architecture/design firm, and now wanted to focus on natural building that would be a much easier transition, (and happening every day.) Coming from your field of discipline, you are going to have to do at least 5 to 10 years of study, just to get to where that individual is starting from in understanding the art and science of natural building.

I took on an apprentice two years ago, (arts and photography background) and he is already designing and building timber frames for his own clients, but it will be several more years before he could stand on his own completely and a decade before he could "turn key," a project on his own. I have counter parts in Japan that are my age (52) and still considered "master apprentices," not qualified to work by themselves. That is an extreme example, but it does illustrate the amount you must learn, especially to make this a career where you charge people for your knowledge and experience.

Now for encouragement. If you really want to do this, you can make it work! It will be hard work, but I think you will really enjoy the journey. There is so many refined support disciplines to learn that can further your knowledge and marketability that they would be hard to list, (e.g. stone work, timber wrighting, green wood working, textiles, ceramics, metal work, and many other guild crafts.) As a traditional timber wright and guild artisan, I sometimes chuckle to myself, when I here a young person talk about "natural building." For someone like me, it is, always has been and always should be the way our species build. So much of this "new method," of "natural building," are nothing but folks leaning (remembering) what their forbears have been doing for thousands of years.

Well that's enough "gibbering," I think, if you have a little money saved, are willing to travel and live outside the country, you should. If I was in your position, that is exactly what I would do. I have contacts in Thailand and in Guatemala, that do this work, (Guatemala being the better and more cost effective.) You would be in a supportive community, you would learn a lot, and your money would go much further. There are other possibilities but, for my "two cents," that is enough to get you thinking. Now if you really want to get into details, reach out and contact me through my private email and maybe we could chat in detail about your goals and aspirations.

Best of Luck,


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Have you heard of the mudgirls? They are a group of women on the west coast of Canada doing amazing things with cob,round log timber framing,cobwood,wattle and daub,clay slip and straw infill,earthern plasters and floors. And they have lots of fun.
All the best with your new career.
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Flippant cynical me says, "get a job, hippie"

seriously, get a job, there are loads of natural builders out there that need earnest hard working labor. you will get great field experience, make a little money (if that is important) and learn a thing or two about building. You will strain muscles, get dirty and have a chance to question yourself if this is really what you want to do. after you have done that, then consider spending (wasting) money on workshops. The truth about most workshops and training programs, is that contractors use them to make extra cash from idealistic neophytes. you cant buy your way into this business, you have to learn by doing.

I hope this helps, good luck.
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