This post was written by current intern, Isaak Oliansky.
A nearly 30 strong Community Rebuilds and friends delegation just returned from a 3 day stay at Hopi as guests of the Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute. Permaculture education is often taught in several week or month long design courses that balance classroom time with experiential learning at a living permaculture site- often with a homestead, farm, and animals. We experienced a truncated version of this, with two days of coursework and a half day of fieldwork, that made for an excellent introduction.
The site where the institute hosts it’s projects is based at the home of Lillian and Jacobo, a couple who run the program. The house itself was built by the building end of the Hopi Tutskwa program, which partners with Community Rebuilds to bring affordable housing to Hopi.
It was interesting to see the ways in which each program took different approaches to building straw bale homes. In Moab, Community Rebuilds turns out between four or six homes a year using a combination of conventional construction methods in tandem with earthen plastering, flooring, and straw bale insulation. At Hopi, in a much more rural area where the nearest hardware store is more than 40 miles away, most of the materials are harvested by the interns and instructors. Stones is quarried and shaped by hand. Trees are felled in the Flagstaff area and milled back at Hopi. These trees became large timber beams that were beautifully exposed in their homes. I came to appreciate how each program was responding to local needs and conditions- in and of itself a form of permaculture.
Another element of the trip that fascinated me was the gradations of desert that exist transitioning from Southeastern Utah to Northern Arizona. While some decent springs exist at Hopi, from my understanding there are only washes that flow during the rains, and the land is otherwise dry. This makes rainwater harvesting paramount to creating an off the grid home in the area- the sites we toured were able to store thousands of gallons at a time. I admired the flexibility that a lack of building codes allowed them- in rainy western Oregon, where I am from, all water is considered property of the state, and one must apply to harvest rainwater or build out a pond. It’s just as well, during a drought in an already dry area, every drop is precious. Jacobo explained to us how they tried to wean their perennial vegetation off of rainwater and slowly have the plants tap directly into the groundwater. Although I live in an opposite climate, it satisfied me how applicable the principles we learned would be to my own future homestead.
Coming back into Moab, I was struck by how green it was. One of the folks in my car remarked that compared to where we were, Moab seemed like Ireland. Moab is lucky to have the Mill Creek which provides a year round flow to nourish this fertile valley. Having this experience in a different part of the four corners gave me a deeper sense for the region, and I’m incredibly humbled by all that this program has taught me.