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GSBN:Knowledge In The Making (1996)

I'm sitting in a camper in a campground with a laptop working on a long-needed redesign of the TLS website (which won't be done and uploaded for at least another week), and just had the opportunity to re-read a piece that Judy Knox wrote back in '96 for the first resources issue. I was particularly moved by some of her words in the second part of the article, which ring as true today as they did then. Truer!

        I thought some of you might enjoy reading this again.

And if anybody wants to forward it to the CREST list, g'head. I'd do it myself, but not having a phone line anymore and hence only sporadic access to the 'net and email, I had to get off that high-volume group. Since I'm not joined up to it, I can't post to it.

Oh, and also, people on that list (and maybe this) would appreciate some photos of a low-tech bale retrofit project in Maryland, along with some shots of a new SB addition on the same house. They're at http://www.potkettleblack.com/misc/sam1.html (it's Sam Droege's place, who some may remember from the CREST list if they've been around for a while, or from the '98 Colloquium East if they were there).

Sam embodies the spirit of an excellent essay by Rod Miner with Marty Stomberg, also from the pages of TLS, which can be found reprinted on the web at http://www.strawhomes.com/main/back/21_1.html


 Knowledge In The Making
 by Judy Knox - Tucson, Arizona
 Issue #15, Summer 1996

 A Resource Directory for Straw-Bale Construction;
 it's certainly grown into a necessity, and promises
 to be one of the most useful issues of TLS ever
 produced. As with any directory, however, it's
 functional when you need to access specific
 information, but can be pretty boring fare in the
 eyes of some beholders.

 My eyes may be a bit more "straw-crossed" than
 most, but when I behold this compilation of people,
 tools, materials, information systems, and
 collaborative support networks, I see a brilliant
 kaleidoscope of people's creativity, curiosity,
 mistakes, risks, changed choices, cooperation,
 courage and commitment... weaving and
 connecting into designs that we may never fully
 understand or replicate, but which have, from the
 beginning of this modern-day straw renaissance,
 inspired our growing community to stretch and to
 reach toward new visions of what is possible.

 Seven years ago, as Matts Myhrman's article
 "Ruminations of a Hunter-Gatherer" [see page 32]
 reveals, the information base for straw-bale
 construction was as sparse as the numbers of
 people who even knew it was an option. Those few
 people, as well as the straw-bale houses they built,
 were widely scattered around the United States
 and Canada, with little or no awareness of each

 Their predecessors - the early 1900's Nebraska
 straw-bale homes, and those surviving pioneers
 who built them, lived in them and remembered
 them - were scattered in isolated pockets of the
 Sandhills. Roger Welsch's valuable research about
 them, reprinted in Shelter (1973), connected
 readers of that book to historic straw-bale
 structures, and kindled the mostly private
 imaginations of others to discover more. Welsch's
 article guided Matts and I on our first research trip
 to the Sandhills in August of 1989, where we
 documented the homes, memories and stories of
 these straw-bale pioneers. They were generally
 unaware that anyone else beyond their ken had
 built with straw bales, and surprised that others
 would be interested in their experiences.

 I see the most far-reaching effect of our Nebraska
 roots in the way we have thus far perceived the
 technology and its fast-growing information base
 as public domain. Here's the formula for our
 community-based revival: gather the existing
 information, use it - with your own innovations - to
 build with bales, record what did and didn't work,
 and pass that information on to others. Today, this
 culture of inclusiveness and grassroots
 participation at every level of both growing and
 using our collection of resources is the beating
 heart of the straw-bale construction revival.

 In 1989 the sum total of compiled and distributable
 information consisted of the Shelter article; a Fine
 HomeBuilding article about an architect's straw
-bale studio in Winters, California; two articles in
 Mother Earth News; David Bainbridge's working
 paper on straw-bale construction; and some local
 newspaper or newsletter reports. That was just
 about it, other than the scattered buildings
 themselves and the knowledge and images stored
 in the minds and photo albums of the people
 connected to them.

 From 1989 through 1991, information was
 gathered and distributed in very word-of-mouth,
 hands-on ways. People like Bill and Athena Steen,
 Steve Kemble and Carol Escott, Virginia Carabelli,
 Tony Perry, Matts and I, and others, began building
 and experimenting with straw-bale construction in
 New Mexico and Arizona. Matts and I would often
 show our historic slides, adding current ones as
 more buildings were built. Growing groups of
 people showed up for wall-raisings, and, as word
 spread, we began showing our "straw and piggy
 show" to more and more groups and
 organizations. Simultaneously, Matts injected his
 enthusiasm and knowledge through phone lines,
 letters, visits - connecting people and information
 with tireless zeal. He pursued every lead on other
 straw-bale structures and/or people who might
 know anything about them. Our file cabinets began
 to bulge with straw-bale information. He wrote
 articles about what we had learned so far and
 published them. A short bibliography, and then a
 "cobbed together" information packet were
 developed to meet the growing requests for
 information. Soon, some of us began teaching
 workshops as a way of distributing the growing
 information-base, which required us to develop
 some teaching materials. Matts and I produced the
 brief Straw Bales for Shelter video, while Steve
 and Carol began planning their introductory video,
 The Elegant Solution. David Bainbridge (who had
 been loving and researching straw-bale buildings
 longer than any of us), along with Bill and Athena,
 planned to produce the first simple information
 booklet, while Steve MacDonald and his son Orien
 began work on the first Straw-Bale Primer.

 As Matts and I headed for the Sandhills of
 Nebraska for our second research trip in the
 summer of 1991, there was a small but growing
 straw-bale community, excited about participating
 in this grassroots revival. Straw-bale construction
 was not the primary involvement for any of us
 (though Matts was fast approaching his full-time
 bliss!), and none of us could have predicted the
 tidal wave headed our way which would threaten to
 engulf our lives, and would change them forever. In
 a few short months, interest in straw-bale
 construction would be kindled into wildfires
 nationwide, fueled by a media coverage blitz. Our
 principal challenge would become how to compile
 and transfer the rapidly-growing information base
 into adequate information resources, and develop
 distribution systems quickly enough to meet the
 explosive public demand without being totally
 overwhelmed in the process.

 The Gospel According to Judy

 Five years later, as TLS approaches the
 completion of its fourth year of uninterrupted
 quarterly publication, including this 15th, resource-
 packed issue, I have a few thoughts and
 ruminations about the straw-bale revival and
 growing our wisdom and knowledge as straw-bale
 resource providers and users:

 * Straw-bale construction carries its own power to
 excite people's interest and to transform the lives
 of people who use it. There is something about
 straw-bale construction that touches our deepest
 yearnings and reconnects us to our personal
 source of power. Straw-bale resource providers
 are not the message, only the messengers.

 * Straw-bale construction is a dynamic, fast-
 changing technology. Its grassroots-grown
 information and resources are only a composite of
 many people's experience, including some
 research and testing, of what works and doesn't in
 differing situations and environments. Just as straw
 -bale construction is one choice among
 appropriate construction methods, its resources
 are choices or options for how to build with straw
 bales, rather than "the way" to do things.

 * Our work as resource providers is most powerful
 when inspiring resource users to fully and
 responsibly participate as straw-bale innovators
 and community members.

 * Good resource providers have a primary
 responsibility to remain actively informed and
 engaged in the fast-changing information and
 resource network. That includes doing the work of
 "the commons", i.e. that work that benefits the
 whole straw-bale community, present and future,
 but that does not necessarily bring immediate
 personal gain.

 * Resource users have a primary responsibility to
 be accountable for their own choices, thoroughly
 checking on the reliability and competency of
 resource providers, and choosing appropriate
 information and human resources as a tool to
 guide their own problem-solving process.

 * Resource providers and users are most
 empowered by straw-bale construction when
 choices about which resources to use and which
 people to work with are clearly connected to
 essential values. For a straw-bale designer/builder
 who left conventional building behind because of
 its destructive environmental consequences, a
 7000sf straw-bale home with a four-car garage that
 your potential client wants may be equally
 inappropriate and harmful. For an owner/builder
 who is just rediscovering the "I Can", a straw-bale
 "expert" who is telling you "the way" to do things as
 though you have little of value to contribute may
 shatter your fragile confidence with a shrug or
 raised brow. You deserve an advocate, so find

 * Both straw-bale resource providers and users
 must be realistic and honest with each other about
 what to expect, what is offered, and what is doable
 according to the circumstances. Taking the time to
 come to absolute clarity with each other is time well
 spent in the long run.

 Now, in the summer of 1996, the information and
 resource base for straw-bale construction
 continues to grow rapidly, but even more dramatic
 are the changing needs and opportunities that
 continually challenge the usefulness, dependability
 and availability of these resources. There's lots of
 new information pouring in, with people climbing on
 board to teach, build, design and innovate. The
 moment of choice nears, whether this powerful
 straw-bale alternative can include this new rush of
 people and energy, while holding firmly to its deep,
 nourishing grassroots.

 Crucially, I see the inclusive and transformative
 power of this revival dependent on the degree to
 which each and every participant becomes both a
 learner and a teacher, both a resource user and a
 resource provider.

The Last Straw