VersaTerra Plus May 17 - June 18, 2021
Complete cob and natural building workshop
(includes building an earthen oven)
This is a "Be the Change Project" workshop
This includes all (mostly vegetarian) meals, coffee and tea, a nice place to pitch your tent, our book "House of Earth" (we'll send you a copy before the workshop in the Spring), transportation to and from Reno airport/bus terminal.
Maximum class size: 12 students
Instructor: Kyle Isacksen, with Katie Chandler, Kathleen O'Brien and Jonathan Vocke
Click here for more general information on our workshops, hosting a workshop and evaluations from students.
This is the most comprehensive workshop you can find. Decades of teaching on four different continents has helped us design this rich learning experience, giving students the tools they need to become confident earthen builders.
Earth is the mother of all building materials. For millennia, and all over the world, people have used earth to build beautiful, simple, efficient and inexpensive homes. It's plentiful, ecological and non-toxic. Plus, it can't burn, won't rot and is much simpler to build with than conventional construction.
We will teach you how to use clay-soil to build just about everything. From strong structural walls (cob and Adobe) to beautiful floors, plasters and light-straw-clay walls. Because the materials are fireproof, they are ideally suited to sculpt ovens, fireplaces and cook stoves.
The essence of your learning experience will revolve around developing a deep understanding of how to process and combine a few simple materials: clay-soil, sand and straw. How you apply that in your building adventures is then up to you, but you will find the possibilities endless and exciting.
During this workshop we will build a beautiful cob cabin from the ground up and an earthen bread/pizza oven. This includes interior and exterior walls, roof, foundation, windows, doors, electricity, plumbing, arches, plasters, niches, roof, and artwork.
This 35-day VersaTerra Plus workshop is designed to provide a much deeper dive into earth, natural building, and sustainable living through the construction of a complete cabin. Over the five weeks you’ll have the opportunity to get into a building rhythm where your new learning and skills can be applied and fine-tuned with the help of our instructors. Simply put, the more time you have with the mud, the more competent and confident a builder you’ll become. The extended time frame also gives us more space for discussions, exploration of design philosophy, and engagement with appropriate technologies including microsolar, composting toilets, water harvesting. This course will benefit from functioning real world examples at Rosewater Ranch and the nearby Be the Change Project urban homestead.
Things people said about last years' VersaTerra Plus workshop:
I feel it was all awesome. I loved the whole experience and would do it again in a heartbeat.
I liked working together as a group, learning hands-on how to cob and how to build in general.
I’m now confident I can figure it out. This made everything with building feel accessible.
I really enjoyed the whole process, location and people. The instructors are very good at explaining and diagramming things so I feel I can do them later when I get home.
I loved 99% of the classes and work!
I could mix cob for hours!
You did a great job taking ideas in and adjusting to people’s questions and needs.
I wouldn’t change anything about the workshop.
You guys are awesome!
I’m leaving with a wealth of new knowledge and skills - the platform I needed and can build upon
The instructors were a great team and I liked how everyone added something different either through skill or personality
Food was great!
I enjoyed the teamwork and working with the materials and getting dirty!
What will you learn
After this workshop, you will feel confident that you can
build yourself a cob cottage
remodel, renovate an existing home, using natural materials
build and use an earthen oven
use cob to create garden walls, outdoor fireplaces and hot tubs
design small cottages
teach a one-day natural building event yourself!
Specifically, you will get hands-on experience and skill development in the following areas:
Foundation systems, rubble trench, stem walls, earthbag construction (as a stem wall)
Identifying the right materials, screening, processing, testing, costs, amount calculations
Mixing cob efficiently, making adobe bricks
Building with cob: strong sculptural walls, arches, windows and doors, niches, artwork and mosaics
electricity and plumbing, how to install wires and pipes in the walls
roof attachment and roof design
Light-straw-clay: this is an infill techniques perfect for code approved buildings and natural renovations of existing homes. You will learn how to make the right materials and how to install them
Natural plasters, tools, making your own plasters and paints, colors, applications, how to apply it on earthen walls, drywall, wood, concrete
Tamped floors, finish earthen floors in natural buildings, earthen floors in existing homes on plywood, oriented strand board and concrete
Earthen ovens: from start to finish and how to use them (pizza party!)
Different design strategies, natural design essentials, passive solar, using cob to make models
Building codes, how they work, how to work around them
During every workshop we make time for specific issues related to individual situations. This usually includes a careful look at different climates and regions, living with families or in communities, dealing with the building code, physical and financial challenges, appropriate technologies and more.
Our book “House of Earth” will be used as a textbook for the workshop.
The daily schedule
Monday - Friday
1:15-2:30 Free time
2:30-5:30 Building or Lecture & discussion (alternate days)
5:30-6:30 Free time
Evenings Slide shows/campfires/free time
8:30 Saturdays are devoted to light work which might include art and hands-on topics like plumbing or electric, investigations into appropriate technologies (compost toilets,
solar heaters and showers…), as well as field trips.
No work on Sundays
No meals are provided on Sundays
About the site
Rosewater Ranch sits at the north-eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, on the edge of coniferous alpine forest and sagebrush steppe. The land is a delight of transitional eco-tones on a slope that runs from tall pines down to open grassland. The sky is big and only slightly enlightened by nearby Reno at night, so the stars shine bright. It’s a sunny and dry climate in the rainshadow of the Sierras, though high enough at 5,200 feet to receive a full share of winter and snow. In May and June, anything can happen, from wintry snow storms to warm rain to very hot and dry sunshiny days, though typically at that time the days are sunny and warming - lovely working weather. Nights will certainly be cool, if not chilly.
Rosewater Ranch itself is a project 7 years in the making. The goal is to become a multi-generational little village of farming, land-loving folk who can live small and beautifully and pass on a worthwhile future for those yet to come. Through our own best efforts at good living, community events and education, and a patient dialogue with the land, we hope to shape and adapt ourselves to be welcome here and to spark others into their own forms of work for a culture of generosity, inclusion, and belonging.
At the moment, Rosewater Ranch has a small nucleus of human residents, a homestead goat dairy, a free-range flock of hens, homestead gardens and orchards, pigs, dogs, cats, and also on site are the Loping Coyote Farms plant nursery and Prema Farm, an organic vegetable market farm.
After full participation, every student will receive a VersaTerra certificate. We believe that after taking this workshop, participants are qualified to teach at least a one-day event in their neighborhood. By providing a certificate, we want to empower our students to become facilitators of community revitalization through building with earth!
*VersaTerra is a holistic design, building and living philosophy, celebrating clay-soil as its primary building material. Clay-soil is:
plentiful, inexpensive or free, durable, easy to maintain and modify, and endlessly reusable
non-toxic, breathable, soft, beautiful, and displays superior performance in a wide variety of climates
sculptural by nature, inviting to work with needing only simple tools and methods, and easily combines with other natural and human made materials.
By focusing on these specific qualities of clay-soil, we can make the design, building and living process a conduit for community revitalization and personal transformation, while creating housing with dignity for the people of this world.
We welcome the participation of young ones who, in the past, have participated in the learning process at different levels, depending on their age and interest. Give Kyle a call to discuss bringing kids in more detail. Katy and Kyle’s two boys, ages 11 and 14, will be in and out of the workshop on occasion.
Costs for kids: this varies based on age but includes camping, food, and instruction as they participate. Call for details.
Thank you for trusting us to teach you natural building.
Fill out the form and click "let's do this"
Send in a $500 deposit in the form of a check or money order to: Be the Change, 2055 McCloud Avenue Reno, NV 8951. Checks should be made out to "Be the Change"
Once we have received your payment, we will send you an email with more information on the workshop, such as what to bring, how to get there, etc. Also, In the early Spring of next year we will start mailing our book "House of Earth" to you, so you can read up on the stuff you are going to learn!
The balance of the workshop fee is due at the beginning of the workshop.
House Alive Covid-19 policy:
Everyone participates on their own risk. Covid-19 is highly contagious and can make you very sick, or even kill you.
Depending on the nature of the workshop and the state of affairs with covid at the time of the workshop, we may require that you:
1. wear a mask
2. practice social distancing
3. be tested before the workshop
4. self quarantine before the workshop
5. wear an n95 mask during plane travel.
We will inform you a month before the start of the workshop which of these precautions will be required during the workshop