Review by Kasey March
About two months ago my boyfriend, Shane, sent me an odd text, “Can you take off from work July 8 – 11?”
“I think so, why?”
“We’re going on vacation.”
And so began the Super Secret Vacation saga. For weeks I guessed where we might be going and worried about what to pack.
“Are we camping?”
“Ok, we’re camping. We can’t be going South – it’s too hot. Are we hiking?”
“Do I need a bathing suit?”
And on it went until July 8th when we got into the car. All I knew was that we were camping in West Virginia. But what on Earth was in West Virginia?
When we pulled into Taproot Farm (taprootfarm.info) I thought we were lost and asking for directions to a nearby state park. Then I met Beth Reese, a gracious and friendly woman who greeted us as if we were old friends – not strangers who had just pulled down her long drive way, uninvited, to ask for directions. She and Shane were chatting away when I saw Sigi Koko’s green VW bug with Build Naturally scrawled across the back bumper. It clicked.
Shane and I were the first of 40 people to arrive for Taproot Farm’s a cob workshop. I had been looking for a cob workshop within driving distance to NJ for some time (I’m certain the Pacific Northwest is lovely, but it’s such a long way from where we live in the North East!) and had finally given up for the season when Shane found out about Sigi Koko and her company, Down to Earth Design (www.buildnaturally.com).
Shane, thankfully, had other plans. The Reeses, our hosts, were wonderful. After 25 years living, working, and raising a family in Arlington, VA. They moved to Capon Bridge in Tim Reese’s home state, West Virginia, to start Taproot Farm which will one day be a 20-acre sustainable farm. Querencia is Beth’s whimsical artist studio currently being built on the property. I have to be honest when I walked through the tree line and saw Querencia for the first time I fell in love. Shane and Beth were still happily chatting away, but I was stunned silent trying to absorb my unbelievable Super Secret Vacation reveal.
Architect, builder, and teacher Sigi Koko helped design Beth’s dream studio and facilitated our workshops. Sigi was a blast! Her teaching style was engaging (complete with Sigi produced sound effects) and patient (she gracefully handled children’s interruptions and thoughtfully answered our many questions). Throughout the weekend I was impressed by the amount of individual attention Sigi, Beth, and Tim gave workshop participants by answering questions, giving feedback on our developing technique, and just enjoying the company!
Here is the schedule we followed (loosely) at the workshops:
Workshop attendees make camp and enjoy a fantastic dinner prepared by Leenie, a local herbalist and amazing cook.
Breakfast prepared by Beth Reese (who despite modest protesting prepared a fantastic spread).
Check-in with Kate Reese, Beth & Tim’s daughter, who helped organize the workshop. Cob lesson by Sigi Koko on preparing cob, testing soil for clay content, and testing clay soil for sand content.
Cobbing! Forty workshop participants broke into small groups to sift clay, mix cob, and build cob walls.
Lunch, including a long break prefect for those who choose to nap and/or swim to re-energize.
Mini cob lesson, Sigi makes minor adjustments to cob technique’s based on her observations. She also introduces two new projects: a cob bookshelf and cob bench.
Dinner prepared by Leenie.
Repeat of Saturday’s schedule.
New cob lessons include: trimming walls, shaping a cob bench, and imbedding objects (such as glass bottles) into a cob wall.
Repeat of Saturday’s schedule.
New cob lesson included: building a niche in a cob wall.
It was a fantastic experience! The camping area on Taproot Farm was well cleared, with solar footpath lights along the walkways. The outdoor shower was perfect at the end of a muddy day (although chilly the first evening, which served me right for being among the last of 40 people to shower!) and the port-a-john was what you might expect.
Tim, Beth, and their kids Kate, Jenny, and Allen, were great hosts. There was ample shade thanks to easy ups placed around the worksite, easy access to water, and lots of sun and bug spray available for those who forgot theirs at home.
During meal breaks Shane and I were happy to peruse the library of natural building books Beth and Sigi left on display. I’m certain Shane and I weren’t the only ones who left with a list of 5 or 6 books we will be adding to our library in the future!
We hope to attend another Taproot workshop and are looking forward to the release of the straw bale and cob documentary, which was filmed in part during our workshop, this fall. We are also looking forward to Leenie’s workshop inspired cookbook which will include the many amazing dishes we enjoyed during our say, including gluten free and vegan options that were to die for!
If you are in the area and looking for a natural building workshop I suggest you check the remaining Taproot farm schedule. These are an excellent value and a great experience!
Taproot Farm Workshops http://taprootfarm.info/natural-building/
Sigi Koko, Down to Earth Design http://www.buildnaturally.com/
Shake Test video by Sigi Koko http://buildnaturally.blogspot.com/2011/06/shake-test.html.