The Butterfly Earthbench in Alta Vista’s garden classroom is not just a beautiful place to sit; it also showcases the engineering and artistry of natural building techniques. Natural building aligns with sustainable and environmental ethics. It is very affordable, and it is art. Anyone can do it– young or old, male or female—the project brings people together and builds community. Presently, more than half the world’s population lives in naturally built homes and this building style is innovative, empowering, and fun!
In Spring 2015, Marissa and Brennan put together a rich natural building and ecological design curriculum for AVS. One of the first projects to come to fruition is the Butterfly Earthbench. Marissa and Brennan led Junior Kindergarten through first grade students in designing and building a bench that could seat ten students. Danny, the third grade teacher, donated his old car tires, which sit at the base of the bench, and students re-purposed trash from their lunch into bottle bricks, which support the backrest. As a class, students mixed batches of clay, sand, straw, and water to make cob and applied it on the bench. The children enjoyed every moment of the process, singing songs as they worked together. AVS then hosted a garden work party, where students taught their parents how to mix cob and parents joined the fun and got their hands dirty! After the final layer of cob was applied, students decorated the Butterfly Earthbench with glass beads and tiles. Students have expressed that they feel joy, a sense of accomplishment, and are empowered by this project.
During the natural building and ecological design unit, each grade focused on a project. Third and fourth grade classes designed and are in the process of building a children’s playhouse. The fifth grade class collaborated with Four Barrel Coffee and the Portola Neighborhood Association and built an ecologically designed Little Free Library. Marissa and Brennan have many more dream projects for AVS and plan to integrate natural building and ecological design concepts into playground structures, community benches, wall murals, and even possibly a small building for a classroom, tiny home, or greenhouse in the future. The possibilities with natural building are endless!
Meet the Sustainability and Garden Education Team and learn about their natural building backgrounds…
Marissa Weitzman– Marissa brought natural building to AVS in 2014 and decided to build the first Earthbench without experience. She learned alongside her students as they tested the cob for its durability and strength and applied it to the bench. She realized through this dirty and fun process, her love for natural building. Marissa has participated in a variety of natural building projects at the Village Building Convergence in Portland, Oregon. She recently completed an intensive natural building course at Cob Cottage Company with Ianto Evans and has toured naturally built structures all over Latin America. She is looking forward to building her own naturally built home in the near future. Marissa has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Natural Resource Management and Conservation and minors in Biology and Geography from San Francisco State University. She received her Permaculture Certificate in Guatemala at the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in 2011.
Brennan Bird Blazer– In 2010 Brennan saved his non-biodegradeable ‘waste’ materials for the entire year in his college room. He shared his experience during the first UC Davis TEDx Talks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTto3_jV894&ab_channel=TEDxTalks) , showcasing a coffee table filled with his year’s trash. For four years Brennan led a nonprofit zero waste project teaching students to repurpose plastic waste into “bottle bricks” that could be used to build an earthen bench on their campus. Ultimately, over 40 Earthbenches have been built in over 15 countries around the world, including Kenya, Ghana, throughout the U.S., South Africa, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Argentina. Brennan has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Nature and Culture from the University of California, Davis. He received his Permaculture Design Certificate from the Regenerative Design Institute in California in 2010.