Natural Building Workshop

Natural Building Workshop

Monday August 21, 2023 to Friday August 25, 2023

Description and How to Register

In five days, we will construct the walls and furniture of an energy-efficient tiny house from site-harvested clay soil and small diameter poles harvested during regenerative forest management. The featured  building techniques  are low-cost, accessible to people with limited tools and experience, and enhance the fire safety of both the home itself and the surrounding ecosystem. With over-stalked forests, catastrophic fires, housing crises, loss of cottage market crafts and a need for resilient communities, we see an inspiring opportunity to utilize round poles harvested for fuels reduction as a building material. Building fire-resistant structures using earthen materials in a communal setting is an astounding way to cultivate resiliency and connections to each other, the earth, and your home!.

The workshop includes 3 meals a day, Monday - Friday, and camping on site, with cabins available at added cost. Meals will feature fresh organic food supporting local, organic farmers.

What the course will cover:

  • Round pole framing and furniture crafting
  • Clay-based wall construction (cob, light clay-fiber, wattle-and-daub, etc.)
  • Earthen floors and plasters
  • Alternative gabion and gravel bag foundations with little or no cement
  • Materials selection and harvesting to improve forest health
  • Fire-resistant building techniques
  • Energy-efficient design and planning

In addition:

  • Epic swimming
  • Delicious, nutritious food
  • Campfire fun
  • Positive, practical EMPOWERMENT
  • Community Building

The Site

Hosted at Tan Oak Park, a community gathering space and evolving forest health education and training center. Tan Oak Park is 16 miles north of Laytonville and 8 miles south of Leggett on Highway 101 in Mendocino County. The site provides abundant shaded camping platforms, a beautiful public swimming hole across the highway, bathrooms and showers, highway accessibility, and a long-term vision for ecological and communal harmony.

Camping platforms and cabin at Tan Oak Park

Teachers' Bios:

Michael G. Smith co-founded the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon in 1993. He wrote “The Cobber’s Companion” in 1996 and co-authored “The Hand-Sculpted House” (Chelsea Green, 2002), “The Art of Natural Building” (2nd edition, New Society, 2015) and the forthcoming “Essential Cob Construction” (New Society, 2024). He has experience with a wide range of effective low-cost, low-tech building techniques including cob, straw bale, and many lightweight natural infill systems. He has taught hundreds of hands-on natural building workshops, ranging from one-day earthen oven builds for children to 12-week professional training. He enjoys consulting with owner-builders to help them design and build successful energy-efficient natural homes. He is president of the nonprofit Cob Research Institute, which wrote the first building cob for code in the world and successfully advocated for its adoption into the 2021 International Residential Code. With his partner and children, he stewards a 20-acre organic farm in Yolo County. Learn more at

Colin Gillespie has worked in the construction trades for over 10 years, with previous experience in integrative landscaping.He has dedicated himself to the study and mindful application of Natural Building, Permaculture Design, Eco-forestry, and Sociology. Son of an architect and a physicist, his attention to detail coupled with a passion for smart buildings and landscapes has inspired him to produce exemplary structures combining the benefits of modern and ancient building techniques. Elegant round-pole timber frame with straw bale infill constructions with robust contoured plasters are his specialty and have been featured in many of the projects he has led. In addition to his familiarity with standard stud construction, he is also known for his use of a variety of natural building techniques involving local resources such as wood, clay, and rock.  He champions keen observation, considerate visioning, and thorough planning, all tempered with good humor to allow long-term efficient function and beauty to emerge naturally.

John Cunnan has been a wood craftsman since 1972 when he taught woodcraft to the apprentices of Allan Chadwick, the originator of the Biodynamic French Intensive gardening method. Working with wood was integrated with forestry, wild crafting, and food production as part of their curriculum. He founded the Round Valley Wood Wrights in 1979 and ran the wood shop for the Covelo Garden Project while it was active. John took fourth place in a national competition to create a Peace Garden by designing a garden that symbolized the potential of what America could really stand for; living in harmony with all of life. He currently teaches wood working at River Oak Charter School and the Mendocino Waldorf School, in Calpella, Mendocino County. John promotes the utilization of the suppressed growth Douglas fir and Pine trees, what he calls “Smart Sticks” for furniture and alternative building materials.

Vincent Brown After an early career in agriculture and agricultural education, Vincent has spent the last thirty years working in watershed management, fish and wildlife habitat restoration, sustainable forestry, and environmental job training. Recently his focus has been on resilient communities for climate change regarding food security, clean drinking water, forest fire prevention, and local economies. Vincent has a master’s degree in Transformative Leadership and a PhD in Transformative Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies, in San Francisco. He is a Board member of The Red Way, a Tribal non-profit, which focuses on environmental restoration for skills development and job training for Native people. Vincent has been working with John Cunnan in forest fuel load reduction and utilizing the small diameter poles for making furniture.
Vincent Brown, PhD
(707) 391-8584

Info about Weekend Festivities

The class will end Friday evening, August 25th. The next day, Saturday August 26th, we will host a fun day celebrating our local culture. Workshops highlighting diverse skills and talents, knowledge exchange, homesteading tips, lessons learned the hard way, ways to practice resilience. Followed by food, libations, and music into the evening. Workshop participants are welcome to stay and join us Saturday. Stay tuned for details.

We welcome families

If you would like to bring the family, we welcome that. We will have some activities for children and older kids can take part in the build but realize that the parents are responsible for watching after their children and providing activities for them. We must charge for meals and space taken by kids but we have tried to make it reasonable for families. This could be a wonderful learning experience for the whole family

Rates for children:
Kids age 7 and under free
Ages 8 to 12     $150.00
Ages 13 to 18      $250.00
Over 18          full price

If you wish to bring children, please email with the number of kids and their ages and names and we will provide a total and a way to pay.

To register, choose the option you wish, click the Pay button and checkout using Stripe...

Five Day Natural Building Workshop – Camping Option
 August 21, 2023 to August 25, 2023
 Camping with restrooms and showers
 Three delicious meals a day

Five Day Natural Building Workshop – Cabin Option
 August 21, 2023 to August 25, 2023
 Private Cabin with shared restrooms and showers (only 3 available)
 Three delicious meals a day

Five Day Natural Building Workshop – Local Discount
August 21, 2023 to August 25, 2023
Camping with restrooms and showers
For residents of Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. Proof required.
Three delicious meals a day

Notes on payments:

  • If you have questions about payment methods or have specific needs, please email
  • If multiple people are registering together, adjust the quantity during checkout. We will email you for all names, emails, and phone numbers.
  • If multiple people are staying in one cabin, one should register for the cabin rate and the rest for the camping rate.
  • Three work-trade positions will be available. We will require 24 hours of work in the days before the class plus $150 cash in lieu of the $800 tuition. Email us for details.
  • Two scholarships will be available. 30%, %50, or %70 of the tuiton will be covered depending on need. Email us with reasons why you deserve a scholorship.
  • Within our checkout, there's an option to use Klarna which allows payment in four installments without interest.
  • Refund policy: Since registration is opening within 30 days of the event, no refunds for tuiton will be given except for special circumstances. If you have registered and can't come to the class, please email us right away.