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There’s a lot of blag in the online world, a lot of fluff and bluff and good angles, so I take my time when getting to know new folk. One person I’ve had my beady mud eye on for a while now is Oliver Goshey, natural building expert and podcaster. He’s also building something very special with his friends in Guatemala. But more about that in a minute, because there’s so much to learn from this guy.
The Natural Builder
I love how we natural builders are all so different. And that’s just as it should be. Some of us are mud mavericks (ahem), others of us are more methodical. Oliver started out in conventional construction, and steadily developed from there. “I always knew there were better ways of building,” he says. So he began learning more about permaculture design principles and ancient building techniques. “From there I gradually found my way into the subculture of natural builders and survivalists who were using the materials and resources around them to build beautiful homes.”
Yes. There really is a subculture. And it exists in every corner of the planet, from Asia to Europe to the Americas and beyond. When you join it, you realise all is possible. It’s where regenerative spells are being cast, and futures are created.
I doubt I’ll ever reach the limits of clay
Oliver Goshey has done a lot of building in a lot of far-flung places. One minute you see him stomping cob, the next he’s helping construct a bamboo roof, the next he’s involved in a stone wall pointed beautifully with lime mortar. How many darn natural building techniques does this guy know? I wondered.
“I’ve looked into all of the main natural building methods going and have tried to get my hands on as many types of projects as I can...I would say my favourite building method would be any which is correct for its place and context, because no matter how much I might love building with one material, it could be entirely inappropriate and impractical where I’m building. With that said, I love clay.”
Funny how mud gets us all, eh? Why is that?
“It seems to be the most versatile, abundantly available, easy to work with, forgiving for beginners, and healthy material I’ve come across. It can be formed into bricks like adobe, free-form sculpted as with cob, rammed into forms as rammed earth, and sifted finely and mixed into plasters...Clay also dampens sound and has great acoustic properties, it endures high temperatures so it’s perfect for stoves, ovens and fireplaces too. It can be fired into pottery, used as a dietary supplement, heck I’ve even used it to quickly stop bleeding from wounds. I think clay is on par with water as far as magical, almost-other-worldly materials go. I doubt I’ll ever reach the limits of clay.”
While Oliver’s travels have been an amazing education in the world’s natural building arts, they have, however, also brought to light one rather sad common thread.
“While every place is different in its perception of natural building, the one observation that is fairly consistent around the world is that natural building is often thought of as a low-class or low-budget building style, and this is a perception I’m intent on changing. I’ve worked in many communities where people who still live in perfectly good earthen or other natural homes don’t trust natural materials or view them as outdated and nothing to aspire to.”
Yes, I have found the same thing. And makes little odds whether you’re in London or Bangkok, your average construction engineer still believes natural building doesn’t last, even when a 600-year-old wattle and daub house is standing proudly behind them.
“There seems to be a pervasive idea that anything new and modern is better or that the over-industrialised countries and their infrastructure...are the only ones worth emulating,” says Oliver.
New World Creation
But Oliver Goshey’s vision isn’t restricted to building. And this makes what he’s doing especially exciting. He speaks about something that I find incredibly important, and still quite visionary today. It’s the notion of regeneration. He’s all about creating beautiful worlds that not only minimise damage to the environment, but that breathe new life and grow.
And because Oliver isn’t just poncing about on Google, he and his friends are actually making this vision a reality. Where? Guatemala.
The Regenerative Paradise in Guatemala
“We are involved in a lot of projects here. Everything from large farm designs down to rocket stove installations for indigenous families, but our main project at the moment is building our own regenerative homestead model where we live on Lake Atitlan,” says Oliver, who stresses that The Abundant Edge is not a one-man-show. "I really want to mention how essential my team members Jeremy, Neal and Adriana are." Adriana Urueta is an ecologist in charge of logistics and marketing, while Jeremy Fellows and Neal Hegarty are both permaculture design and plant experts. Sounds like a capable bunch.
The homestead is a real adventure. The team are attempting to turn an acre of rocky land into a regenerative paradise. And from where I’m stood it looks like they’re doing a darn good job of it. Right now, they’re in the process of building a beautiful natural home, a small market garden, a goat dairy (the goats are very cute), food forests, waste water filtration gardens, herb and medicinal plants, river-fed passive irrigation, aquaculture systems and more.
“We’ll look to focus on local community education and training on alternatives to coffee and corn production that can earn a lot more money for the owners while regenerating the landscape and local ecology,” says Oliver.
It’s a good idea. One thing that folk often get wrong when trying to create a new world is to fail to properly include or enhance the local community. And the consequences for that mistake can be pretty severe. No man (or living ecosystem) is an island, and you have to maintain good relations with your neighbours if you want to survive.
But it doesn’t end there. The Abundant Edge is one of the few projects I’ve seen that truly understands the importance of media outreach and economic viability. Without a platform, some way to reach new people, and an income, your project is massively disempowered. Hence the virtual side of The Abundant Edge, which is Oliver’s very informative podcast. Do hop over and listen because there’s much to be learned from it.
If you want to learn more about The Abundant Edge or fancy getting involved in the project, you can contact Oliver Goshey and the team directly through the contact page on their website, or by signing up to volunteer with Atitlan Organics.
The team also have a host of courses starting in October 2018, including Introduction to Natural Building and Introduction to Permaculture, and their first ever Permaculture Design certification for natural builders will kick off in February of next year. There’s also an exciting apprenticeship program for 2019.
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