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Saturday, July 10, 2010

House of Straw

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Almost six years since moving to the farm in November 2003 we had driven by an RV sitting on a pretty plot of land on Meridian Road that had a sign reading "Green & White Acres." (This would be a reference to the TV show "Green Acres," which entertained my father-in-law to no end.) We passed it every day - winter, spring, summer and fall - going to work "in town" - about a 30-minute ride. I could see that people lived in the RV, and I admired their houselessness in some ambiguous environmentally conscious part of my brain. They had a little rectangular garden bed of tomatoes next to the road, and even a clothesline near the RV. Suddenly last summer a house started going up on that land, and then there were straw bales piled up for the insulation. How exciting!





The first little pig built his house out of straw because it was the easiest thing to do.

While chicory appeared like blue stars along the green firmament of farm fields, the straw house grew. The owners must be building it themselves. It doesn't look easy to me, and it certainly isn't quick. That "Green & White Acres" sign makes me think the owners work at my university or are alums, because MSUs colors are green and white. Our school tries to be green in more than just school spirit, with a good recycling program, and energy conserving incentives, but a lot could still be improved. Sadly, Monsanto develops seeds at my agricultural university, including genetically modified ones, like insect-resistant potatoes. (Here and here are brief articles listing some pros and cons of Genetically Modified Organisms - GMOs.)

One night the big bad wolf, who dearly loved to eat fat little piggies, came along and saw the first little pig in his house of straw. He said "Let me in, Let me in, little pig or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!"

"Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin", said the little pig.

But of course the wolf did blow the house in and ate the first little pig.



I took the pictures above one year ago. Here is the straw house this week, still not done, but the straw has been covered with stucco. I waited until the blue chicory bloomed again to take new photos. One of the color blue's characteristics in color therapy is that it is calming. It certainly does soothe me on my drive coming and going. Another trait of blue is that it promotes growth. Who knew? Slowly, slowly, country blue chicory is helping a little green house grow.


House of Straw 

It's a blue star bi-way,
a green house bouquet,
hay rolls, straw bales,
wolves fly, pigs prevail.

 ~ me



When the Big Bad Wolf comes to huff and puff and blow this house down, the owners can relax, because the bales make good load bearing walls and are extra sturdy - besides being three [little pig] times more efficient than conventionally built houses, for insulating against the cold and heat. Who needs expensive bricks? And will the owners of Green & White Acres be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!
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54 comments:

Ocean Girl said...

Hi. Your pictures are beautiful and your story lovely.

George said...

Nice posting, Ruth. I have always been interested in alternative forms of construction, such as straw bales. We obviously need to rethink how we use resources in this world.

Shari Sunday said...

May the pigs always prevail! I'm always for the underpig. Interesting post. I hope we can see the finished house someday.

Gwen Buchanan said...

Exciting to see the straw bale house, Ruth.. always liked them... aren't you cute with the big bad wolf story!!!!

Jill of All Trades said...

Oh I love this. Fun to watch stuff like this happen. (Thanks for the comment to my bucket list) Carla

Pauline said...

Way cool! You piqued my interest so I went to a website about alternative housing. There are so many ways to live in harmony with nature instead of against it I wonder how we ever got so far from our beginnings as humans...

http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/sustainable_architecture.htm

Lorenzo said...

This post is a lovely little paean to the virtues and rewards of quiet observant patience. It took years of observation, reflection and photography to capture the story. What a wonderful blue in the chicory: makes this little lapis lazuli elephant want to go running home crying wee, wee, wee.

I checked out the strawbale construction link. Quite fascinating, I had no idea. By the way, have you ever read the inversion of this tale called Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig? The triumphant construction material there is flowers.

ellen abbott said...

I would love to build an environmentally friendly house with recycled materials some day...alas, it will have to wait for my next lifetime. My path in this on doesn't provide the resources.

Patricia said...

A staff person from my son's old school built a straw house over twenty years ago and they are still enjoying it to this day!

Thanks for this post. I love the idea of "slow building".

The Bug said...

I love this! I wish them many years in their straw house.

Gwei Mui said...

Love the pictures - I miss the countryside, farms and just being able to see greenery for miles. Especially on days like this (it a cracking 29c)

Arti said...

So good, Ruth... your photos, your story, your poem... turning fable into fact. Thanks for this piece of environmental ed, this is certainly viable in our part of the world. We see bales of hay everywhere along the highway. But this is the first time I learn about them being used as insulation to build houses... sturdy ones too. A wonderful and timely post.

Babs-beetle said...

Really? A house made of straw bales? I'm amazed.

DrowseyMonkey said...

Who knew? That's fascinating! great post

Loring Wirbel said...

How effective, interspersing the three little pigs and blue chicory. Love this!!

Pat said...

Thanks for your story and pictures. I, too, have never heard of a "straw" house, except in fairy tales. The Three pigs indeed!

Ruth said...

Thanks, and welcome, Ocean Girl. I am taken with the blue and green together myself.

Ruth said...

Thank you, George. I wish we could slow down like these owners, and figure out how to build efficient buildings and do it with inexpensive renewable stuff like this.

Ruth said...

Shari, may unselfish, ungreedy pigs prevail. I will definitely show you the finished house, whenever that is.

Ruth said...

Well hello there, Gwen! It's been ages. I'm sorry it's so hot up there that even the crows pant. Wow. I hope everything is going well and you're selling lots of your gorgeous jewelry in the tourist season.

Ruth said...

Thank you for the link, Pauline. Don and I would love to have a wind turbine here on the farm and go off the grid. I think there are more affordable ones made in Europe now that are just around $1000. We're grateful that whoever built our farm house planted maple trees all around it, which shade us from the hot sun and in winter without leaves allow the sun to give us some warmth.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, no, I had never heard of the reverse tale of The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. I just read it online. So a sledge hammer, pneumatic drill and dynamite break some tough houses, but in the end the Big Bad Pig is defeated by scent. I like that kind of fighting back. :)

Ruth said...

Oops, hi, Carla. Out of order, and I'm glad to know your real name. :)

Ruth said...

Ellen, I really wish we could do the same, or at least install solar panels on our barns and house. I think it would be very costly.

Ruth said...

Patricia, more of us need to dare to slow down. I would not mind setting up a co-op here on the farm with family and friends, and be mostly self sufficient.

Ruth said...

Dana, given their patience and long term plan, I'm guessing they are there for life.

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, I experienced that city heat one year in NYC visiting Lesley. I swear the temps were 10 degrees hotter (F) when radiated from the pavement. So I feel for you and hope you're getting relief from the heat over there now.

Ocean Girl said...

Aah got it Ruth. I'll blogroll you so I can get to know you better :)

Ruth said...

Arti, I hope the word keeps spreading. Sometimes I think it's just a matter of coordination to pull together people with money and people with plans and people with drive to get some of these things in motion. Why does it take so long to do things right?

Ruth said...

It's so cool, Babs. You can see here how they look finished on the inside. I like how old fashioned they look with their curves and not-uniform corners.

Ruth said...

Drowsey, the first straw bale house I heard of was built by Don's cousin. I didn't see it, and I thought I pictured something very different from this, something more temporary, like a nomadic dwelling. (Such a dim bulb sometimes.)

Ruth said...

Pat, with your sense of humor, I would like it if you would write fractured fairy tales (remember those in cartoons?). OK?

rauf said...

its a beautiful idea considering the cost factor, specially for India. But in India people are very careless and irresponsible, including me (generalisation again Ruth). My friends get annoyed with my objections and ask me why i always think on the negative lines. A Bharath Natyam performer friend of mine took me to a theatre built on the same lines. It was beautiful Ruth. Do you like it she asked me. i asked her where is the fire fighting equipment?. i said its a crime to build a theatre of 300 seats with material which can easily catch fire and you have no fire fighting equipment. She was very angry with me and said ' is this all you have to say ?
The acoustics were fantastic. i always dream of building a recording studio with mud and straw.
The other problem is humidity attracts fungus growth, which can be suffocating.

One of the reasons i want to go to Coorg is to have a meal at my uncle's house. i can't forget the taste of potato curry i had last time. We have forgotten what potatoes used to taste like. Here in Chennai we only get GM potatoes which are a bit sweetish.

i am so familiar with places surrounding you Ruth.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Loring. I think a person can synchronize almost any two or three things. :)

Ruth said...

Good, Ocean Girl, and thank you so much for following. It's an honor to have you.

VaNeSsA said...

I LOVE the straw house and the obviously lovely people who are buiding it.
I had to laugh at your telling of the 3 Pigs story - how you have the pig eaten, because, after all, what pig could actually outrun a wolf?
My daughter makes (I say amkes, but what I really mean is lets) me tell her the 3 Little Pigs story every night. It's my own fault for telling it with such enthusiasm the first time - the falsetto pig voices, and the huffing and puffing, and the pounding the bed hard for the wolf's knock on the pig's door and gently for the pig's knock on his brother's door - I hope she will remember it always, and what I think it really means: When a Wolf is after you, go to your big brother (or sister)'s house. (S)he'll cook him in a big pot of water. Plus, her house is nicer than yours. (Heehee!) :)
Loving your posts about the family reunions. Sorry I've been a bit absent. Only in voice, not in spirit.

Cait O'Connor said...

What a great post, I did enjoy it.
I see you have a washing line pic on your blog, I have a thing about those :-)

Ann said...

Ruth, our minds must be connected. When I read your heading, I wanted to write about the 3 little pigs. You have already written it.

It is good to have hay. Some of our farmers have been neglecting their animals and not giving them hay. Some animals get emanciated.

Ann said...

I meant to ask you , your Honey chicken, is it a Poland chicken?

I saw her photo, and one day, I saw a similar one in my park. I am going to post it and I am pretty sure it is a poland chicken. (I will like it to you.)

Ruth said...

rauf, I feel certain that if we could connect people with ideas and money and will, we could solve a lot of problems. I don't know what prevents us from doing it more.

I didn't know GM foods tasted different. I'm impressed that you noticed and compared. This really drives me crazy, this inability to know what we eat, and even how our home grown vegetables are affected by what is carried on the wind or flying beasts from other fields. There is a great deal we can't control, and I guess it's best to accept it, but to continue doing what we can to resist and prevent what we can. I don't do enough, I'm afraid.

Ruth said...

Hello, VaNeSsA! Yes, I missed you.

Well I can picture you telling this story to your daughter in animated language and sound effects, how fun! I would ask again and again too.

I actually copied and pasted the quotes from the story from an online version of it, which I think is close to the original. You know how that goes, these tales were quite morbid and gruesome before anyone started cleaning them up to be more PC.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Caitlin. Now that I am back from Ireland (after reading your Sunday poem), let me say that besides Ireland, hanging laundry and gathering it off the line is one of the profound pleasures of my life. When there aren't mosquitoes.

Ruth said...

Ann, I wonder why the farmers are neglecting their animals? Can they not afford to grow the hay? Hmm.

Yes, Honey is a Golden Polish. You saw one wandering in a park? I'm very sad, because Don is thinning the flock, and I will have to say good-bye to her and Floozie when she goes to a new home. :(

Ann said...

http://annkschin.blogspot.com/2010/07/sunday-stills-shadows.html

I posted it. He is semi feral. The park is open to the public and hordes of visitors come everyday to feed these birds. I think he was a pair. It was only after they walked past me when it clicked that it was like your chicken. ( I made a typo mistake in my last comment, I meant to say I link it to you, instead I typed I like it to you.)

Sorry you have to say good by to your chickens. Mum and Dad kept chickens, and ducks etc. i had to feed them. We did treat them as pets, rather as "working" animals, so we didn't feel sad when we had to (you know what I mean) except one brother. he always cried.

The farmers use the excuse of the drought, recession etc. The last case was this man had about 10 race horses and he didn't feed them, just let them graze where there was very little grass. He also left a stallion among the mares. Bad thing to do.

ds said...

This brings so much to mind, Ruth. Such a lovely, thought out, beautiful post (blue chicory is striking in the foreground). Was reminded of the sod houses built by settlers on the prairie, and of the straw insulation we found in my parents house when they renovated the kitchen umpteen years ago. I think that is what is most interesting about this--that what was once considered temporary or "poor" material is now cutting-edge.
The more things change...

Kate said...

Great post, Ruth. thanks.
Straw bale homes are very popular in the SW US, as are rammed-earth houses (aka Earthships). the older version of straw bale homes could be put up very quickly (in a weekend) once the foundations were in. These days, they are often built like the one in this post - with straw as insulation around a more traditional post & beam.
As for fires - it has been proven that they are MUCH more fire retardant than wood structures. Here is a link that talks about that:
http://www.earthdayweb.org/GBT/GreenBuilt_Articles/GreenBuilt_StrawBuilding.html

And this link:
http://omnicrone1.typepad.com/katethoughts/2009/09/its-been-awhile.html
contains pictures of an in-progress earthship where I did some pet-sitting for about a month.
very nice.

Thanks.

Ginnie said...

I have never heard of such a thing, Ruth! After watching the video, I want to see more and how they cover the straw, inside and out. Most fascinating! I bet you will stop one day and ask for a tour? :)

Susan said...

Excellent post, Ruthie! Friends of ours have talked about building a straw bale house for years (well, mostly him), and they've been featured in Mother Earth News. Very fascinating concept.

My stepfather loved Green Acres! I saw him laugh so hard once, that I thought he was going to have a stroke! It was pretty funny, in an idiotic sort of way. The show, I mean. :)

Vagabonde said...

I learn so much from your blogs Ruth – that you can build house of straw and that chicory has blue flowers. My grandmother made coffee using half chicory and I never thought how it grew or what it was. I am surprised it is so pretty for such a dark beverage. I like the color blue – I read that most restaurants like McDonald and others use the colors red and yellow as they increase your appetite but blue is supposed to decrease your appetite. I am trying to get my husband to paint our yellow kitchen cream with blue accents – I can use the blue response to my appetite.

*jean* said...

oo ruth...i made my husband pull over on a trip in our newly married youth to look at the blue flowers along the side of the road...thus began my love affair with chicory...a beautiful post..i love the 5 agreements at the bottom of your blog...i read the book "the four agreements" many years back and have always found it to be the best advice ever..

Terresa said...

Love the process of the pictures in this post, and the blue chicory.

My dad has always wanted to build an adobe style desert home with hay bales as insulation. Still a dream.

Oliag said...

I would love to live in a "green" house...and Mr O, an architect, and I have talked about moving and building a smaller, greener house...but it is hard to leave this house that has been so full of love, even if it is a drafty, dusty, mousey, old thing. When we were renovating our old house many years ago we found old corn cobs inside the horsehair plaster walls...We guessed this was for insulation but there really wasn't enough to do much of anything...The old mill workers who lived here never thought of straw!

Love the blue of the blue chicory...

Jeanie said...

Isn't it fun to see change like that? I love the pig tie-in! And is that what chickory is? I always wondered a) what it was and b) what those blue flowers were. Finally! I know!

dutchbaby said...

Amazing - straw insulation. I bet it's effective. One of the ingredients the Dutch use for their dykes is sea grass.

Like Vagabonde, I never knew chicory had blue flowers. I would like to see a row of mason jars all filled with blue chicory flowers.