Natural Building Workshop with Expert Builder Micheal G. Smith Coming To Ridgewood Ranch in April

This is a press release from the School of Adaptive Agriculture:

Willits, CA – Natural building expert Michael G. Smith will be leading a two part workshop series in late April on straw bale and natural plaster construction techniques to create an efficient, inexpensive walk-in produce cooler (or similar sized structure) for the School of Adaptive Agriculture’s market garden.

“It was important to me to bring this knowledge not only to our school but to the wider community. Especially during this time of rebuilding,” said Field Manager Joshua Sternberg. “I wanted to collaborate and bring in one of the premier natural builders, Michael G. Smith, to cultivate expertise in our community, help my neighbors, and show what can be done with our own hands.”

Joshua received a grant from the Good Farm Fund in late December 2017 to build a cold storage system to preserve the freshness of his harvests before they go to market. Josh’s was one of the many cold storage grant proposals The Good Farm Fund received in their most recent grant cycle. Local farmers have realized that cold storage has increasingly become a farm necessity with the increased market access provided by the MendoLake Food Hub, which enables small farms to sell year-round to groceries, school districts and restaurants from Mendocino County all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Cold storage makes an exponential positive impact on a farm,” said MendoLake Food Hub Manager & Good Farm Fund Co-Founder Caroline Radice.  “The mission of both the Food Hub and the Good Farm Fund is to work for the economic viability of small farms and to increase local food access in our community.  With the heat of Northern California summers, tender crops like lettuces can wilt and become worthless within mere hours of harvest without cold storage. Cold storage is a vital part of a farm by preserving the freshness of the field for later sales, be it for later that day or months down the line. With this tool farmers are enabled to bring more crops to market and add new customers like grocery stores and schools.  We’re excited to work with Joshua and the School of Adaptive Agriculture to offer this important workshop, which offers farmers an innovative, cost-effective solution.”

With his seed money from the Good Farm Fund, Joshua put together a partnership between the School of Adaptive Agriculture, The MendoLake Food Hub, Wall to Wall, Michael G. Smith, and himself to bring this groundbreaking two part workshop series to Ridgewood Ranch this April.

The first part of the workshop series (April 20-22) will focus on straw bales and the basics of walls, foundations and structural design. Attendees will learn to source and select the best bales for building, changing size as necessary, and stack them into strong, durable walls. Students will explore the best options for structural systems, how to install windows and doors, as well as discuss foundations, floors, plumbing and electrical considerations.

The second part of the workshop series (April 27-29) will focus on natural plasters and finishing. Now that the straw bales are up attendees will learn how to protect them from weather, fire, and animals. Students will learn to assess the suitability of a clay soil, develop the best plaster recipe, prepare the bale walls for plaster and mix and apply plasters in different ways, with and without mechanical assistance. They will also learn about lime-based plasters for increased water-resistance and discuss roofing and other weatherproofing strategies.

Cost for attendees:

  • $800 for both Part 1 (April 20-22) & Part 2 (April 27-29) of the Natural Building Workshop Series. Includes meals and onsite camping all 6 days.
  • $450 for a single weekend Workshop Series. Includes meals and onsite camping for 3 days.
  • Early bird discount (15%) available for those registering before April 1.
  • Group discount available.
  • Scholarships available for farmers.
  • Tickets and more information are available online at

About Michael G. Smith

Michael G. Smith has been leading natural building training’s since 1993 when he helped start the Cob Cottage Company, the group that first introduced cob to North America and helped spark the natural building revival. He has designed and built more than 50 natural structures, ranging in size from wood-fired ovens and outdoor benches to a 3,000 square foot community hall. His specialty is energy-efficient hybrid design, using locally available materials in a wide combination of techniques. He is the co-author of The Hand-Sculpted House (Chelsea Green, 2000), and The Art of Natural Building (New Society, 2nd Edition 2015). He is a founder and organizer of the Natural Building Colloquium and serves on the boards of the Cob Research Institute and the Natural Building Network. For more details, see

About Joshua Sternberg

Joshua Sternberg is currently the Field Manager and Instructor at the School of Adaptive Agriculture. Joshua was also a Master Gardner and student of OSU’s Agriprenuer program in Central Point Oregon before arriving at SAA. He completed the practicum program in 2015 and now grows food for the student body while working on his own market gardener enterprise. You can regularly find him at the local farmers markets in the spring and summer months. Joshua is passionate about farming and the importance of training the food producers of the future.

About Wall To Wall

Wall to Wall is a Comprehensive Natural Building Workshop Series happening this spring at Ridgewood Ranch in northern California. Join us for a comprehensive introduction to the art and science of natural building. If you attend the whole series of 5 workshops, you will learn 10 different versatile construction techniques that can be used alone or in combination to make nearly any kind of structure in almost every environment.

School of Adaptive Agriculture

The School of Adaptive Agriculture (SAA) is a vocational training center that equips the current and next generation with essential skills in the science, art and business of food production. Through our workshops and residential practicum program, the School of Adaptive Agriculture has gained a reputation for being one of the premier agriculture schools in Northern California.

Good Farm Fund

A community organization dedicated to providing direct support to small farmers in Mendocino/Lake Counties & increasing local food security for all. Good Farm Fund is a fiscally sponsored program of North Coast Opportunities, a Community Action Agency serving Lake & Mendocino Counties.

The MendoLake Food Hub

The Food Hub is a local produce distributor and program of North Coast Opportunities, currently in transition to become a grower cooperative in 2019.  The project works for the viability of small farms by providing access to a shared ordering and distribution network to wholesale buyers across Northern California and providing education and assistance for the professional farming community.



  • Perhaps I don’t know the right people but every straw bale project I’ve seen locally has ended terribly. We just aren’t the right environment for straw bale. Our heavy and high wind-driven sidewise rains beat on whatever plaster and as soon as the moisture enters the straw interior it starts molding! And then there is no way to fix it w/o tearing into the wall extensively! I have come to the theory that “appropriate” and “sustainable” are buzz words but they actually mean different things in different places. And in our place – here in the forests- it’s actually more appropriate and sustainable to use lumber. Or rammed earth. Unless you have some massive meadow to grow straw! Because if you are trucking straw hundreds of miles to have it turn to mold in your wall then that’s not very “cool” or “groovy” or eco-whatever. Or maybe there’s some new bomb-proof plasters and somebody can correct me?

    • Wrap around porches, big roof overhangs, are the only ways I would build one in heavy wet areas. But the cost would be prohibitive for me. Roofs & porches aren’t cheap.

    • I’ve seen a couple of beautiful local straw bale places. One is about 15 years old and it looks great.

  • A question I’ve had with straw bale construction is earthquake resiliency. Stacked bales 4 or higher can be a lot of weight tumbling down on top of a person.

    • For our environment, rastra blocks filled with cement is good.

    • I don’t think stacked ones are allowed in the earthquake zones, they’re usually built with pole or timber frame construction and then infilled with rice strawbales.

  • The two story Straw House restaurant in Big Flat (299 east of Burnt Ranch) is a nice example, weathering the weather nicely.

  • I’ve seen Michael’s COB houses up close and personal, trounced around in a straw sand clay slurry for construction of same; these buildings are not only aesthetically beautiful and unique, but appear to be as durable as anything I’ve seen built in the hills around Mendo/Humboldt.

  • We grow more trees out here than straw. Sustainable is taking advantage locally produced resources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *