Art Farm’s Natural Building in Panama
Farmer Lyn Bishop Shares Her Natural Building Journey
Cultures around the world have been building with local material for centuries, and as I set off to create a more sustainable lifestyle, I wanted to do the same with natural building.
All of the structures on Art Farm are built primarily from local materials like clay, wood, and bamboo. The farmhouse is made from adobe brick, which creates a cool indoor climate even in the hot tropics.
The little casita I’m building is no exception. It is built from a foundation of leftover adobe bricks from the house construction and framed out in farm-harvested bamboo.
When Desiree Wells suggested that I cover the bamboo with cob during a visit, I thought, “What a great idea. Cob is one of the most ancient building techniques used around the world and across all climates.”
The casita is tucked into a working orchard and food forest. It’s surrounded by avocado, mango, rambutan and citrus trees. Scattered around are pigeon pea, saril and yuca, and off in the far corners are young cacao seedlings.
The casita is a small accommodation tucked into the natural landscape. It’s intended to encourage reflection, relaxation and recharging of the mind, body, and spirit. Guests can participate in farm activities like harvesting fruit, winnowing cacao, or walking down to the river to swim. Our mission is to create a deliberate digital detox that encourages a natural dopamine boost inspired by the surrounding environment and abundant birdsong. Guests can expect to increase their mindfulness quotient substantially during their stay.
We’re making progress everyday, and can’t wait to receive our first guests at the end of 2020. We’re looking for a name for our little casita, so leave your ideas in the comments below.
The Natural Building Process
One aspect of the little casita that makes it beautiful—inside and out—is the collection of upcycled bottles collected from the local community on recycling day. Every week, community members drop off recycling, and the word got out that I was looking for glass bottles for the project.
I want to take a moment to send a big thanks to my Tierras Altas Recicla community for saving glass bottles with interesting shapes, colors and sizes for my project.
The process of cobbing is simple but slow. The mud mix contains three simple materials: local clay, local sand, and local rice hulls.
We mix these three materials on a tarp, with hands and feet used to knead the mud into a sticky, clay-like consistency. I like to use my bare feet so I can feel what’s happening in the mix.
Once we finish mixing the cob, we build and form the walls. We press hand-sized lumps of cob into the bamboo framework one handful at a time, smoothing and sculpting it out as we go along.
The white of the farm sack becomes the canvas, the bottles the paint and the bamboo the frame.
The artist-designer in me loves to experiment with color and form.
I move the bottles around on the floor to create the final pattern made from the variety of shapes and colors.
The casita embodies all of nature’s elements: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.
Inside each of the glass bottles and flowing through the bamboo rafters is the presence of the element of air.
If we think of the kaleidoscope of color busting into the room from the sun’s rays through the colored bottles, and the fact that glass itself has been transformed by heat, we see the element of fire.
From the fallen and collected rain comes the moisture used to hold the cob together, representing the water element.
And the cob walls themself, well, they are sculpted from the very Earth herself.
The casita herself is the embodiment of Pachamama and stands in witness to the seasons, and the planting and harvesting of the land.
At the end of the day, playing in mud makes us happy. Research is showing that the microbes in the soil are natural antidepressants that make you happier and healthier.
I know that this project has made me happy. Not only did I get my hands and feet dirty, but I also was able to share the process with others. I couldn’t have come this far without the help and support of my friends, family, and community.
Our cobbing parties, where we spent the day picnicking and playing in the mud, brought joy to the farm. It felt wonderful to have so many different people come on site to learn natural and sustainable building while experiencing the grounding, nurturing and satisfying feelings that come from working with mud.
Thank you to all those whose hands have helped to build the little casita. With love and respect, I appreciate you.