Stick together, harmonize, express yourself

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Pamela Bosch, founder of Highland Hemp House, Bellingham, Washington, USA, starts her review based on her annual hemp fact-finding trip to Europe this autumn.

(Part 1 of 2) I should have written the review of my European hemp tour before the election in the United States. My usual optimistic outlook has taken a punch in the stomach. As I picked myself up post-election, I began to see the continuum of the larger world in which my own building endeavor is taking place. More than ever, we need to tell our stories of building and connecting. We need to bring to the foreground our good intentions, our good works, because our collective success is not going to be inspired by our so-called leaders. More than ever, we need to walk in the world as if it is up to each of us to make the our planet a better place with our own hands. I’d like to introduce you to a bunch of folks who are doing just that with the help of a plant and some elemental earth.

Open ended journey

Hempcrete built dormitory at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.
Hempcrete built dormitory at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales, UK.

I went to Europe having three planned destinations and a rail pass with no further reservations. My first destination was the Center for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales where I attended a conference based on the theme “Making it Happen – Overcoming the Obstacles to a Zero Carbon Future.” CAT is an education and demonstration center focused on sustainability. I became aware of this amazing place because it has a dormitory made of hempcrete, one of the first such structures built in modern times. It was quite comfortable — and so was the conference. There I met a group of people of diverse backgrounds who came together to take a serious and heartfelt look at what we can do to rescue ourselves from excessive consumption. It was a wonderful gathering of human beings in the center of Wales, topped off with a ceili dance on Saturday night. That’s getting it right in my book. If we include singing and dancing and playing music in our problem solving endeavors, we embody the intention to stay together, to be harmonious and expressive, and if someone is out of step, we have a laugh and pull them along back into alignment. It’s ancient good behavior and I felt much at home in a place far away.

Hitting the wish list: Bingo

Sunny day in Oxford, United Kingdom.
Pamela also got to Oxford while in the United Kingdom.

I had some other stops on my UK wish list. There is one hemp processing plant remaining in the UK. I went to the town of Beverley to see this farm and processing plant. I was told that there was no time for a visit due to harvesting. It was a disappointment, but my Airbnb hosts were wonderful, as was the performance of Hamlet, and the discussion with Matthias Garn, a stone mason, about plaster and ancient building techniques. He has a deep love for what he does and was happy to share. Bingo.

Also successful was a visit with Ian Pritchett. Ian was in on all the major projects that I mention in my Pratt presentation — the Marks & Spencer Cheshire Oaks project, the Adnam’s Brewery Distribution Center, and the British Science Museum storage facility. I hadn’t actually put that together until I had this opportunity to talk with him. Not only was Ian very generous with his time, but he picked me up, dropped me off, and showed me his nearby projects. One was a very efficient and affordable single family home, the other a high end multiplex. It happened that he was giving a lecture to a very interesting group of retirees that included emeritus Oxford professors and other folks. Bringing me along was a good opportunity for an overview of his methods — learning about U3A was a bonus.

Wide-eyed in Italy

Next I flew from Birmingham to Verona, Italy. Imagine: I am wide eyed and giddy at seeing all the marvelous old architecture, from the elaborate yellow sandstone buildings of Oxford, to the Roman ruins of Bath, to the thatched roof countryside homes — everywhere I look is an aesthetic treat with a glimpse into the past. And then there’s Italy. I now know why so many tourists go to Venice — but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Steve Allin, in my opinion, is responsible for initiating the general public into the world of building with hemp and lime. He first used it for his own house and then, one foot in front of the other, kept sharing what he learned until today, he has the most interesting global connections. Hosting International Hemp Building symposia to bring together the latest advances, studies, techniques, locations, the state of the industry, the environmental and humanitarian aspects of what building with these materials could do for the world — anyone interested in hempcrete building should be aware of what Steve has accomplished and what he is offering. I recommend joining his organization to learn the latest best practices and to connect with the heart of this movement. It was apparent that from last year to this year, the interest and legitimacy of hempcrete building has made a significant leap forward. The scale and integrative energy aspects of the Italian projects were an inspiring move forward for the legitimization of hempcrete as the greenest of building materials. Go here and join if you are interested in the future of building with hempcrete.

Inspiring projects worldwide

Hana Gabrielová of Hempoint.
Along the way, Pamela visited with Hana Gabrielová, CEO, Hempoint in the Czech Republic.

But the advance of big projects is only half the story. Also featured at Steve’s symposium were several projects illustrating that hemp can be used to achieve basic housing in areas of the world where people are food and housing insecure. Steve is trying to introduce hemp building in Haiti where there is little wood, poor quality concrete building, and poor nutrition. Monika Brümmer, Cannabric, Spain, is working with the government of Morocco to demonstrate that destitute farmers of the High Central Rif could use the feral hemp to refurbish their homes. And Dhiraj and Nivedita Shah have a plan to use the feral hemp of Nepal to provide housing, nutrition, and local industry to the poorest of their people. These stories are truly inspiring. Please follow their progress and help them to find funding if you are able. This is the potential of hemp to change the world. It is a humble plant, low on the biological hierarchy of power if you think that humans are on the top. But maybe we should rethink that order.

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