Village Building Convergence at home in Port Townsend

By Robin Dudley of the Leader
Posted 8/4/15

Port Townsend Village Building Convergence (VBC), an event promoting community gathering spaces, natural building and permaculture projects, took place July 25-29.

The event hub, at 612 Polk St. …

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Village Building Convergence at home in Port Townsend

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Port Townsend Village Building Convergence (VBC), an event promoting community gathering spaces, natural building and permaculture projects, took place July 25-29.

The event hub, at 612 Polk St. in the Uptown district, is a grassy area behind Sweet Laurette Cafe & Bistro. The property belongs to Malcolm Dorn, who owns Wallyworks Construction and who "has set the area up to be an incubator for small businesses," said Mike Ferguson, VBC outreach coordinator. "In a big way, [Dorn] likes to empower community-oriented stuff." Ferguson has a small shop on Dorn's property where he makes shoes he sells at the PT Farmers Market.

Tucked into a corner of the property, past the blue building being remodeled into Wallyworks' new offices, past Ferguson's small shop, is a low structure often covered with tarps that is being built into a teahouse to be open to all. "Anyone will be welcome to hang out there," Ferguson said, "make some tea, read a book."

The teahouse uses three kinds of natural building techniques: cob, which combines mud, straw and other materials and is built up in layers; light-straw insulation, which is clay-coated straw used as filler in a wood frame; and round-pole framing, a low-cost, natural alternative to milled lumber.

"It's been a slow, slow project," Ferguson said of the teahouse. "Micah [Van Lelyveld] wanted it to be community-oriented," rather than just building it with one or two people, he added. Van Lelyveld teaches natural building in Jefferson County.

During the VBC, the teahouse's separated stud walls were framed and prepped for being filled with light straw-clay insulation, made by tossing straw with clay of a sour-cream consistency.

COMMON SPACES

"The main goal" of VBC, Ferguson said, "is to bring community together around common spaces." The first such event was in Portland, Oregon, where a group of neighbors wanted to paint a street mandala, a circular design in the middle of an intersection, to slow traffic.

Earlier this summer, a 10-day VBC took place in Portland, with 40 projects going on at once, and a central area with workshops and live music.

In Port Townsend, Hannah Poirier has been organizing the VBC, staging three gatherings leading up to the four-day event. Neither she nor Ferguson are paid, Ferguson said; it is all-volunteer.

"The only costs are the flyers and the event guides," he said. They solicited donations to cover facility rental for the public meetings, "and each time we broke even," he said.

The four-day VBC event also included a film screening of "Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective," and a potluck, which was "the most active day," Ferguson said.

FOUR PROJECTS

Including the teahouse, VBC had opportunities to learn about four place-based projects in Port Townsend.

At Sather Park atop Morgan Hill, Aric Spencer and Karolina Anderson are organizing the creation of a grief altar, a place to support people's grieving process. At an opening ceremony on July 26, people were invited to bring meaningful objects to the alter, such as a stone, flower or shell.

Robert Garrison is spearheading "heavenly bodies," a scale model of the planets that spans almost six miles of the Larry Scott Trail, starting with Mercury at the Port Townsend Boat Haven. On a July 27 bike ride, temporary markers were installed, proportional to the actual distances between planets. The hope is to install permanent to-scale features during next year's VBC, working with local artists.

The fourth project is a private residence being built at the PT EcoVillage off San Juan Avenue that also uses alternative building methods. A tour of the EcoVillage was led by co-founder Jim Salter, who is building the house for himself, his wife and a friend.

ECOVILLAGE

The EcoVillage is an intentional community founded about 10 years ago on principles of living in harmony with one another and the earth. Organized as a Homeowners' Association, the property has 13 lots, four of which are still available. There is a parking lot on 35th Street, and houses, limited to 1,200 square feet, are accessed by footpaths. There are beehives and community gardens, including a big greenhouse full of ripening tomatoes, a barn-like wood shop/arts center, and plans to build a common house with a big kitchen for large gatherings. There are also plans to bring in goats and expand the fruit orchard, and Salter has been experimenting with growing different varieties of blackberries, including a thornless one.

"The whole idea is to do things more as a community," Salter said. There are currently 18 people living there, he said.

One of the EcoVillage houses, which belongs to Laurence Cole and Deanna Pumplin, was the first straw-clay house to be permitted in Port Townsend, in May 2013.

For more information about the VBC, visit

placecraft.org/ptvbc.

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