Tierra y Cal Field Trip: Green Building

Earth and Lime

Today we went to the site of the non-profit organization Tierra y Cal, which directly translates to earth and lime. This organization is a non-profit organization that “envisions a global resurgence of healthful and sustainable rural communities, rooted in cultural tradition and a shared sense of belonging and responsibility.”  They provide workshops for people to learn how to build sustainable homes and are working to develop an institute on the site where students can come live and study.

Earth blocks are “Non-toxic, environmentally friendly, renewable, soundproof, bugproof, fireproof and even bullet proof!” These blocks are comprised of sand, clay and a small amount of either lime or cement and they are compressed using a hydraulic machine and fired using an on site kiln and also made of earth blocks. The soil and clay are filtered through a screen and then combined with the lime or cement.

The extremely large screen

Earth blocks: different shapes and sizes

Building with earth blocks helps combat climate change.  Construction with mostly cement is a large contributor to global warming. When producing cement in industrial factories, the lime and other ingredients are heated at a very high temperature which changes calcium carbonate into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere in high quantities. Additionally, the process of cement manufacturing requires large amounts of fossil fuels, either coal or natural gas, which also release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In terms of green house gas emissions, cement manufacture contributes 71.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, this is more that vehicle emissions!!! With earth blocks, these processes are almost completely eliminated, making it one of the most sustainable building methods.  Earth blocks also do not use manure or silty soil (as with some but not all methods of adobe), which are valuable natural resources that are good for growing food.

earth block press

Via Organica is hoping to share  a portion of the land with Tierra y Cal to expand their farm school and create an agriculture department in Tierra y Cal institute.  Growing food is a fundamental part of sustainable living.  Including an agricultural component in the school would greatly benefit all of the students and the future food security of the area.  The agriculture would have a large focus on permaculture and native perennial food plants like Mesquite, which already were growing strong around the land we were told was the “future food forest”.

the future food forest

Upon arriving, we were given a tour of the land beginning with the dormitory they had restored from an old building using earth blocks and natural plasters. The dormitory consisted of three bedrooms for students, a common room/dining room and a bathroom with a dry (composting) toilet.

Front of Dormitory


the dormitory originally looked like this building

After touring the dormitory we moved onto a model house that Tierra y Cal is developing on-site.  The house is made of earth blocks and natural plasters and also has passive solar heating system using a slight modification of a popular technique.  On the front of the house there are indented portions in the wall where sheets of glass will be placed, leaving a space between the wall and the glass.  The glass covered portion will be painted a dark brown so that it attracts the sunlight.  The sunlight will penetrate the glass, heating up the space between and then eventually heating of the earth block wall, which will hold and radiate heat far after the sun has set.  On the front of the house, there will also be an awning that can be pulled down during times of extreme heat to prevent the space from over heating during the hot summer months.

front of house


inside the house

the space where glass with cover

After touring the model house, we trekked across the land and surveyed where the farm would be located. The land is very spacious and beautiful, and has a lot of potential.  There is a seasonal river that boarders the land, which is a good thing when you are living in an arid climate.

A vista from the agricultural space

the kiln

The land is on a gradual slope down to the river.  The future institute will be build on the top of the hill. It will include labs, a dining hall, classrooms and offices for the Tierra y Cal green building school.

outline for the institute building

Hopefully we will start working up here soon.  Look forward to more news in the future!



One response to “Tierra y Cal Field Trip: Green Building

  1. Fantastic entry and inspiring place. Where is it – outside of the centro? How do you get there? Would love to know more.
    Thanks for the pohotos and content – both were so great. Hey, have you been to our house yet?

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