Geoff Lawton Visits Cal-Earth Permaculture Course

Pictures and Text by Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture

For a second year we co-delivered with the Cal-Earth teaching staff a combined Superadobe Earth Building and Permaculture Design Certificate Course.  At the close of our course we were pleased to host Geoff and Nadia Lawton of PRI Australia who shared their work in desert environments with us in a workshop that was also open to the general public.  Here is a quick picture summary of this October 2012 training and of Geoff and Nadia’s visit.

These combined Superadobe and PDC Courses take place in Hesperia, CA, at the
Cal-Earth campus. Class might be held any place on site, including here outside
of Earth One, Cal-Earth’s flagship building.

Another Outdoor Classroom Space made with Superadobe

Much of the instruction happens in this straw bale classroom.
Here Becky Wilson of Midwest Permaculture teaches a segment
of the training on financial permaculture.

Another key building at Cal-Earth is the Eco-dome. Becky and I stayed in the
home for a few nights and loved it.

The Building is beautiful and very solid.

Also on the campus is a small area called ‘international village’ where a variety
of superadobe structures stand. These were lived in by some of
our students during the course.

Having learned about thermal mass rocket stoves during last year’s PDC, the
Cal-Earth teaching team has since built two such stoves to test them out in
their superadobe structures. A hand-in-glove fit — they work incredibly
well and look great too.

During the course, students build a self-standing arch with no mortar…!
Only bricks and pebbles.

Making superadobe in a wheelbarrow — this batch used the local
subsoil, water, and a touch of Portland cement.

The mixture is poured into the bags, worked into position, and then
tamped down to push out the air and create a good bond.

For arches, a form is made, superadobe applied by hand, and then screeded-off
for uniformity…. All done by students at this training so that they have
the practical hands-on experience.

During a plant walk we begin to understand the types of plants that
can survive and even thrive in this desert environment.

Some of the sessions were hosted inside of Earth-One. Wesley Roe and Margie
Bushman of the Santa Barbara Permaculture Network joined us for part of the
course and taught a segment about ‘invisible structures.’ These have to do with
all of those things that we rarely think about in our culture but rely on heavily
like money, community services, and relationships with others.

This is a simple sketch that one of our guest teachers, Candace Vanderhoff of
RainThanks, drew to explain the elements in a greywater system we installed for
Cal-Earth. Because of the regular use of the washer by interns, the garden beds
will now have all of the water they will need even in this desert environment.

While some students started on the greywater system, others worked on
the superadobe earth bags that would build the raised garden beds.

One of the raised beds with the greywater system neatly in place is
just about ready to be back-filled with soil.

Here is the same bed shortly after it was finished, with the plants in place.

One addition to the greywater system was the line we ran to a freshly made
hugelkultured swale on the other side of the house. By throwing a valve behind
the washing machine, the laundry water can be diverted from the garden beds
next to the house to this berm which contains a large amount of woody material
buried within it. The slowly rotting wood will hold large amounts of water for
long periods of time compared to the sandy soil in the area and any plants
placed on or near the berm will become the happy beneficiaries.

On the last day of our PDC training, Geoff and Nadia Lawton joined us.
This was not Geoff’s first visit to Cal-Earth.

Here is Geoff in the summer of 2006 with Cal-Earth’s founder Nader Khalili,
two years before Nader’s passing when Wesley Roe of the Santa Barbara
Permaculture Network (mentioned above) brought Geoff over so that these
two world-class humanitarians could meet face to face.

So it was heartening that Nader’s daughter, Sheefteh Khalili, was able to open
the day by telling us all a bit about her father’s work and his dreams for
Cal-Earth while also introducing Geoff and Nadia to a room of over 70 people.

While in the domed classroom, Geoff spoke throughout the day of how he and
others have been able to turn desert environments into bountiful gardens using
creative yet fundamental permaculture design strategies which are all taught in
every Permaculture Design Certificate Course.

Newcomers to Cal-Earth were also toured around the site
to learn more about Nader’s work.

While the students were touring the grounds, Hooman Fazly (superadobe
architect and builder), myself, and Geoff were able to converse on the work
of Cal-Earth, Midwest Permaculture, and PRI-Australia. Though the specifics
differ, and our locations are thousands of miles apart, the work is the same:
Care of People – Care of Planet – Fair Share.


  1. It is inspiring; I live in Amman Jordan; and love to learn the whole concept of permaculture and the superadobe; my dream is to build a small eco resort including an organic healthy restaurant; zero waste and zero energy.
    So the situation is not building a single home; but a resort so landscaping; site anaylsis; engineering calculations should take place in addition to heating/ cooling (passive design); waste water treatment; rain water harvesting; solar/wind energy (may be) ..etc
    This project is meant to achieve several objectives:
    1- Sress relief place; youga ,meditation ..(spirtitual)
    2- Provide healthy food/ nutrition menue driven concept
    3- Education source to teach clients about environmental challenges; ways to reduce energy and water; organic planting ..etc
    4- Integrate local communities by offering jobs and providing organic food (social responsibility).
    I have the plot of land (10,000 m2)close to Amman 25 minutes drive in a new touristic area (tel al rumman) overlooking king Talal water dam.
    I need help in every step and corner; so what do you suggest I should start with?

Leave a Reply

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

Related Articles

Back to top button