From the Ground Up: Building a Restoration Economy

This fall, Deep Dirt Farm Institute hosted a two-day workshop on Clay Plastering and Sculpting, taught by renowned earth plaster artisan Athena Steen. Athena, who co-founded The Canelo Project, has been teaching clay plasters, straw bale, cob, earthen floors, and ovens for over 30 years. She is known for combining practical, easy-to-learn techniques with artistic form and design.

The workshop was the continuation of a project to build an outdoor classroom structure at the farm, a long-time goal of Deep Dirt’s Executive Director, Kate Tirion. Throughout last summer, college interns, community volunteers, and local youth involved with the Borderlands Earth Care Youth institute worked with local artisans on various aspects of construction. Local adobe expert Erasmo Lagunas demonstrated how to make adobe bricks and then use them to build a partial wall around the structure.

Blacksmith Richard Connolly taught how to make calculations and erect a steel framework to support a salvaged satellite dish for the roof. And masonry expert Harry Hower supervised the floor construction using salvaged, broken-up cement called urbanite. Nothing goes to waste at Deep Dirt!

On Saturday, November 4th, about 20 eager participants gathered for the first day of the Clay Plastering Workshop. By way of hands-on lessons, Athena Steen demonstrated how to develop a variety of clay plaster mixes, how to use wood floats and Japanese trowels to apply the plaster to the structure’s wall, how best to stabilize the plaster, and how to build a straw bale bench.

The workshop students returned on December 2nd to learn how to sculpt decorative beveled reliefs and designs over the plaster. Athena’s skill as a teacher and master earth plasterer are evident in the wall’s suede-like finish and sculpted designs created by the enthusiastic group. One more workshop is planned for early 2018 to complete the details.

Located about two miles north of Patagonia just off Route 82, Deep Dirt Farm is one of Southwest Arizona’s leading permaculture institutes. By showcasing the extraordinary skill of local artisans, encouraging volunteer assistance, repurposing waste materials, and providing educational workshops, Deep Dirt strives to empower our community to live and work more sustainably. “We can build a restoration economy in Patagonia,” says Kate, “by highlighting the skill and talent right here in our community.”

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Deep Dirt Institute

Campus Address:

#76 Stevens Canyon Road

Patagonia, AZ




© 2019 Deep Dirt Institute

Deep Dirt Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit # 82-1550846 

Mailing Address (general): P.O. Box 765, Patagonia, AZ 85624

Mailing Address (donations): P.O. Box 121, Patagonia, AZ 85624