It is always nice to find out that people are moving and are looking for alternatives. This project in Extremadura found the standard problems, that a fixed and old system would bring to any innovative project that tries to encourage people to get out of the system, out of the wheel.
Anyhow they overcame the adversities and organized a summer camp where the people not only learnt about open source, permaculture, self sufficiency, 3D printing… but also sowed the seeds of a network that will be priceless in the close future.
Open E land is a six hectare site in rural, western Spain which the owner has made available for open source projects. It has suffered from the typical degradation of industrial agriculture – near complete loss of top soil and biodiversity with severe erosion and water management problems – and at the start of the year was just empty pasture with no infrastructure.
Their original idea was hold a two week summer camp during which they would construct the physical infrastructure, including a multipurpose strawbale building, to allow the site to be used as full time open source ecology project space. A few weeks into preparations it became apparent it would require a substantial battle to get planning permission to construct anything and take a minimum of six months to get approval – a depressing reminder of the obstructive inertia of governments attempting to preserve existing economic and agricultural models.
Because of this they decided the camp should focus less on construction and more on open source, skill sharing and permaculture. After ascertaining there was enough interest in the camp going ahead we circulated the following camp details:
With minimal effort in publicity and despite the site being fairly difficult to reach they were quickly overwhelmed with the response. At the point they were forced to close camp registration they had 50 people from across Spain and Europe registered – more than the site could comfortably support. A further 25 contacted them to get onto on a waiting list in case of cancellations.
With two weeks to go they issued a crowd sourced fund raising campaign to help buy items for camp infrastructure. At this point there was just two people on site doing all the site preparation and online work, so the ability to develop and promote the campaign was very limited. Even so, they raised around half of the the €2000 we asked for.
The prepare for the event they constructed a 6m geodesic dome, a humanure toilet, shade structures, a shower and a kitchen and hoped it all would be enough. Over the course of the two weeks around 40 people turned up. Despite some oppressive daytime temperatures they ran workshops on subject such as Arduino programming, 3D printing, water management, CEB fabrication, permaculture, hammock making and cooking with natural ingredients. They had forums discussing open source, talks about natural construction methods, ran a kitchen for up to 30 people using organic ingredients sourced from local farms, constructed water management basins and check dams, built a 5m diameter reciprocal roof roundhouse, a 2m 3G/wifi reflector dish plus countless items of furniture from recycled wooden palettes.
They wanted the camp to be as close to free as possible. People were welcome to cater for themselves or they could pay €5 a day for communal food from the kitchen. They originally aimed to run the kitchen at cost, but as it turned out they ended up making €450 from the takings. An honesty bar also contributed around €150. With donations the camp ended up paying for itself and left a legacy of infrastructure on the site.
In attempt to gain experience with CEB construction the person in charge had constructed a manual CEB press using the Open Source Resilient Living design. This was primarily made from recycled scrap metal using and very basic hand tools, with material costs less than €100. While he would not recommend this approach to the first time constructors, it is a worthwhile demonstration of what can be achieved with very little money and skill. After various alignment and precision problems were fixed it became apparent there were issues with the soil on site for CEB – although appearing to have a high clay and/or slit content it would require a lot of water to reach optimum water content and then would exhibit low compressibility and poor strength of the resultant brick. After attempting various experiments with adding course sand and lime more they less abandoned CEB construction for the time being.
They learned a huge amount from putting on the event and there is much still to document and share. Hopefully the foundations for future developments have been laid and discussion of events in the new year are in progress. For the moment the immediate legacy is the creation of a substantial network people and projects and the demonstration of considerable interest in this kind of event and the possibility of self funding models.
You can see some photos from the event here: