The Wonders of Cobbing

Cob is an ancient building material made with sand, clay, water, and straw (see cobbing in action in this promo trailer starting @ about 0:43). It has been widely used in many cultures, including in Germany for the traditional timber frame houses.

But there’s something else about cob that goes far beyond its use as building material. Making cob is very labor intensive and thus can be an opportunity for community building. It is one way to regenerate ourselves. I realized this power while reflecting on my experience of making cob at Hayes Valley Farm and comparing that experience with being at a conference. Even though the cobbing took almost the whole day and the conference was only half a day, I felt so much more energized by the cobbing. Looking at the needs met while making cob probably explains the difference best: My needs for acceptance, community, belonging, celebration, joy, laughter, play, movement and connection. A long list of met needs from cobbing. The conference also met some of my needs of course but the range is much narrower: Learning and sharing were met.

When developing a permaculture design, we look for our ability to stack functions. For example, a tree can function as a tree but also as a trellis. It works to regenerate the soil by storing water. Clearly, making cob stacks a ton of functions while attending a conference does not. The difference reflects the zoning of our lives, just like our cities: Some parts are for work others for play. There is little to no overlap. Work is rarely play. How much more productive could work be if it were also play? There would no need for a work-life balance because both were integrated. This would certainly meet another need: Make work more meaningful! Just like the zonig of our cities is making them less safe, zoning play out of work makes it much less rewarding. I am not sure what the function of this division in our lives is – cities are zoned for easier control and ease of money-making development. But it certainly depletes our lives of energy – another reason for changing the system!

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