2019 Fall & Winter Term

This year we have the opportunity to open the program to a fall, winter, and spring term for the first time in our school’s history. During these terms we will be building a 2 car garage with an apartment above, and a 900 sq ft single-family home with a loft and storage below.

This year we have the opportunity to open the program to a fall, winter, and spring term for the first time in our school’s history. During these terms we will be building a 2 car garage with an apartment above, a 900 sq ft single-family home with a loft, and a 1500 sq. ft. greenhouse.

The 30′ x 30′ garage with an apartment above it will be conventionally framed with sustainably harvested and locally milled lumber. The walls will either be filled with strawbales or light clay woodchips and then plastered with a heavy straw-clay leveling coat. The apartment above the garage will be insulated with straw bales. The structure will be finished with natural earth plasters on the inside, and lime plaster on the outside.

This project will be built to code and will use conventional building alongside natural building techniques. The construction of the garage is likely to start in October and be completed by March.

In January we will begin the construction of a 900 sq ft home with conventional framing and straw bale infill. This unique project, designed by the homeowner, will feature natural plasters on the inside and lime plasters on the outside. The home will have one bedroom on the main floor, and a second bedroom in the loft. It will include a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and a big deck.

During the construction of this project, participants will learn how to build a natural structure on a slope. The foundation will be stair-stepped to follow the contour of the land. The home will be built to code and construction will likely be completed by May.

The 1500 sq ft. greenhouse will be built using natural building materials such as sustainably cut cedar, straw bales, local clay, and sand. Three of the walls will be infilled with straw bales. The South wall will be infilled with cob. In this project participants will have the opportunity to learn about natural geothermal ventilation systems that can be used to heat and cool the greenhouse using minimal solar power. They will learn how build roof trusses to support snow and wind loads. The greenhouse will be plastered with lime on the inside and out to protect the straw bales and the cob.

Participants joining us on these projects will have the opportunity to see the whole construction process, from foundation to finishes, depending on when you join us. Other learning opportunities include volunteer days and monthly workshops. We will also be offering an online course that details the entire construction process, a great option if you can’t join one of our onsite programs. The online courses can also be paired with our monthly workshops to create a cohesive learning experience.

We are excited to offer many opportunities for learning natural building, for those with or without building experience. To find a program that fits your experience level and availability visit our programs page. Join us to learn everything you need to know about building a natural structure to code.

The Art of Listening: The First Step to Building Naturally

Things happen incrementally, bit by bit we create, we build brick by brick and stone by stone. In the beginning there is just listening and watching, waiting and dreaming. We cannot rush this stage, for great visions come to us little by little. We rarely know it all at once, dreams don’t reveal themselves in a hurry they come to be known slowly over time. There is a place to start though, a first brick to lay as builders, one that is not so tangible. It is a choice to pause and witness, to stop and listen.
The creation of a home is a nuanced process that for me begins with listening. This important art is often bypassed by the conventional construction community, in that paradigm human desires are considered paramount to the needs of other beings we cohabitate with. But in order to create respectfully and in balance we must spend some time listening before acting. We must resurrect our capacity to hear those beings whose voice differs from ours but is there nonetheless.

When we wish to design structures upon a landscape we begin by listening to the land itself, the voice of the earth. We let go of our plans and ideas, just to be there for a while to begin forming a relationship to place based on attentive observation. To create in a place we must know that place, intimately.  Then we turn to those who came before us, giving thanks to the beings who have lived and loved here, to the ancestors of a land, to ask their permission and wait to hear the answer. Then there are those who are here now; the plants, the animals and the people. What are their needs and dreams? How can we find a balance that supports all who occupy a space?
When we have listened and watched, witnessing what is present, honoring the words of the earth, ancestors, animals, plants, people ect- we will know what is offered to us and what is not. From this type of deep inquiry a vision begins to come forth, not all at once but little by little. A vision informed by the understandings gathered in our experiences with the land. This type of process may not appear efficient from the outside, it takes time, sometimes a lot of it when we are unpracticed. However, what it offers us is a more consensual relationship with the earth we wish to create upon and more information on how to design a structure in accordance with the energies present in the space.  Not only does this allow us to act in right relationship it also supports us by showing us potential issues with the building site before we begin working. Listening is a critical part of the process of moving from an anthropocentric way of building into a way that considers the complex systems we are each a part of. By doing this type of deep work we practice not taking center stage, not valuing human life over other forms of life. We begin to see ourselves as just one piece of the larger ecosystem we are a part of and design around that truth.

The permaculture principle of observation and interaction constantly reminds us that taking time to witness and engage with any environment allows us to design systems that are sustainable and consider the immediate and long term effects of our choices on the ecosystem. How could this be accomplished without listening? By reconnecting this art we are able to move away from the damaging practices of the construction industry and adopt a new way to create that values all life. Even as natural builders we often miss this critical step. We come with our good intentions armed with natural materials but still impose anthropocentric designs on the land by not taking the time necessary to create the relationships that would inform our design choices in powerful ways.

So let us practice listening again to the earth, to the ones who are here now and the ones who have come before us considering the next generations as we build. May we each take the time needed to listen to the land and make informed choices in how, what and where we build. May we start with the first brick, the one of listening before we act and may it be the strong foundation upon which we create.

On The Local CBS News Sacramento


We where interviewed by Sacramento CBS local news. Here is the footage. Corrections needed to be noted: first of all this structure was not the first natural building built in Nevada County, (not sure where she got that info). And we haven’t had 50 students graduate and get their contractor’s license. Dozen’s of homeowners is a bit of a stretch. But overall we really just appreciate the coverage. Thank you Angela Musallam for interviewing us.

The Natural Living School’s 2015 Programs

We are so excited to announce this years project:  The construction of a 1400 sq. ft. natural home for a local family here in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains.  This structure will be built using round wood timber framing, milled lumber from the land, straw bales and cob (bale-cob), and light clay.  The goal for this year is to build the foundation, get the straw bale walls up, timber frame the main structure, roof the home with the milled lumber, install all the windows and doors, and plaster the outside of the structure.  We will also be creating a permaculture garden and orchard for the homeowners.

2015 Natural Building Floor Plan
2015 Natural Building Floor Plan

Having one large project for the next two building season will allow the school to offer very unique programs based on the construction of a natural building.  This structure will be built following California’s building codes, which will give all aspiring builders a chance to learn how to build to code, using a majority of natural materials.  In our design, in collaboration  with the home owners, we will use; round wood timbers from the land, milled lumber from the land,  clay from the land, sand and stone from the local quarry, and rice straw from the valley. We will also use as much reclaimed building materials as possible.

2015 Natural Building Project
2015 Natural Building Project

We are honored to have this opportunity and equally as excited to share this project with all who wish to learn how to build a natural structure to code as well as deepening our practices of yoga, meditation, and self discovery.  We are looking to share this project with individuals whom have high energy, looking to work and learn in a spiritual environment.  Participants can join us for all aspects of the construction, or specific stages of the building process depending on when and how long they join us in the 2015 building season.

Framing for 2015 Natural Building Project
Framing for 2015 Natural Building Project

If you are interested in finding out more about our programs please visit our apprentice page, karma yoga program, or workshop page.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via email at info@naturalivingschool.com or call 530-268-5255.

We look forward to hearing from you…..


2014 Another Amazing Building Season

I want to first start by thanking all the wonderful participants that joined the Natural Living School in 2014! Completing yet another amazing building season.  We started this season by wrapping up last year’s greenhouse project. This included: adding windows, doors, greenhouse plastic and a finish plaster on the inside and outside of this cute greenhouse.  Thank you all who made this possible!

Highly insulated straw-bale wall on north side
Earthen Greenhouse

Earthen greenhouse - roundwood frame w/ cob & strawbale
Earthen greenhouse – roundwood frame w/ cob & strawbale










Next we started the construction of the “Ash-Room”, a cinder bath for goats, chickens and “Lilly the Donkey” to roll around on ash, keeping the mites off their skin and the sun off their backs. A project sponsored by ‘The Yogoata” of Ananda Village

Lath and Plaster with light clay/straw infill
Lath and Plaster wall system

 This structure is our first round wood timber frame to include lath & plaster, and light clay all together. It was lots of fun to build.

Some of the participants
July Workhop celebrating progress









We continued our work on the Wright Family Cottage, AKA the Studio.  Working with the county was stressful, but in the end we were able to give them what they wanted, and we passed our foundation and framing inspections.  Just a few more, including electrical, finish plaster, and then we get our Final.  Wooo, we are so close….











Roundwood plates and rafters can be seen!
The Loft in The Studio


Also at Melissa’s we built her a round bale-cob pump house that she will use as cold storage year around.  Thank you all who made this project a reality.

Big eaves minimize walls exposure
High School Boys Building a cob pump house

Foundation systems - French drain, earthbags and cob bond beam
Jeremy pinning re-bar through cob bond beam


Stay tune, we will be announcing next years project really soon……

Natural Building Certification Program

This year we are offering our first Natural Building Certification. Over the years we haven’t felt that this was a necessary step. I remember when I finished my apprenticeship at Cob Cottage Company, Ianto from Cob Cottage Company, asked us if we wanted our certification? If we did, he could print them on toilet paper for us to use later. He believes that certifications are worth as much, and are as useful as toilet paper.  This too, was my belief for the last few years. What’s a certificate for anyway? I don’t even know where my college diploma is, nor do I care to find it. The truest proof of knowledge is in practice. To truly understand is to continue to improve, learn from your mistakes, and transcend your practice to ever new heights.

Water Level Round wood timber framing

Well, it’s true, certifications are not that important in the long run, but after meditating on it for a while, I have come to understand the benefits. It’s not in the result, rather it’s in the process. To me, college was a joke. I did it because that’s what society and my parents said I should do to be somebody in the world. Though my college diploma is in some box in my storage, the experience I gained in research, staying up late to finish papers, seeing things through, and never giving up because someone says you can’t do it, are experiences I still use today. These practices have led me to research, and to find a way to build natural buildings that can be permitted, even though most people say it’s not possible. Over many days, months, and now years, we have finally been able to crack the code.

Cob Goat Shack Reciprocal Roof
Cob Goat Shack Reciprocal Roof

Our unique and progressive certification gives hands on experience and practice to all who are interested in constructing natural buildings that can be permitted in most counties across the country. Construction to satisfy municipal building codes gives you the freedom to create beautiful natural structures almost anywhere in the world. The certification program is designed for non-experienced builders, professional builders, architects, engineers, and designers alike. We have structured our program to allow this knowledge to be accessible to many different types of individuals, from those looking to study full-time, to those who need to participate part-time over a longer period. In the end you can lose, store, or use your certification however you want, but know this, the experience you will gain through our certification process, will never be forgotten.

If you are interested in receiving our certification in natural building, please take a look at our Certification Page.



Healing From The Inside Out


By Penelope Sullivan

I still smile when I recall how my quest to uncover the secrets of longevity led me to discover the presence of God and that true health and vitality begin within.

Seventeen years ago I was in my mid-twenties and working at an area health food store. This was a period when I had deeply begun questioning existence, purpose and what creates a truly peaceful and happy life. I also was considering becoming a naturopath and had been delving into the study of physical health.

To this end, I would question my long time regular customers on what they would attribute their longevity to. I always picked those that were in their eighties or nineties and were still smiling and had a bounce in their step, for I knew on some level they had something to share! Well, the answers were surprisingly the same and went something like this,”…Family, apple cider vinegar, and God………Family, black strap molasses, and God…..Family, peppermint tea for my heart….and God…”

I thought, “…Wow I know about family….I know about molasses…maybe I should find out about God….” And so, a two weeks’ notice and a bus ticket later, I found myself in northern California, at Ananda Village, a yoga community based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.

To be clear I don’t even know if I had heard the word Guru before, probably not. I had fairly regularly practiced hatha yoga postures at home, but that was the extent of my direct experience of the yogic philosophy. So, needless to say, I did not know much. What I did know is that when I stepped foot on the land at Ananda, I was literally struck by the all-pervading stillness and quietness. It filled me and I experienced a deep sense of rightness.

I dove right into the activities. Besides regular meditations and yoga postures, karma yoga or selfless service, composed the biggest part of my day. So unlike the pervading theme of working at all cost for personal gain, karma yoga speaks of seeing Spirit as the doer behind all activity and the idea of being unattached to any end results. At first glance, this may sound dis-empowering yet I have found this practice very freeing and quite powerful. I began to imagine myself as a vessel through which this Grace or power can flow through. With this type of thinking, tiredness seemed to melt away as did the resistance that can so easily come up as we focus on our likes and dislikes and our own abilities.

I also learned that the word Guru translated to mean dispeller of darkness, and that yoga loosely translated to mean union with God. Most importantly, I was not only intellectually memorizing these ideas, I was actually feeling a “lightness” come into my life and an ever increasing sense of connection and depth within my being and with the world around me.

Because these concepts and experiences resonated on such a deep level, I was surprised when I saw how nervous and questioning my relatives and old friends became when I mentioned staying on at yoga community.

Unfortunately, God has gotten a bad rap. Perhaps it is from the organizations that emphasize that we are naturally sinners and separate from God…or perhaps it is from the organizations that ask for complete adherence to outward rules without offering much in the way of inner experience….perhaps it is the injustices that the civil and women’s rights movements have brought to attention in the not so distance past. Whatever the reasons, I have seen that many people are very afraid to give up their sense of personal power.

In addition, to many people, God is a very ambiguous term. The question then becomes what is God and what does he/she/it have to do with daily life?

I love the idea that each us on some deep level wants to be happy…wants to be at peace….and has felt an expansion within our being at some point in time. Personally, I tune into the aspects of Divine love, of peace, of bliss…of power…and feel these underlying currents rippling through my life and awareness. I feel this force that beckons me to go within and from this point of knowing to act in this world. I feel when my actions are in harmony with this inner knowing and when they are not, more and more. This to me and so much more is a beginning description of God….the tip of the iceberg…not even mentioning the vast and miraculous intelligence that surrounds us on the Earth and expanding outward to all creation. I love the idea that we each have our own, very intimate relationship and understanding, of the Divine. So for me, in beginning to think in this way, and open to this type of God, and then perform “mundane” activities such as cleaning or gardening, each activity became a liberating and sacred event…and in doing so began to transform my life.

Some friends and relatives who resonated with all of this, I found, still questioned why meditate so often? Why be so disciplined?

I began to see that few of us really know what freedom is. Our culture raises us to seek outside thrills and enjoyments. We have things to bring us up. We have things to bring us down. We are taught to strive for the biggest and the largest….and this is termed freedom and success.

The truth is as one of my favorite teachers HariDas said, “…we are all half-baked saints…” or as Yogananda said, “…we are all a little bit crazy…” In a nutshell, most of us are a mixed bag of contradictions and varying desires that are counterproductive and are largely driven by whims, passing fancies, more surface emotion.

I wanted discipline because through it, I felt free. I felt clearer within my own being. I still remember one of my deepest most profound mediations….While sitting in the quietness, I had this deep sense of sweetness….and it seemed to be saying…remember this…remember this quality…..It’s so easy to get caught up in everything going on, in the outside world…It can be so easy to get swept away by the pervading current….but remember that this sensation and feeling is always within you. Remember this….”

So what became of becoming a naturopath? Over time I did go on to get a degree in both nutrition and herbal medicine. Yet now the cornerstone of my practice is supporting and offering to others the gift in nurturing inner growth. I see that without that vital component, there is an integral piece of the puzzle missing. Then I bring in the physical elements. They too are important and have their own place. I love the story of Yogananda achieving a high state of awareness and then his teacher handing him a broom. His teacher told him that until we were beyond this world we could not neglect it. Likewise Yogananda said that almost all disease stemmed from poor nutrition. He emphasized the importance of whole foods, the healing power of greens, juicing, proper exercise and sunlight. He was and is the most holistic healer that I have ever read. …and yet he said take this all in and then forget about…..and not be fanatical. I see a lesson in this for most of us. I have seen people that only focus on the physical and are still full of discontent…and I also see very serviceful, beautiful people eat all kinds of things and really neglect their physical bodies…because they do not want to focus too much on the outward. I feel that if we can find a way to balance these different sides…we will flourish and see that they are but two sides of the same coin…and that in being physically healthy, the Spirit within us can shine and that if we deepen our Spirit and connection a vitality and Grace can flood our cells and our Presence. Blessings to you all!

Cover Phonto