Today 82 chicks arrived, each about the size of my thumb. Mark will raise these chicks into meat chickens, eventually slaughtering all of them before next winter. Each chick costs only a few dollars but by July they will be fat, organically raised, free range chickens, each worth probably thirty or so dollars. But Mark doesn’t raise them to sell. They will all be consumed by people on this property such as himself, other dancers, and interns like myself. In the fall he will start to slaughter three at a time, eating one and canning or freezing the other two so he will have meat to last him till next July, when the next batch of chicks will be grown.

For the first four weeks or so the chicks must be kept in a carefully temperature regulated area, kept not too cold and not too hot. For Mark, this means a little room above his cabin that is heated by the same fire that heats his cabin. What he looks for is that the chicks are not all huddled together trying to get warm but also not all at the edges of the room trying to cool down. Ideally some are huddled and some are spread out, indicating that it is neither too cold nor too hot. To keep the temperature where he wants it he will stoke the fire every two hours, 24 hours a day for the next week at least. Then as the chicks get bigger they will start generating more of their own heat and not quite as much wood will be needed.

After we got the chicks settled in we decide to visit Mark’s neighbors up the road who live in an earthship. Michael Reynolds himself and a crew of about 20 professional builders and 30 or so interns built this earthship last summer in five weeks.

Earthships are ingenious in there design features—A totally self contained unit, they can heat and cool themselves, catch, store, and treat their own water, collect solar energy, and even grow their own food. It is essentially a self sufficient organism, once built. They are made largely of tires and bottles and cans, materials that would otherwise be going to the dump, or at best recycled. These are all great features, but like anything, it can sound good on paper and even look and feel impressive but be carried out in a way that undermines most if not all the sustainability goals.

Take this Earthship on Lasqueti. The owners are a wealthy family seeking to do good. Not knowing much better they hired Michael Reynolds crew to build them a prepackaged, pre designed earthship. This is what the Mike Reynold’s crew does, and they have gotten so good at it that they can do it in five weeks. But the tires and bottles all come from New Mexico, as did the lumber and concrete. There was no time for thoughtful site selection before the excavator was brought in, and the crew left mounds of trash when they packed up and left. The daily work schedule seemed to be based around the crew’s drinking schedule and many of the interns left a bit jaded about the whole process, feeling as if they had been somewhat mislead and used as free labor. Perhaps that will be the end of their foray into alternative building techniques, which would be a shame.

So, yes, an earthship is a wonderful concept but does the end justify the means? I want to be careful here and say that I think Michael Reynolds and earthships have done a lot for many people and the alternative building movement. They have helped rebuild areas ruined by natural disasters and Michael Reynolds worked hard to make some impressive headway when it comes to building codes and permits for alternative buildings.

And, there is still much room for improvement. I hope those interested in alternative building will continue to look critically at themselves and realize that there is probably not any one single solution for all climates and all locations. This movement gains strength from innovative and critical minds, such as the one looking to build the first earthship that does not use concrete. This modified earthship, being built in Argentina, will attempt to replace all concrete typically used in these structures with cob. That is the kind of innovation we need.

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