Teachers, Schools, & Communities

The more I read stuff online and listen to podcasts, the further I seem to fall into the wonderful rabbit hole natural building and permaculture education. This list is the result! It’s as much for me as it is for anyone who stumbles onto this page because I’m always on the lookout for interesting courses all over the world.

Every time I discover a new place that offers something that looks great, I’ll add it! I would love to hear from places I’ve missed, too. I’m more familiar with certain countries so that’s where the focus of this list is (so far) but I would love to hear about what’s happening all over the globe! Right now I’m way more interested in natural building than I am in permaculture as a whole and this list reflects that.

Check out the natural building workshops page for a list of courses by month. If you want to learn on the job I’d recommend also checking out Workaway which seems to have taken over from Help X (which is also a good resource for finding work exchanges).

  • Artizans of Wood (West Sussex, UK) – I did a round wood timber framing course here and it was a wonderful experience. Dylan and Paddy are both super nice, enthusiastic, and they were even happy to answer questions by email over a year later about tools and other little things. Artizans of Wood is mainly a building company, but they offer timber framing and other woodland-type courses from time-to-time. Recommended!
  • Atitlan Organics (Lake Atitlan, Guatamala) – As with many of the spots on this list, I think I originally heard about Atitlan Organics on the Abundant Edge podcast. Its co-founder, Shad Qudsi, pops up occasionally on the podcast and he seems like he’s got a really great thing going. They offer a few specialised permaculture courses, a PDC, yoga teacher training, and a week-long intro to natural buildling. They also seem to be a great example of integrating with and supporting their surrounding community.
  • Bamboo School Costa Rica (Costa Rica) – I’m heading there in late January 2020 to take a week-long course so I’ll report back! I’ve heard a few bamboo-related podcasts by people doing really cool things with bamboo on their land. Their teacher was Rodolfo Saenz who they all spoke really highly of and this is his school. I’m looking forward to working with this material – it’s totally new to me!
  • Bamboo U (Bali, Indonesia) – This bamboo school is partnered with the design firm IBUKU and run by architects, master carpenters, forestry experts, and even academics. It’s a high profile place with founders who give TED talks and the buildings they’ve constructed are remarkable. As the name suggests, it’s all bamboo, all the time!
  • Blue Rock Station (Ohio, USA) – Lots of solar energy, goat-related, and homesteading stuff along with the occasional natural building course.
  • Building Arts College (South Caroline, USA) – Very cool school of more conventional building but lots of cools things like blacksmithing and timber framing.
  • Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead (Washington, USA) – I heard about this place on Paul Wheaton’s Podcast about WWOOFing and it was described basically as a paradise. They have several (very competitive) spots for ‘skill building’ volunteers and they also run courses.
  • Cal-Earth Institute (California, USA) – This seems to be the place to come if you’re interested in superadobe (earth bag) building. I’m not so into earth bag building but it does allow for some very cool-looking dome buildings that are quite inspiring.
  • The Canelo Project (Arizona, USA) – Athena Steen put together a video presentation for the European Straw Bale Gathering I went to in August 2019. She wasn’t there in person but her video was beautiful and listening to her speak was inspiring. She and her husband Bill (listen to Bill speak on this excellent podcast by Abundant Edge) are long-time natural builders and they offer a few workshops at The Canelo Project. Athena is an exceptional plasterer who has a really cool method where she puts on many layers of coloured clay plaster and then carves back through to make amazing patterns. They established The Canelo Project back in 1989 and they’re some of the pioneers of the natural building movement.
  • Centre for Alternative Technology (Wales) – This place is awesome! The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) is a school in Wales set on a beautiful campus. They offer a whole bunch of courses including several masters degrees that are connected to a UK university (that I forget the name of) and a selection of awesome short courses. CAT is at the top of my list of places I need to visit.
  • Cob Cottage Company (Oregon, USA) – Linda Smiley and Ianto Evans are the mum and dad of the modern cob building movement. Their book, The Hand-Sculpted House, was the first thing I read on the topic of natural building and I was instantly hooked. I did my first natural building course nearby in 2010 and I was fortunate to get a tour of the Cob Cottage Company. A good friend of mine was doing their 6-month apprenticeship at the same time and has lots of good things to say. I’m sure it’s grown a lot since 2010 but what I was back then was already extremely impressive. If you get a chance to visit or to do a workshop here, take it!
  • Cobworks (British Columbia, Canada) – Cobworks is one of the original cob-building companies, started in 1998 by Patrick Hennebery who is one of the first people to gain planning permission for a cob building. The last workshop listed on this site was back in 2017, but take a look at this website for the inspiring photos in the gallery, if nothing else.
  • Community Rebuilds (Colorado & Utah, USA) – I’m 94.3% sure that Hartwyn (see below) modeled their student builds off of this organisation. Community Rebuilds are a sustainable building company that constructs affordable and energy efficient straw bale homes. They have an internship model where they educate students who work for free (with food and accommodation stipends) in exchange for hands on education. This reduces the cost of the build to the homeowner while educating a new cohort of natural builders on each project. I love this format!
  • Cruzin Cob Global (Worldwide) – Claudine Desiree is the brains behind Cruzin Cob Global. She’s recently settled in the Azores in Portugal but she runs several cob courses per year all over the world. She has a variety of lengths including a 35-day, foundation-to-roof complete build. She’s also introduced cob certification for her students and offers future opportunities as apprentices and co-teachers. I’m planning on taking her 35-day course starting in March in the Azores and I’m pretty pumped about it.
  • Dancing Rabbit Eco Village (USA) – This is one of the more well-known eco villages in the US. It’s grown into a large community with lots of interesting things on offer including natural building and permaculture courses. I’ve always been curious about this place and think that a visit would be very interesting.
  • Down to Earth Design (Pennsylvania, USA) – Sigi Koko founded her natural building design firm back in 1998 and she’s a well-respected and established figure in the industry. She’s based in Pennsylvania but sometimes runs courses around the US. I find her to be super inspiring, partly because of the photos she posts on her Build Naturally Facebook page, but I also loved listening to her speak on the Abundant Edge podcast along with this interview. She seems like a humble and all-around cool lady.
  • Earthen Shelter (USA) – This is the website for Sasha Rabin who’s been teaching natural building since 2002. Check out their gorgeous photo gallery of previous builds and awesome cob ovens, which seems to be a specialty of theirs.
  • Earth, Hands and Houses (Poland & UK) – This company offers architectural and interior design for natural buildings, consultation, and they also run workshops in Poland and the UK. They have an interesting natural house design course held in East Sussex where anywhere from two to four people max can choose a weekend that works for them. A design course like this isn’t something I’ve seen before.
  • Earthship Biotecture (New Mexico, USA) – Earthships are a style of building invented by architect Michael Reynolds. It’s become a global movement that’s taken on a whole life of its own. Their visitor’s centre looks incredible from the photos! They offer courses in Taos, New Mexico and globally, online courses, and they also have a more intensive internship.
  • Earthwood (New York, USA) – One of the few places I’ve found with a focus on cordwood. They have an inspiring gallery and they also run a bunch of courses in cordwood and timber framing.
  • Elke Cole (Global) – Elke Cole is a natural builder with over 20 years of experience who seems to roam around the world offering a variety of hand-on courses as well as short design-only workshops.
  • Endeavor Centre (Ontario, Canada) – This school was started by Chris Magwood who is a builder that’s crossed my radar on a variety of podcasts. He’s a very well-respected buy in the natural building world and his school has a large selection of courses on a variety of topics. They don’t have on-site accommodation available and it seems more like a regular college that’s a more formal than most natural building schools I’ve seen.
  • The Farms the Limit (Tennessee, USA) – This is the website for Thomasburg Farm in Tennessee which was started in 2016 by a family eager to escape corporate America. It’s more of a homestead than a centre or school but they offer cob building courses and their blog is a nice look into this lifestyle.
  • Finca Morpho (Costa Rica) – This permaculture site was started by two Americans in 2012. They offer tours, accept people on work trades, and they host a variety of workshops, retreats, and spiritual gatherings.
  • Finca Tierra (Costa Rica) – This permaculture and ecological design centre was started in 2008 with the goal of regenerating the land and teaching others how to do it. Permaculture is their thing and their courses are very popular.
  • Findhorn Ecovillage (Scotland, UK) – One of the world’s longest-running and better-known eco villages with education programmes that aim to give people the tools for creating sustainable design and applying permaculture principles.
  • Fox Maple (Maine, USA) – This school was founded way back in 1975 to teach timber framing and they’re responsible for a couple of excellent books on the topic – A Timber Framer’s Workshop and Advanced Timber Framing. They offer courses both in Maine and abroad.
  • Geeli Mitti (India) – I don’t know much about this place but I recently stumbled onto them through Facebook. They’re an aspiring homestead, permaculture farm, and learning centre. They’ve got loads of very awesome-looking natural buildings and I’d love to visit some day.
  • Groundworks (Oregon, USA) – Becky Bee is one of of the early leaders of the cob movement in the USA and her book The Cob Builders Handbook has inspired a lot of people over the years. Her site seems a bit neglected and she doesn’t currently have courses on offer, but
  • Hartwyn (UK) – I’m somewhat obsessed with Hartwyn. Not only do they have an awesome podcast, the two guys who run it (Jeffrey and Joe) have devised a wonderful model for building and teaching. They offer a free hands-on building school, of sorts. They find clients who want to save money on their build who are willing to feed students and offer a place to camp and Hartwyn find 12 people to work on the build for four months. Many places charge money for inexperienced people to come and learn while they build but, because Hartwyn are working on building projects with real paying clients, they’re able to have a pure work exchange where the students don’t have to pay for the learning experience. It’s awesome and I want to do it one of these days.
  • The Heartwood School (Massachusetts, USA) – This school is mostly dedicated to courses relating to homebuilding crafts including general timber framing, cruck frames, design and joinery (including how to use Sketch Up), scribing, and raising and rigging the frames among other things. If you’re interested in the many aspects of timber framing, this seems like a great place to start.
  • The Hollies (West Cork, Ireland) – The Hollies is a very interesting community set on 25 acres in Ireland that aims to show what sustainable living could look like. They’ve been working towards this goal since 1999 and they’re quite well known for their efforts. You can volunteer here between March and October and they also host a variety of interesting courses and run open house days.
  • House Alive (Oregon, USA) – The team at House Alive! combined have been teaching cob building for dozens of years. They offer courses that come with an in-house certification. If nothing else, take a look at their fantastic photo gallery for inspiration.
  • Hyakusho (Japan) – I learned about the work of Kyle Holzhueter from his episode on the Abundant Edge podcast and I’ve been interested in his work ever since. He’s based in Japan and, though I’m not nearly as interested in travelling as I used to be, Japan has been at the top of my list of destinations for many years. I would love to travel there to do some sort of a course at Kyle’s place at some point in the near-ish future.
  • Island School of Building (British Columbia, Canada) – This school is dedicated mostly to timber framing with a few other cool things in the mix. The site has a list of courses but no specific info like prices and dates, so you have to email for more info. It looks quite awesome, though.
  • Keela Yoga Farm (Cenral Portugal) – Most of my time immersed in the world of permaculture has been on this farm and yoga retreat in Central Portugal (you can read about my experiences at Keela here and here). The owners have become good friends of mine and I seem to keep going back – even though I am not at all a fan of yoga! They’ve accomplished so much in just a few years and I feel privileged to have been able to play a part, helping out on many of their natural buildings at some stage.
  • The Kul Kul Farm (Bali, Indonesia) – This was the original location for Bamboo U. It’s a gorgeous place that focuses on being an educational permaculture site and hosting courses in herbal medicine.
  • Living Earth Structures (California, USA) – I’m not sure if the design and build company run by a guy who calls himself ‘Sir Cobalot’ has courses, but the page is worth a look to get inspiration from his past projects.
  • Mount of Oaks (Central Portugal) – This beautiful piece of land is tucked away in Central Portugal about 30 minutes from Fundao. It’s run by two good friends of mine who accept volunteers and occasionally run courses in natural building, soap making, fermentation, and other interesting things.
  • Mudgirls (British Columbia, Canada) – These ladies were some of my early inspiration when I started to first get interested in natural building. They’re a network of women natural builders across South Western British Columbia who work on a variety of cool projects and also offer courses. Check out their super inspiring book, The Mudgirls Manifesto.
  • The Mud Home (Online) – This is the website for Atulya Bingham who I originally learned about on the Abundant Edge podcast. I was intrigued from the start! She spent many years living in Turkey but has now moved to rural Spain where she’s working on a self-build and documenting everything. She has loads of instructional videos and sells some online courses. She also has a Facebook group where she and her community are incredibly helpful. If you’re into earth bag building you need to check her out.
  • MudStrawLove (North Carolina, USA) – I don’t see any workshops lined up (there hasn’t been one since 2017) but this site is packed with great info, especially for total beginners, so it’s certainly worth a look.
  • Natural Building Costa Rica (Costa Rica) – This is a design and build company but they also offer occasional courses at various places around Costa Rica. One of their regular teachers is Rodolfo Saenz who runs the Bamboo School (see above) and another is Trey Abernathy who I first learned about through his interview on the Abundant Edge podcast. Bamboo seems to be their main thing.
  • Natural Living School (California, USA) – A design, build, and consultation company that offers an interesting certification program that seems to last several years.
  • North House Folk School (Minnesota, USA) – This school looks awesome! Especially if you’re into folk skills and homesteading. They also have a few courses on timber framing and other shelters like tiny houses.
  • O.U.R. Ecovillage (British Columbia, Canada) – This community in BC seems to host mostly permaculture courses at the moment, but it’s packed with beautiful natural buildings, too. They’ll be hosting the Natural Building and Ecological Design Colloquium in 2020 which brings together some of the industry’s leaders and originators along with many experienced and well-known natural builders for demos, presentations, and discussion panels.
  • The Panya Project (Chiang Mai, Thailand) – I remember that The Panya Project was one of the first intentional communities to come to my attention ages ago when I was travelling around Asia. The concept was new to me and I think it’s one of the first times I thought of doing a work echange type volunteer placement. I never made it there, but it’s always remained on my radar. They accept volunteers on a rolling basis, offer PDC and natural building courses, and it just looks like an all-around cool place.
  • Project Bonafide (Ometepe, Nicaragua) – This stunning piece of land on the side of a volcano on Ometepe, an island in Nicaragua, is the first place I visited where I heard the word ‘permaculture’. I was there for a few months as a volunteer in 2009 and I’ve been hooked ever since. They accept visitors, volunteers, and have an intern program (where you have to pay) and also run permaculture courses. The owner, Chris Shanks, is extremely knowledgeable and has been doing permaculture-y things for many years now.
  • Pun Pun (Thailand) – This organic farm and learning centre in Thailand has about 20 members living and working there. They offer a range of courses like fermentation, soap making, natural building, sustainable farming practices and loads more. It looks like a stunning space and I’ll aim to stop by the next time I’m in Asia.
  • Quail Springs (California, USA) – Quail Springs is a an environmental nonprofit that’s home to a collective of educators, farmers, ecologists, natural builders, chefs, artists, and more. It looks like a beautiful place with a lot going on and they’re even one of the leading voices in trying to legalize natural building in California and across the US which is very cool. Check out their interesting and informative blog.
  • Quinta do Vale (Central Portugal) – This is the farm of Wendy Howard whose place was mostly destroyed in the fires that raged in the region in October 2017. She’s bravely rebuilding with the help of volunteers and she’s already offering courses. She’s an expert on vermicomposting (compost toilets using worms) and you can check her website Vermicomposting Toilets for lots of info on that topic. She was very helpful when my friend and I contacted her with questions about composting toilets and I would love to stop by one day to give her a hand as a volunteer. Check out her excellent blog if you get a chance.
  • Rak Tamachat (Thailand) – Rak Tamachat is an intentional community in Thailand that focuses on research and education on natural building and permaculture. They accept volunteers and run an internship program and they have PDC and natural building courses on site all year round and online courses as well. Plus it just looks like an all around magical place.
  • Rancho Mastatal (Costa Rica) – I first came across this place on You Tube somewhere when I saw an inspiring video of their many buildings. That led to me exploring their website and discovering photos of their buildings and basically becoming obsessed with the things they’ve constructed using a wide variety of natural building methods. I’ve signed up to a timber framing course there that takes place in January 2020 and I can’t wait to take a closer look at their structures.
  • Root Down Designs (South Carolina, USA) – Root Down Designs is a women-run architecture and building firm in Charleston, South Carolina with a focus on holistic spaces. One of the owners, April Magill, has appeared a few times on the Abundant Edge podcast and I love listening to her speak. She’s very inspiring and knowledgeable and does some amazing work within her community and beyond. It’s not their main business, but they do occasionally run some interesting courses, talks, and workshops around natural building.
  • School of Natural Building (UK) – Barbara Jones is one of the pioneers of straw bale building (check out her excellent book) and one of the founders of this innovative school. They offer a bunch of day-long courses and workshops around the UK and there’s also mention of a more in-depth certification course, but it’s not clear on when each two-week module is run. Barbara is a wonderful person and and anyone who has an opportunity to learn from her should take it.
  • Shelter Institute (Maine, USA) – A design and build company that also offers accredited classes in home building. They have a large selection of courses running all year with an interesting mix of post and beam construction, wood turning, spoon carving, and even canoe and paddle carving. It looks like an interesting place!
  • StrawBale.com (USA) – A design and build firm run by Andrew Morrison that also offers courses in various places around the US. It also has several online courses, architectural plans, and a great collection of free how-to videos and articles.
  • Strawbale Studio (Michigan, USA) – A natural building and sustainable skills program offering workshops and volunteer and internship opportunities. They have a pretty awesome selection of courses and it’s of the only places I’ve seen that teaches thatching.
  • Straw Clay Wood (USA) – This is the website for Michael Smith, the third person responsible for the book The Hand-Sculpted House that kicked off the cob movement in the USA way back in 1993. I’m not sure if he still offers courses but his site is certainly worth a visit for its inspiring photos and resources.
  • Terra Alta (Sintra, Portugal) – A community and educational centre with a focus on permaculture design courses.
  • TERRA Collaborative (Latin American & USA) – Is an organisation made up of a group of women builders who have come together to empower women and youth through natural building. It was started by Liz Johndrow from Earthen Endeavors) back in 2009. Most of their building work is done in Latin American but they offer several courses per year in the US.
  • Thannal (India) – I don’t know much about this place but their website says “Thannal believes a silent-self practice in Architecture, without disturbing the Nature by depending on huge quantity of resources and energy” which is right up my alley! They seem to be experts in wattle and daub and woven walls and their gallery of previous work is very cool. They have a full schedule of workshops along with volunteer and apprenticeship opportunities for people who have attended at least one workshop.
  • Wholewoods (UK) – Wholewoods is a company that mostly builds community spaces using round wood timber framing techniques with a focus on roundhouses. It’s run by Adrien Leaman who has loads of experience and is an all around interesting guy (I’d recommend listening this podcast with the guys at Hartwyn). He runs round wood timber framing courses but the most interesting thing about Wholewoods is their ‘Build Camps’ where they host a group of volunteers (for free with food and accommodation included!) for usually two weeks to help with a community build. It’s an awesome way to get some great experience, meet new people, and work on an actual real-world project.
  • Wild Abundance (North Carolina, USA) – Women’s basic and advanced carpentry, permaculture, tiny homes, and lots of other cool things. They have a very full schedule of courses and you’re sure to find something interesting!
  • The Year of Mud (Kentucky, USA) – This website originally popped up when I found their excellent blog post with a list of tools required for round wood timber framing. Ziggy and his partner April run a homestead in Kentucky where they offer courses in permaculture, natural building, timber framing, and this year they even have one for Japanese carpentry. The website’s blog is extremely useful and interesting and if I ever end up spending any time in the US in the future, I would make stopping at this place a priority.
  • Yestermorrow Design/Build School (Vermont, USA) – I’ve been dreaming of taking a course that this school for a long time now. April Magill from Root Down Designs (see above) suggested Yestermorrow when I emailed last year with  some questions about further education in natural building, so this just reinforced my interest in them. Courses with meals and lodging add up to a lot of $, but they look awesome and there’s such a great variety of interesting things on offer. I’ll get there one of these days!

Building Companies

Check the photo galleries of these building companies for a bit of inspiration.