I graduated from Knox College in Illinois in 1969 and struck out immediately for San Francisco. In the 1970s and ‘80s I supported my Western States wanderings through conventional construction jobs in concrete, drywall, roofing, and carpentry. “Back in the day”, there were unions, and I was first a journeyman roofer and then a journeyman carpenter. I used “journeyman” to its literal meaning.
In the early to mid ‘80s and into the ‘90s, I was involved with rehabilitation of distressed properties and real estate development and acquisition. During that era, I came to learn the truth of conventional building materials. They are hazardous to health. This fact came home personally. My wife, Nora, was employed by a large medical center in California as a psychologist. The hospital received a brand new building for the mental health department. “Brand new building”….new carpet, sheetrock, paint, upholstery, caulking, new everything, combined with windows that didn’t open, in order to allow the mechanically “managed” air to function without interference. She began a downward health spiral shortly after relocating to her new office.
We decided to leave California for rural Colorado, and I began my search for a healthier, non-toxic, building material. I attended seminars on various “green” systems. I found the answer beneath my feet in a presentation outside of Durango. I leased a machine from New Mexico and built what we now refer to as Earth Block One….my first anyway. Following the completion of our home in 1995, I founded Earth Block Inc. and, for ten years, built many homes of earth in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
In 2004, I was presented an opportunity in Mexico to be the Director of Earth Block Manufacturing for the Loreto Bay Company. I was there from April 2004 until November 2006. We manufactured 1.5 million lime-stabilized earth blocks for the development. An unforeseen benefit of that adventure was an appreciation for Mexico that I continue to carry, for the people, their history, and culture. Departing Baja, my friend and soon-to-be partner, Jeff, and I drove to San Miguel de Allende and with our Mexican partner, Monica, founded Instituto Tierra y Cal A.C. on 20 acres outside of SMA. We were off to a pretty good start, having conducted several well-attended workshops with international students and professors and, in fact, had merged with Mexico’s branch of Engineers Without Borders when the Great Financial Debacle of ’08 decimated our real estate in the U.S. and the gringos stopped coming to Mexico.
I came back across the Rio Grande to Texas. Texas?? Over the course of the previous five or six years, we had conducted about a dozen workshops in San Antonio with Lawrence Jetter of AECT, our machine manufacturer. I met a lot of Texans. One of them, Carson, still my friend and coach, convinced me to have a look at Fredericksburg. Nora and I are still here and have been, primarily, since 2011.
Recently (2017 to 2019), I’m proud to have spent the better parts of two + years (no winters!) co-founding Colorado Earth with Lisa Morey. I have returned to Texas and continue to conduct my earthen building career through Earth Block Texas (U.S. projects) and Earth Block International (over the border). Lisa carries on as the sole owner of Colorado Earth. Lisa and I continue to collaborate on various projects and look forward to continuing to support each other in our mutual missions.
Reaching back to 2006, Nora and I were fortunate to purchase a home in San Miguel de Allende.
We enjoy it as much as we can and plan for a more equal division of our time between Texas and Mexico….a truly Tex-Mex existence.
Throughout this story I have been blessed with travel inspired by my mission for earth blocks: Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia, but, most importantly, Haiti. During these travels I have also had the opportunity to meet, and be mentored by, many of the giants in our field and worked with some great partners and employees. I’ve tried to mention and honor most of them in the “Mentors and Heroes” photo folder.
Haiti: the poorest country in the Western hemisphere…abundant in need and good people. My experience there has been one of resilient and hard-working people, eager to learn and work. They aren’t in need of a hand out, but rather, a leg up. I met Mike Neumann at a conference in Detroit in about 2006. Through Mike’s efforts and belief in our earthen system, we have been working together for Partners in Progress, Pittsburgh, in Haiti, since 2009 and continue to the present. Mike is currently the Executive Director of PIP and has long served as the driver of their successful agro-ecology project in Haiti. Currently, while continuing our efforts in Haiti for earth block schools and housing, and agro-ecology advancements, Mike and I are exploring opportunities in Uganda and Egypt. Food and Shelter are just below Air and Water on the “needs list” for survival.
My mission is to help as many people as possible understand the benefits of earthen construction and to help them into an earthen structure. “Services” is a category stop on this website tour.
This is a narrative auto-biography covering my time in the CEB world.
The Earth has the answers.
Catherine began working with Partners in Progress as a volunteer in 2015, working with farmers of the Konbit Vanyan Kapab Agroecology Project to begin conceptualizing an initiative to build the skills of farmers so that they can share knowledge with other farmers in Haiti about agroecology. She has travelled to Haiti a number of times, and she developed and delivered workshops for farmers in Deslandes to become adult educators and thereby conduct hands-on workshops for other farmers throughout Haiti in sustainable agroecology farming. She has degrees from the University of Minnesota in Adult Education and Workforce Development. She recently retired from teaching in the graduate program of Adult Education at the University. Beginning in January, 2020 Catherine became a part-time staff member with PIP in the role of Program Development and Evaluation Assistant. She works in the areas of training, education and evaluation as well as administrative activities. Early in 2020 she and a literacy consultant/teacher began development of a literacy program for farmer educators in Deslandes to begin in Summer, 2021. Catherine resides in St. Paul, MN and her favorite things to do are spending time with nieces and nephews and travel to Haiti and Ireland.
Shannon has been working with the Partners in Progress team since 2016. She is the marketing director at Mullaney’s Harp and Fiddle and has been working cooperatively with Partners in Progress since 2011. Shannon is passionate about the non-profit community in Pittsburgh and has helped to coordinate fundraising initiatives instrumental in raising funds that support earth block construction training in Haiti that have built three school buildings in Deslandes. Shannon received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Bethany College and Masters in Administration and Supervision from Duquesne University.
A great friend and ally of Partners in Progress for several years, Michael served first as a board member, later as a consultant, and most recently as Interim Associate Director with former Executive Director, Dr. Richard Gosser. He assumed the Executive Director role in early 2015. Mike brings over 12 years of non-profit management experience and 15 years of experience managing community-led, asset-based development and education programs. This work has focused on agriculture, environmental restoration, health education, supportive housing, and green building efforts, mainly in Native American and low-income communities in Minnesota and rural Haiti. Since 2011, Michael has coordinated PIP’s earth-block construction project (the EGD Project) and its agro-ecology (the KVK, or Konbit Vanyan Kapab) project, both in Deslandes, Haiti. Mike studied political science and psychology at the University of Houston, holds a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law and M.Ed. Agriculture from University of Minnesota.