Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why We Teach the Way We Do!

When I was in seventh grade I took an art class. The woman who taught the class passed out paper and crayons and asked everyone to draw whatever came to mind. My parents had just returned from Hawaii and had regaled me with stories of an erupting volcano. Dad and looked at pictures of the event in Life magazine. And I wanted to draw a volcano in action.

So the mountain formed and the floes were sketched in. Then the crayon sort of went wild with abandon. The teacher seeing explosions—likely complete with sound effects—walked over to my desk and picked up my masterpiece and in her teacher voice said: This is exactly what we don’t want to see in this class! I stopped having an interest in drawing and painting on that day.

My wife has since helped me past this event and I am doing some drawings and a little painting—yes, a lot like a 7th grader—but I think this illustrates well the negative power of critique. And why our students are not subjected to this type of educational technique here at Yestermorrow. Here we work to enable and empower folks. The wonder of that is incredible, because you never know what someone is going to design or create. Another reason why I like to work at Yestermorrow.

Bob Ferris
Executive Director
Yestermorrow Design/Build School

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Day 6 on the Road

The heat is coming back. We are all losing the will and/or ability to communicate. I can't remember whether I am talking about achitecture, climate change, toilet paper or coffee. All of us have become cross-trained via absorbtion. Why is bleach bad and fair trade good. How natural building projects attract attention and build communities. Why strawbale structures need great foundations and roofs. We all have each of these raps down and it is probably as much fun for me to watch someone from Seventh Generation or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters talk about the value of design/build and Yestermorrow as it is for them to watch me talk about their shade grown or recylced products...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Clear Skies with Clouds Rolling In....

Dead tired but satisfied. We've been talking to folks for nearly 35 hours, signed up about 2000 people and Jack Johnson's crew has just arrived to help us with our quest. We in Planet Roo are basically numb, but the energy here is incredible. Gregor Barnum (Seventh Generation), Jasna Brown (Green Mountain Coffee Roasters) and I are all loosing our voices and entering that nearly surreal state of the extreme fatigued and we go on the solar stage for the second time this evening at 6:30. When you get up there it feels so remote and like no one is listening but then someone comes up to tell you that they were moved by the message or the building or what is going on at PlanetRoo. It gives us hope.

If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Then a Video...

It is not often that Yestermorrow gets coverage in the Tennessean and a video no less. Watch and Enjoy!

Bob Ferris

Hard Rain at Bonnaroo

Mud. It rained last night. Hard. And now we know that why local soils lend themselves to natural building: They are full of clay and sticky. The rain has damped us in many, many ways. The challenge of designing communities for lots and lots of people in a small space becomes more apparent when stresses and oversubscribed systems come into play. Now that everyone is here and the lines at toilets are really, really long we are seeing problems. There is trash everywhere and littering is taken to an art form and level not seen since before Iron Eyes Cody wept in the 1970. I think that much of the unconsciousness is chemically induced and clearly drugs are all around as we have had to ask dealers to not use our camp chairs and awning as a place to conduct business. Watching all this I am struck by what a living laboratory this place is as we contemplate how we might deal with disasters large and small.

The communal sinks look like Bangkok sewers which have become for us an allegory about the lack of folks taking personal responsibility for their environment. The sinks became plugged because the discarded packets from shampoo samples covered the drain. No one was watching. No one wanted to be the sacrificial hand that dove into the muck and solved the problem for all. Perhaps they did not care or did not know how to solve this simple plumbing problem. It really drives home for me how important what we teach, preach and live at Yestermorrow is and will be.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Morning Two

Baked awake by the sun at 6 or so. Came too early as we were at the booth until nearly 1 AM. Stumbled home to the tent to the strains of Lez Zepelin an all female Led Zep cover band. Great end of a very long day. At the morning meet up this AM there was a little less spring in everyone's step. But we all cheered when we saw the coverage of our post office in this morning New York Times blog.

Wahoo. I am so proud of the Yestermorrow crew. We continue to build in a manner that draws attention!


PS it is still steaming here, but got a shower this morning. Everyone is grateful.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Yestermorrow's First Federal Building

We have had our first case of heat stroke in the group and I have not showered for three days (tough on me and also the folks around me). But I am happy because I just realized that with the hanging of the United States Postal Service banner, Yestermorrow had (I believe) constructed its first federal building. And boy is the place attracting folks. I suppose that it no surprise because Yestermorrow structures have been attracting attention for nearly three decades--the fact that this is likely the first post office whose underlying concept is a cowboy hat helps. Yestermorrow instructor and Bonnaroo organizer Russ Bennett is behind the design.

But Wait! There's More!

Here's a link to a "Road to Bonnaroo" blog post from Carbon Shredder Gregor Barnum, and some of his photos as well.

The Festival is About to Start

We went to sleep last night with heat lightening in the sky. Wonderful visuals, but made me think of climate change and the chemical and geophysical war that is being fought in our atmosphere. We need to do better with our buildings, how we live and how we design our communities.

We woke with a city growing around us. By this evening we will be 100,000. There is a lot to learn from this construct. We are basically a musical refugee camp. Lots of folks living very, very close together—no we are not being tortured or displaced but we are here because of our thoughts and common likes. We are living light with few possessions and taking less showers and using less energy. It feels good, but is challenging. We know our bliss would be shattered if not supported by heavy importation of food, water, and other services. Gives us a flavor of empathy but not reality. And I am either getting older or my air mattress is getting thinner.

We are in the Green Pod # 3 so we are in and around some folks who think like us. Our nearest neighbor is a green bus from Dartmouth so we are an environmental leaning New England enclave. The Clif Bar bus is down the way and they are pushing low carbon as well. Lots of conversations about what is wrong how we can solve it. Mainly they all come back to the thought that we are trying to treat symptoms and need to look more at root causes and cures. We need to find a way to heal ourselves and we need to start now.

It is cooler this morning but the heat is building and all of us are scouting out the best shade spots which are few. We are saving our voices to talk to thousands of folks over the noises of PlanetRoo and booming bass from the Solar Stage.

They are hammering on the Post Office now and hoping to finish the roof before it rains. So it goes with design/build everywhere....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

We Made It

After 24 hours in our version of the Magic Bus, we are sweating at Bonnaroo. Don't want to sweat too much because the showers here are $10.

We are recovering from the drive and setting up our booth. Gregor Barnum from Seventh Generation and I are sitting on hay bales madly blogging away in site of the nearly completed Post Office which is full of past and future Yestermorrowians. Great fun and Orion has already given me on very muddy handshake.

There are connections all over the place. Gary our bus driver worked with Art Schaller and Mac Rood 15 years ago on Yestermorrow's project on the Sioux reservation and the back up driver is Ken Oldrid a Yestermorrow biofuels instructor. We were all very nervous about getting here on time and it was looking like we were going to miss our mark by about an hour, but then we gained an hour with the time zone change and squeezed in under the wire.

The energy of the both crew is incredible. Everyone is talking about how to live a less impactful life. We are reducing our waste on the trip, composting our other waste and counselling each and all on what to buy and not.

The trip was supposed to take 20 hours but we had some challenges finding vegetatable oil and B-100 biodiesel. It was a pain but OK because we now is the time to stretch ourselves so we can begin to make a real difference.

As someone associated with education with a sustainability message, I believe it is very important to set an example and do it in a manner that is meaningful. We are doing that here at Bonnaroo and will greet and send our message tomorrow to a population that could reach 100,000 folks.

A drum circle is beating in the backgroud as we get back to our booth and watch the folks finish the post office. Talk to you soon.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Here We Go! Carbon Shredders

Boy is it hot. The fudgecicles are being passed out in the office as I am packing up catalogs, writing an op-ed for Thursday's valley paper and anxiously getting ready to plop myself and my wife on a non-air-conditioned bus powered by veggie oil, bio-diesel and good intensions.

We are heading to Bonnaroo to sell folks on the need to change the way they live and come up to Vermont to Yestermorrow to learn how to do that with buildings and communities. We are going to hang out in the heat and humidity with 80,000 other souls, including 14 employees from Seventh Generation and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters who will help Jasna, Gregor and Carlene, and I staff our both at PlanetRoo. (Oh Yeah and we might even hear some music from the likes of Jack Johnson and Metallica!)

So come see us at Bonnoroo or live vicariously through our blog postings or the Bonnaroo website as well. And visit the Solar Bus site as too because you might just see a picture of instructor supremo Skip Dewhirst on that solar powered site.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Way to Go Elizabeth!!!

It is wonderful to see our students do well. And Elizabeth has done very well. Congratulations on this article that appeared in The Eagle-Tribune on June 4th. And given Yestermorrow's strong current and historic ties to Yale and the fact that my father is also a graduate of the Governor's Academy (nee Governor Dummer) make it even nicer. We look forward to seeing more of this series!

Bob Ferris

TINY HOUSE: Wanted: 132 square feet of home Governor's Academy alumna has blueprint for a project that's warm, green — and snug

By Victor Tine, Staff writer

This is going to be one busy summer for Elizabeth Turnbull.

The 2000 graduate of The Governor's Academy in Byfield is working "almost full time" for O'Neil Fine Builders of Beverly, a build-and-design company. And she's also building the house she will live in when she goes to graduate school at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., in August.

The thing is, she's building the house in Byfield. On the grounds of her alma mater. On a flat-bed trailer. When she's done, she's going to haul it down to New Haven and find a place for it to go.
It's going to be tiny — the interior living space will be just 7 feet, 4 inches wide by 18 feet long, or 132 square feet. That's a snug fit for Turnbull, who is 5 feet, 113/4 inches tall.
And it's going to be green — energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

"I am going to be studying urban ecology and environmental design and, without sounding too hokey, I'm interested in living that experience," Turnbull said. "This is an opportunity."
"Also, I don't love the idea of paying rent," she said.

She has set up the used trailer she bought at the academy's maintenance area on Middle Road and took delivery of the lumber late last week.

The 25-year-old Turnbull has never built a house before, but she took a furniture building course for three years at Colby College in Maine. "I loved it," she said. She has also taken a two-week home design and build course at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vt.
She's pretty excited about the project, and she hopes other people will be, too. Between now and her departure for Yale, she's planning five "TinyRaisings" work parties. She'll invite people to help her work, maybe take a break for a swim at Plum Island, and then treat them to a barbecue afterward.

"It would be really cool to get community people involved," she said.
Turnbull estimates it would cost her about $14,000 to rent an apartment for the two years she will spend studying for her master's degree in environmental management at Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. At first, she thought she could build her tiny house for a comparable sum, but she's learned eco-friendly materials can be more costly than conventional construction. She is looking for donations of building materials and tools.

Her lumber has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit organization that encourages responsible and sustainable forest management. Certified lumber costs about 17 percent more than conventional board.

She plans to set the house's studs at 24 inches apart, rather than the usual 16, to save on weight and building materials.

She expects to use recycled and reclaimed windows. Since they have already been constructed, it consumes no additional energy to make them. That reduces what she called the "embodied energy" of the building.

Turnbull also intends to use nontoxic paints and adhesive wherever possible.
"It's hard to find those materials and hard to afford them," she said, estimating that a can of paint without toxins costs twice as much as regular paint.

The tiny house will be solar-powered and well insulated with natural materials.
"If it's a cold winter, I expect to spend $200 for heat," she said.
She will use LED and halogen lights, which, she said, "sip very gently on your power supply."
The Governor's Academy has been highly supportive of her project, giving her the space to work and encouragement. "Everybody has been unbelievable," she said.
Turnbull doesn't expect the tiny house to be 100 percent completed when she leaves for grad school. Some things, plumbing for example, will depend partly on the site she chooses for the house. But she expects the house to be "eminently livable" by August.
After she gets her degree in 2010, Turnbull said there are a number of professional job possibilities.

"I would like to continue exploring and improving the built environment," she said.
But she thinks she'll want to hang onto the tiny house. She might use it as her office.
"I don't think it will ever be done, that it will ever come to a point where I say nothing more needs to be done," she said.

The making of Tiny House

This is the first in a series of stories on the Tiny House. The Daily News will be following the progress of Elizabeth Turnbull and her green house every two weeks until August when she leaves for Yale with her new home.

Turnbull has also started a blog about the project — — to let people know how it's going.

The Turnbull File
Age 25
Grew up in West Virginia
Moved to Massachusetts after freshman year in high school
Lives in Beverly
2000 graduate of The Governor's Academy
2004 graduate of Colby College, Waterville, Maine
Has worked at alternative energy consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004
Has bicycled across the United States and Europe
Elizabeth Turnbull is inviting anyone who is interested in helping her build her house to five weekend work parties. The schedule is:

June 21 and 22
June 28 and 29
July 12 and 13
July 26 and 27
Aug. 2 and 3

E-mail her at to sign up.

Eco-friendly factors
Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber
Studs 24 inches apart, rather than 16
Recycled windows
Solar power
LED (light-emitting diode) and halogen lights
Nontoxic paints and adhesives
Insulation with natural materials
Minimal reliance of fossil fuels