Earthen construction: the standard of the past, the hope for the future and the time is now
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. If anyone wants to have a look at the long, dry, resume version, click here *
The Earth has the answers.
“Earth Block started as a quest for a non-toxic, environmentally safer way to build. It’s become my passion, my life’s mission — making the future out of the past.”
Jim Hallock, Founder and President