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Versaterra 10-day Complete Cob & Natural Building Intensive

September 6, 2023 - September 16, 2023


VersaTerra10@Desert Meadows

Complete Cob & Natural Building Intensive

Desert Meadows

Big Smoky Valley, Nevada

Wednesday, 9/6/2023 – Saturday, 9/16/2023 (10 days)

Number of Students: up to 12

Cost: $1550

The Building Project

During this ten day workshop we will build a beautiful garden wall and an earthen bread/pizza oven. Within the garden wall, we will incorporate all the features of a wall in an earthen house: windows, doors, electricity, plumbing, arches, niches, and artwork.

(We don’t start a whole building in a shorter workshop, as attractive as that may sound; it will have people do too much of one thing [mixing cob and wall building] while not being able to learn the other important aspects of natural building in a meaningful way, such as roof variations, natural plasters, earthen floors and design.)


This is one of the most comprehensive natural building workshops you can find. Together, VersaTerra instructors have decades of experience on four different continents. This has helped us design rich learning experiences giving students the tools they need to become confident earthen builders.

Earth is the mother of all building materials. For millennia, and all over the world, people have used earth to build beautiful, simple, efficient and inexpensive homes. It’s plentiful, ecological, and non-toxic. Plus, it can’t burn, won’t rot and is much simpler to build with than conventional construction.

We will teach you how to use clay-soil to build just about everything: from strong structural walls (cob and adobe) to beautiful floors, plasters and light-straw-clay walls. Because the materials are fireproof, they are ideally suited to sculpt ovens, fireplaces and cook stoves.

The essence of your learning experience will revolve around developing a deep understanding of how to process and combine a few simple materials: clay-soil, sand, and straw. How you apply that in your building adventures is then up to you, but you will find the possibilities endless and exciting. 

What you will learn

After this workshop, you will feel confident that you can

  • Design and build yourself a cob cottage

  • Remodel or renovate an existing home, using natural materials

  • Build and use an earthen oven

  • Use cob to create garden walls and hot tubs

  • Teach a one-day natural building event yourself!

Specifically, you will get hands-on experience and skill development in the following areas:

  • Foundation systems, rubble trench, stem walls, earthbag construction (as a stem wall)

  • Identifying the right materials, screening, processing, testing, costs, amount calculations

  • Mixing cob efficiently

  • Making adobe bricks and using straw bales (“balecob”) and cordwood cob

  • Building with cob: strong sculptural walls, arches, windows and doors, niches, and sculptural artwork

  • Electricity and plumbing, how to install wires and pipes in the walls

  • Roof attachment and roof design

  • Light-straw-clay: this is an infill technique perfect for code-approved buildings and natural renovations of existing homes. You will learn how to make the right materials and how to install them

  • Natural plasters, tools, making your own plasters and paints, colors, applications, how to apply it on earthen walls, drywall, wood, concrete

  • Tamped floors, finish earthen floors in natural buildings, earthen floors in existing homes on plywood, oriented strand board, and concrete

  • Earthen ovens: from start to finish and how to use them (pizza party!)

  • Different design strategies, natural design essentials, passive solar, using cob to make models

  • Building codes, how they work, how to work with and around them

During every workshop we make time for specific issues related to individual situations. This usually includes a careful look at different climates and regions, living with families or in communities, dealing with the building code, physical and financial challenges, appropriate technologies and more.

Kyle’s book, “Build it with Earth: the Cob Pizza Oven” and Conrad’s, “House of Earth” are both included with the workshop and will be mailed before we being. They will serve as guidebooks for the workshop.

About the Site

Our host, Kim, lives on the property she named Desert Meadows with her husband, Jesse. Kim is a phenomenal grower with decades of experience in Permaculture design and implementation. The property is located 215 miles east of Reno in the Big Smoky Valley which runs north to south through Central Nevada between the Toquima and Toiyabe mountain ranges. The property is an ancient salt marsh and has been brought to life by simply adding water back into the landscape. Small ponds are filled with watercress, cattails, sedges and rushes that were not planted – just reactivated. They are also teeming with brine shrimp that had been lying dormant, patiently waiting. The ten acres have many camping sites leveled and cleared.

Kim and Jesse live in a 416sf straw bale house built in 2012-13. There is an underground greenhouse, outdoor kitchen, the ‘Ogre’s Helmet’ fire pit, an art studio where Kim works and a mining operation that Jesse runs to collect the gold from their claims just across the highway from where they live. Nearby attractions include Groves Lake in nearby Kingston Canyon, the historic town of Austin and Spencer’s Hot Springs in the northern end of the valley, six miles down a dirt road just off Hwy 50.

Desert Meadows is in the high desert on the western edge of the Great Basin. The weather in September typically has highs in the 80’s and lows in the 40’s. Expect lots of sun with rain unlikely.


Tent sites and parking for camper vans/RVs.

Registration, Payment, & Refunds

This workshop requires a $500 deposit to hold your space. When a deposit is made, Kyle will reach out to you, welcome you to the course, and get you in the email loop with all the details.

Go here to make a Venmo deposit or send a check for $500 made out to Cobitat and mailed to 2055 McCloud Avenue, Reno, NV 89512. Full payments are also gladly accepted.

Deposit is refundable (minus $50 for books and mailing cost if they’ve already been shipped to you) until 6 weeks before the start of the class. If you cancel with less than six weeks before the start of the class and your spot can be filled, we will issue a refund minus book costs. If it can’t be filled, your deposit will not be refunded.

Full payment is requested by two weeks before the start of each class.

Pickup and Dropoff

Airport pickup and drop off is available from the Reno Airport on only the Tuesday before the start of the workshop and the Saturday at the end of the workshop.


Lead instructor Kyle Isacksen has been building with earth since 2010 and teaching natural building since 2011 with House Alive, Be the Change Project, and now Cobitat. Kyle has a background in construction, teaching, and simple living.  He’s worked as a framer, carpenter, and commercial roofer and recently finished building a “green” conventional house in his neighborhood in Reno. He was a science teacher for 7 years, is a frequent speaker on sustainable living, and is a contributing writer for Mother Earth News magazine and blog. Kyle enjoys basketball, hiking, reading, and martial arts.

Tim Fender is an experienced builder with over a decade of natural building experience. He is based outside of Austin, TX at his suburban homestead replete with earthy cabins, gardens, chickens, greywater and composting systems. Tim has been most recently building in central Missouri where he is developing an off-the-grid teaching homestead. He is an exceptional gardener and experienced Permaculture designer.

Katy Chandler is the co-founder of the Be the Change Project and has lived in and played with natural building materials for many years. She is a prolific gardener, certified permaculture designer, urban garlic farmer, and former math teacher and school designer.  She loves to dance, laugh, and pore over seed catalogs while cozied up to the wood stove on long winter nights. Kyle and Katy also have two teenage sons.


September 6, 2023
September 16, 2023
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Desert Meadows
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