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Our Instructors

Michael G.Smith

Michael G. Smith co-founded the Cob Cottage Company, along with Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley, in Oregon in 1993. He helped organize the first Natural Building Colloquium in 1994. He wrote “The Cobber’s Companion” in 1996 and co-authored “The Hand-Sculpted House” (published by Chelsea Green, 2002) and “The Art of Natural Building (2nd edition, New Society, 2015).” He has experience with a wide range of effective low-cost, low-tech building techniques including cob, straw bale, and many lightweight natural infill systems. He has taught hundreds of hands-on natural building workshops, ranging from one-day earthen oven builds for children to 12-week professional trainings. He enjoys consulting with owner builders to help them design and build successful energy-efficient natural homes. He is also on the Board of Directors of the nonprofit Cob Research Institute, which wrote the first building cob for code in the world and successfully advocated for its adoption into the 2021 International Residential Code. With his partner and children, he stewards a 20-acre organic farm in Yolo County. Learn more at

Sasha Rabin

Sasha Rabin fell in love with natural building in 2002, when she began her building career with an apprenticeship at the Cob Cottage Company. Since then she has taught extensively through organizations that she co-founded, Seven Generations Natural Builders and Vertical Clay, and through collaborations with The Yestermorrow Design Build School, The Canelo Project, Cal-Earth, The Solar Living Institute, and Quail Springs Permaculture. Teaching natural building has brought her as far as the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) Jordan and PRI Kenya and runs her own natural building organization, Earthen Shelter.  She also directs the Natural Building Advocacy program at Quail Springs.  She recently relocated to Northern CA where she was born and raised, and is excited to be teaching up here once again!  ​


Colin Gillespie

Colin Gillespie has worked in the construction trades for over 10 years, with previous experience in integrative landscaping.He has dedicated himself to the study and mindful application of Natural Building, Permaculture Design, Eco-forestry, and Sociology.​​Son of an architect and a physicist, his attention to detail coupled with a passion for smart buildings and landscapes has inspired him to produce exemplary structures combining the benefits of modern and ancient building techniques. Elegant round-pole timber frame with straw bale infill constructions with robust contoured plasters are his specialty and have been featured in many of the projects he has led. In addition to his familiarity with standard stud construction, he is also known for his use of a variety of natural building techniques involving local resources such as wood, clay, and rock.  He champions keen observation, considerate visioning, and thorough planning, all tempered with good humor to allow long-term efficient function and beauty to emerge naturally.


Penny Livingston-Stark is internationally recognized as a prominent permaculture teacher, designer, and speaker. She holds a MS in Eco-Social Regeneration and 3 Diplomas in Permaculture Design. Penny has been studying the Hermetic Tradition of alchemy and herbal medicine making in Europe, Indonesia and the United States. She has taught hundreds of Permaculture Design Certification courses worldwide in addition to advanced courses.

Penny has sat on the board of the Permaculture Institute of North America as well as the Building Appeals Board for the County of Marin, after being unanimously approved by the Marin County Supervisors. She was also a founding board member for the Redwood Empire Chapter of the US Green Building Council.

Penny has been teaching internationally and working professionally in the land management, regenerative design, and permaculture development field for 25 years and has extensive experience in all phases of ecologically sound design and construction as well as the use of natural non-toxic building materials. She specializes in site planning and the design of resource-rich landscapes integrating, rainwater collection, edible and medicinal planting, spring development, pond and water systems, habitat development and watershed restoration for homes, co-housing communities, businesses, and diverse yield perennial farms. She as taught Herbal Medicine Making, Natural Building and Permaculture around the US as well as Bali, Indonesia, Peru, Germany, Mexico, France, Turkey, Portugal, Australia, Belize, Brazil, England and Costa Rica.

With her husband James Stark, and in collaboration with Commonweal — a cancer health research and retreat center — Penny co-manages Commonweal Garden, a 17-acre organic and certified salmon-safe farm in Bolinas, California.

Penny co-created the Ecological Design Program and its curriculum at the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, co-created the Permaculture Program at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center with Brock Dolman, co-created the Earth Activist Training with Starhawk and she co-founded the West Marin Grower’s Group, the West Marin Farmer’s Market, and the Community Land Trust Association of Marin. Penny has also worked with the Marin County Community Development Agency and Planning Department to develop recommendations on sustainability for updating the Community Plan.

Penny is a founding member of the Natural Building Colloquium, a national consortium of professional natural builders, creating innovations in straw bale, cob, timberframe, light clay, natural non-toxic interior finishes and other methods using natural and bio-regionally appropriate materials for construction.

She has been featured in the following films: Symphony of the Soil by Lily Films and Deborah Koons Garcia, 2012: A Time for Change by Joao Amorim and Daniel Pinchbeck and Permaculture: The Growing Edge by Belili Films and Starhawk.

She has been apprenticing in Germany and Italy at the Arven School for Medicinal Plants, Aromatherapy and Wilderness Wisdom with her teacher, a master alchemist, Susanne Fischer-Rizzi in Germany since 2011. Penny is holding this lineage here in the United States and is embarking on sharing what she has learned over the years.


Athena Steen  was one of the pioneers of the straw bale revival, building her first straw bale home at the age of 19. In 1989, with husband Bill, she founded The Canelo Project, a center for natural building and cultural revival in southern Arizona. Together they have developed many innovations in straw and clay construction, ranging from simple straw bale pinning techniques to high-fiber “light adobes” to a revival of poured adobe floors. They emphasize everyone’s capacity to house themselves beautifully and inexpensively, using local natural materials and innate wisdom. They have worked extensively on low-income husing projects in Mexico and traveled and taught all over the world. Athena and Bill have also written half a dozen books, including “The Straw Bale House” (Chelsea Green, 1994). Well known for her artistry with natural finishes, Athena has collaborated on art museum installations at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and several other museums. Learn more here:


Blair Phillipsthe founder of Abuela Gardens (2013), Has a BA in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Agroecology and education ( UCSC 2006). Blair is a certified permaculture designer and teacher who has studied with the best(2007). Teachers like Dr. Elaine Ingham, Geoff Lawton, Darren Doherty, Penny Livingston, Broc Dolmon, Ian Davidson, Steve Gliesman, and Michael Flynn. (2004-to present).  Since Blair's teenage years he has been exploring practices to awaken the inner self and align with the world outside. This inquisition has led him to explore meditation, yoga, plant medicine, traditional west african drumming, and other healing arts. The fusion of internal work with the external has led Blair on a journey to make his work into visible prayers.  listen to an interview

Blair was also the original the founder of Common Vision (1999), ( a non profit organization responsible for planting thousands of fruit trees in California, most of which were planted on California’s school campuses by a caravan of earth educators running on waste vegetable oil. In the first ten years, Common Vision used traditional and circus arts performance to inspire children toward a healthy, hands-on relationship with the earth. Blair has worked internationally to propagate an additional 7000 trees in Guinea, West Africa. (2008) He has also studied at Cal Earth (2010) and helped build a super adobe dome structure for a school in Dogon country, Mali, West Africa (2010). He has participated in other natural building workshops covering straw bale, plastering, light straw clay, wattle and daub as well as cantanary vaults. (2008-present). In early 2012 Blair spent time working with the Huichol Community Center to develop a 4 year strategy to develop water and make certain changes to enhance the productivity of their traditional farming practices. 2014-2015 Blair traveled to Peru to explore his fascination with plant medicines and indigenous culture.


Settling into the hills of Willits (2012) had inspired Blair to have an intimate relationship with the watershed, designing Abuela Gardens based on regenerative relationship with the surrounding environment in a multifaceted approach. By keeping water at the core, agro-ecological development, forest regeneration, animal rotation, aquifer recharge points, natural building projects and nursery work are placed providing a developing model of design for local neighbors and beyond.

In the winter of 2017-2018 Blair went to Reshikesh, India to study with masters of lineage to become a Certified Yoga Teacher. This journey was the transition and initiation to helping others fine tune their own internal practices and integrate them through recalibration of the Heart, Health, and Hands. 

Since 2019, Blair has been working with the Forest Reciprocity Group (FRoG) to develop strategy and educational programing to help people who live in fire prone forested areas understand our relationship with the forest, and health fire while making use of small diameter poles thinned in fire prevention work.

Continuing on the path of service Blair created Abuela Gardens to be a campus for those who engage with themselves and the land. He is inspired to help people focus their self practice towards a regenerative lifestyle internally and externally. He is excited to continue helping people outside of Abuela Gardens with broad acreage land and water regeneration. 

Alyson Amrita

BA in Religious Studies (with a focus on comparative mythology, religion and ecology, and feminist spirituality) from Skidmore College in New York State, 2014 (study abroad: Samoa—conducted an Independent Research Project on the changing Samoan diet and it’s impact on health, education, tradition and economics; London—focus on globalization).

Yoga Teacher Training, Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Canada, 2012—that’s where my personal healing journey truly began.

9-Month long Women’s Program with Sierra and Rono Sullivan, 2014—learned about the powers of: feminine energy, pleasure, sisterhood, and various forms of somatic healing.

Apprenticeship with NancyLee—macrobiotic vegan chef/herbalist, 2016-2018—learned about nourishment, herbal lore & medicine making, and the art of paying attention.

Apprenticeship with yoga instructor and wise woman Carrie Coppola, owner of Mudita Yoga Studio in Salt Lake City UT, where my love of yoga and craft for teaching deepened. (During those two years, I taught yoga full-time, led women’s retreats and full/new moon circles, and worked with coaching clients 1:1, weaving yoga, meditation, reiki, and reframing-based techniques into my offerings).

Writer and office manager for Santa Cruz Ayurveda and learning about that system of medicine directly from the doctor.

Currently: about to start a masters program in Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture.

I absolutely believe in the powers of Herbalism//Plant Medicine, Yoga & Ayurveda, TCM//Acupuncture, Meditation//Mindfulness, and Eco-Somatics to inspire wellness for individuals, communities, and the world at large. It is my mission to be a part of the healing and restoration of planet Earth, and it’s my passion to support others in finding their dharma and in living healthier, happier, and more harmonious lives along the way. It would be my pleasure and honor to serve you on your path towards healing.

blairs bio
athenas bio
michaels bio
penns bio
colins bio
sashas bio
amritas bio
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