A soil for building, a soil for planting

Cob constructions and sustainable agriculture
October 2019

The cob kitchen under construction.

I had the chance to help my friends Wenjun and Shiyu in their project in Xinbu district, Hsinchu county. I participated in the building of their outdoor kitchen.

It is mostly construction work, so you would say, how does this relates to farming (or biking) ? Well, first, this kitchen is part of a bigger project. Wenjun and Shiyu seek to be self-sufficient for a major part of their food, using the piece of land on which the kitchen was built. They are using permaculture’s principles to try to integrate all of the parts of their project, so having their self-built kitchen was a major component of their quest of autonomy. This kitchen is set to evolve in the future in a small restaurant, attempting the “farm to table” concept : cooking only, or at least in a major part, with ingredients produced on the same piece of land as the restaurant. You can’t get any fresher !

The first crops of the project, different kind of cabbages.

Secondly, this kitchen was built mostly using cob. Cob is a mix of sand, clay and straw. It is a construction material that has been used for millenium in many parts of the world, with different kind of straw, different proportions, different techniques of mixing… It is a cheap alternative to concrete, with the advantages of being far more eco-friendly (the production of cement is responsible of 7 to 8% of the world CO2 emissions), and creating easily repairable structures, that can last centuries if well taken care for (whereas when concrete cracks, the building can never be fully repaired). In the photo gallery below, you can see the steps of constructing with cob.

Finally, the cooking apparatus are fuel-efficient (the fuel being wood). The oven is particularly designed so that not only the wood, but also the smoke from the combustion of the wood are burnt, leading to an effluent comprised mostly of steam. This can produce heat over 600ºC, so in fact the food is put in the oven after the wood is burnt. The oven also have a huge thermal mass, so it can stay hot for a long time : if you use it in the afternoon, it is still hot enough the following morning to bake sweet potatoes !

These ideas of locally produced food and food autonomy, of sustainable construction method and cooking, are all totally in line with the vision I have of a regenerative agriculture.

If you want to know more about this project, please have a look at the page of Wenjun and Shiyu’s project ! https://www.facebook.com/cultivatime/

See you soon for more agroecology !

Author: Yali

I am Alex, a French graduate from the agronomy school AgroParisTech, which also spent a few years in Taiwan. Passionate about gardening, farming, plants, insects and other. I made this website to share thoughts, experience, innovations and studies about agriculture, from the viewpoint of agro-ecology.

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