One Thursday afternoon in September, Arturo, Miguel, Ina, Maggie and Rachel bopped over to Morelos for another round of cob oven workshops. We showed up to the home of Doña Eva in the small village of Temoacto meet up with Rosie and Sam – two members of the organization, CAM, with whom we’ve worked in the past. They head up various community organizing projects in pueblos around Morelos such as resource diagnostics, water conservation projects and the stoves we would be building for the next two days.
When we showed up at the home of Doña Eva around 3 o’clock, we were greeted by about fifteen community members. The idea was to educate about cob stove construction through interactive workshops: we would build stoves for these six families with the help of the community, and they would in turn build and educate for another six families, and so on.
At first, the audience cast a general sentiment of wariness about stomping in the cob. The students preferred to cut and sprinkle straw rather than get knee deep in earthy goo, which is understandable. Finally, the brother of Doña Eva and one other gentleman joined me in the dance. And we slowly snowballed (or cobballed?) enthusiasm so that by the end almost everyone was caked in clay. While we didn’t have time to do any more stoves that day, we went to each home to assess the layout and the materials for the stoves we would build on Friday. We informed the crews how to get started with the foundation and to mix the cob and what other items they might need. This gave us a huge jump start for the next day as each of them would have already accomplished the most time-consuming tasks by the time we arrived.
We returned to Doña Eva’s and lit the stove just as the sun was setting. Although every level of the stove was heating, the smoke wasn’t pulling upward as strongly as it should have. We thanked Doña Eva profusely for the delicious meal of beans and eggs with salsa and promised to come back first thing in the morning to take another look.
That evening we stayed at the home of Professor Reyes, with whom we’d worked in the previous taller (community project) of cob stoves. He took us out for a few dinner snacks (quesadillas, tostadas and other greasy delicious treats) and we noticed that in the back of the restaurant there was a cob stove! Upon inspection, we realized that the difference with this stove was that the pipe for the smoke to pass to the burner on the next level was significantly higher than ours. Hmm. Perhaps that was why our stove wasn’t pulling smoke as it should. But figuring out this new design would prove to be trickier than it appeared.
Early the next morning, as Ina and Miguel worked to fix the first stove, I started out on the new stoves with Doña Juana. It was going to be a very long day, so I was excited to find that she had already mixed a healthy batch of cob and laid the foundation for the stove. Rosie, Sam and I played with the structure for a long time trying to figure out how to build the pipe above the heating plate to create stronger suction. Voilà! We finally figured it out and were able to create a functional template by which we could construct all of the other stoves. This was a huge and pivotal moment for us as it would improve the quality of all of the stoves tremendously. Ina and Miguel caught up with me at Doña Juana’s and I proceeded to Doña Clara’s home to start over again. They had an entire batch of cob prepared as well, just lacking a bit of straw. I laid another foundation and had a great conversation with Doña Clara about how she and her brother and neighbors became involved with CAM. Doña Clara is an active member of her church and sees a strong connection between faith, environmental activism and community. She recognizes a responsibility as a steward of her land and of her network to do everything in her power to minimize her footprint. After Ina and Miguel finished at Doña Juana’s, they caught up with me once again, and I was about to head out the door when Doña Clara offered us some lemon tea and fresh gorditas. No way I was going to pass that up. She informed me that the gorditas were made from a strain of non-GMO, natural corn – we could all definitely taste the difference.
I quickly moved to the home of Doña Paulina, Juana’s aunt. Arturo and Don Franco met up with us there to help install the chimney. They had been working on building the structure of a compost toilet for another community participant. We all migrated together to the site of the last two stoves (two sisters-in-law). Even more helpful hands showed up to learn and contribute in the last hours of the day. These two stoves were the hardest because we were totally fried by this point. We were closing our eyes and seeing stoves. But by the end, both stoves were beautiful and operative.
Over one last meal with Doña Eva we celebrated our hard work and the progress that the community had made both ecologically and socially. We’d successfully made 6 cob stoves and laid the foundations for two dry composting toilets! Everyone was satisfied with the endeavor, and the members promised to continue the cycle of sharing knowledge and service. We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with CAM and with these communities. We hope to initiate a taller in our own community in the coming months, and are starting to talk to the parents of our children’s program to gauge interest (it looks promising so far). We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the process!