What’s Happening at Rustling Roots

from the Rustling Roots Winter Newsletter 2020

(Note: Rustling Roots is a project of the Cambia community in Louisa, Virginia.)

Rustling Roots is Getting Off-Grid! 

We recently got a fabulous deal on used solar panels (30 cents/watt shipped!) so we acquired enough to power our community for at least 80% of the days. (Time will tell if these are reasonable estimates). We’re in the design process for determining if we’ll have a central array in the field or if we’ll have separate panels for each of the buildings. 

The current price of gently used solar panels makes all functions including space heating and water heating cheaper than any other means (besides south facing windows) but given that electric storage is still polluting, costly, and complicated we are starting to experiment with thermal storage. One example of thermal storage is warming a barrel of water with electricity while the barrel is covered with a blanket and releasing the warmth to the space by taking off the blanket when the warmth is needed. So far, we have been experimenting with powering a heating element to warm the hot tub and other hot water applications, but it’s yet to be streamlined. 

We will also be limiting our need for batteries by using more direct solar and using the power when the sun is out. 

We will have to confront the question of what to do with surplus power in the summer. Any ideas? 

Well, I guess one idea is powering our… 

Electric Car: 

It has already been a year since we first bought this car and we now finally have it upgraded to lithium batteries. We’ve been through a long, treacherous road with this short-range vehicle, but have finally worked out the kinks and got it working again (after a lightning strike blew out its motor controller in July)! It’s now our most frequently used vehicle, but it doesn’t get us up on the freeway and to the next city. It does get us to town though, and to all the local communities. 

Our intention is to be able to teach about how to convert cars to electric and how to charge them with solar. We are also intending to show how community living is what really enables reduction in gas usage, as electric vehicles start to make a lot more sense when more people share them and can have access to another long range vehicle when necessary. 

So what have we done with this car? 

Fixed the parking break, speedometer, headlights, replaced incandescent with led lights all around, made a trunk both in the front (where the fuel tank was) and the back (where the engine was). Made a new passenger seat that folds all the way down! And of course installed the (used) li- ion batteries, new charger, motor controller, rewired everything, and now the car travels 5 times farther, charges 3 times faster, and the batteries are supposed to last 4 times longer. (We got the charger programmed to take it easy on the batteries). 

So how does this make sense if it takes so much work? So this car gets about 140 mpg-e, and while that doesn’t make much difference with the ridiculously low gas prices, there are many other benefits to driving electric. Every part on this car is very easy to replace and is made to last a long time. For example, a gas car that has motor problems might cost $3000 to $5000 to replace, and several days of work. In this car, it is 4 bolts, 2 wires, less than an hour of work, and a replacement motor would cost around $700. 

So this project is by no means a maximization of any single factor. Rather, it is an optimization of a few factors together, as it would not make sense otherwise. For example, working as a carpenter makes more financial sense, donating to environmental organization makes more environmental sense, and building model ships is much more fun, but at Rustling Roots we are demonstrating how there is a wonderful way of combining all of these factors together into one meaning rich lifestyle. 

Passive Solar Sunroom! 

Our south porch is covered with fabulous grape vines in the summer. This year we removed them off the arbor and will have them ready to throw back on it in the spring. Underneath, we built a clear roof that we are going to keep for the summer to keep the rain out, but all around we put windows salvaged from a construction site, and we have created the main house heater and hang out space of Cambia. We also built a sunny shower room to the side of the space. It is a great success, but a slight hassle to have to take it down and rebuild it twice a year. On sunny days we generally don’t have to use the woodstove during the day and the house stays warm. The sunroom is a great demonstration of passive temperature control that can be achieved very cheaply with just some effort and design. 

The many ways to visit Rustling Roots 

Aside from our regular tours and the in-depth experience our work-exchangers receive, we now have other platforms for folks to come and see Rustling Roots, give themselves a self-guided tour of the museum, and visit the community first-hand. One of those is through Hipcamp, a new online platform similar to Airbnb, in which folks can book camping experiences. We’ve had great success with it so far. During the fall we had at least half our weekends booked with campers. It’s a great way of connecting with people that otherwise might never learn about us.

So now we are offering the wigwam we built for a previous workshop as a sleeping accommodation! We also built a bedframe out of lashed branches and fire pit inside. The wigwam is built from cedar saplings, large sections of peeled poplar bark, and hickory and pawpaw lashings. In the spring we’re hoping to complete it with a hand-woven reed mat for the door. For now, a blanket keeps it cozy warm inside. 

Come spring, we’ll be getting ready to host homeschool groups, volunteer college students from UVA, alternative technology interns, hipcampers, as well as our monthly workshops in primitive skills and off-grid technologies. 

For all the folks coming through we have created a more prominent display for the eco-kits we offer to Rustling Roots participants, made possible a grant from the Charlottesville Area Eco-Living Fund. Participants can buy these kits at half- price and receive a discount to future Rustling Roots workshops for implementing them. 

2020 Workshops 

(exact dates, and more workshops, to be announced soon) 

May: Moccasin Making 

with Jeff Gottlieb 

July: How to Build your own Solar Electric Car 

with Gil Cambia and Jason Taylor 

October: Weaving Rattan Pack Baskets 

with Jeff Gottlieb 

November: Growing and Saving your own Heirloom Seeds 

with Irena of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 



What’s Happening at Rustling Roots

Cambia: Reusing and New Buildings

by Raven

At the Communities Conference this summer, I got to take a tour of Cambia and I learned a few things.

Like the connection between their pond and one of their buildings.

This is their pond:


They dug it out themselves, it has a nice deck (built from a deck that was torn down at Twin Oaks), and is great to cool off in, among other things. (For more about the pond, see Ella’s post, What Does It Mean to Build a Pond?)

Not far from the pond is a building they call ‘the barn’:


This is a residential building where a family lives, but it also has a common space where meditation and spiritual activities happen:


The flooring and walls are made from clay.  It says this at the beginning of Ella’s post, but I had forgotten, the clay is from what they dug out for the pond. So two of the things that they accomplished at the same time were digging out the pond and getting clay to create this room. It’s very much how they do things at Cambia.

A couple of new things that I saw this summer were this wigwam (which I believe was built during their Wigwam Building Workshop):


And this new outdoor classroom:


Check out the amazing roofing:


Cambia continues its combination of ecological innovation and a lovely esthetic.  I wonder what I will find next year.


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Cambia: Reusing and New Buildings

Cambia has kittens!!!

from the Commune Life Instagram account:


Cambia has kittens!!!

Craft Weaves Together Community

Written by Thumbs from Cambia Community

from Your Passport to Complaining

Through the haze of old safety goggles I struggle to read the fractions of an inch I was told to measure.  When I look up to ask for the length again my voice is droned out by the grind of iron against steel, groaning like tectonic plates being forced against each other.  I pull out my earphones to try and hear the number my friend is saying, but as soon as my ear is exposed the scream of dull blades splintering wood makes my ears ring like funeral bells for the death of hearable tone.  We are here to build a natural home, a safe place for the community to gather and celebrate, but our means of getting there is through the dehumanizing technology of industrialization. Does community begin when the project is done?  Are the projects ever done?

Construction has become a means to an end.  There are customers who design compositions of geometric shapes on two dimension screens, and builders who are tasked to turn these teeny tiny drawings into voluminous structures which exceed the cubic area of many hundred year old trees, and preferably they should complete the task in the same amount of time it takes to simply imagine doing some of the steps.  This impossible task can only be dared to be dreamed of due to the cunning bedmates technology and globalization!

wigwam crew

However, home construction also has potential to be an artistic celebration of the unique local environment.  In fact, the architecture styles associated with various cultures of the world, are a beautiful expression of the dance between place-based resources, local climate, and the human imagination.    On the other hand, building a Laotian bamboo stilt house at the 45th parallel north will look stunning in a picture, but a close up would show popsicle frozen homeowners entombed in their own dream house.  That example sounds ridiculous because it’s unfamiliar, but there are innumerable identical architectural discords made bearable due to enough synthetic insulation, chemical wood embalming, and gently off gassing décor.

Jeff longhouse build
Long House Construction

Turtle island (North America) has a rich place based architectural history.  The indigenous cultures built migratory homes they carried with them, Lakota tepees, temporary shelters along their travels, Inuit igloos, and long-lasting homes to raise a family, Anishinaabe wigwams*.  European colonists also established trademark style with the aid of hand saw technology to fell larger trees interlock them to create the signature log cabins.  Even more recently with the fusion of ancient architecture and Anthropocene resources the earth ships design has become a hallmark of the South West. Each of these designs works best using the materials of the biome it’s in, because that is the region these materials, organic or inert, evolved to endure.  Buried homes stay cool in the dessert but mold in humidity, and the forest appreciates the harvest of rot resistant sapling in regions known for benders (a general term for anything that involves created rounded structures using interlocking wood; sweat lodges, long houses, and wigwams).



With any of these homes, the finished structure is only a small glimpse of the true beauty that went into crafting it.  Traditional building techniques also use traditional tools, which traditionally are about the volume of a loud bird (not a firing gun), and even more often require multiple people.  From weaving the inner bark of Hickory to make Wigwam cordage, to collaboratively wielding either end of a large bow saw many “old fashioned” tools are meditatively redundant and quiet enough to get lost in conversation with your fellow crafts person.  Without the screech of electric engines and unwieldy blades their use is also not restricted to the adrenaline hungry young men who surround me at conventional construction sites. My current highlight of traditional construction was working with a pregnant woman and young mother to peel Aspen bark while the year-old baby napped in the middle of the construction site.

When building community becomes the goal, instead of making a community building, there is less of a race to the finish, and more of a dialogue with local materials and people.  Do you know the 5 most common trees that grow in your biome? Do you know which characteristics of them are equivalent to their modern synthetic mimics? Instead of exchanging money for hired time, have you considered luring your friends over for a building party with food and music (you’d be surprised how people who are deprived of hand craft in their profession are exuberant to get their hands dirty building your home).

jeff build wigwam
Jeff hands on

At Rustling Roots in Central Virginia, we are turning back the wheels of time to weave community by weaving together a Wigwam.  Over the course of a weekend we will all learn how to turn the sweet-smelling bark of springtime Poplar into wallpaper, and the overly abundant shoots of cedar saplings into a bedroom sized inverted nest.  Not only will we be working with these materials for architecture, but you will learn about how to harvest them to appease the forest, and when they are most eager to be compliant to your construction whims.  With simply tools a 1st year blacksmith could forge we will weave together a structure rich in indigenous wisdom, while weaving together the lives of every hand involved.  Of course, we are planning to have a beautiful organic home at the end, but that is just the flower on top of community we’ll cultivate along the way.

           Wigwam Building Workshop June 28-30

           Zoom Interview with Instructor, Jeff Gottlieb, Wednesday 6 p.m. June 19th (Free, Click Here)

* “Wigwam” and “wikiup” are both popularly used to describe Woodland nuclear family homes. In general reference, these terms work (like when we use the term “moccasin” to describe a type of footwear in general). But keep in mind there are so many uncorrupted terms for “a home/dwelling” from different Native dialects that are very appropriate to use, especially when describing homes of specific Nations. You might have noticed that we favor the term “wigwam” in our writings. This is only because the term “wikiup” is often an applied term to describe Apache dwellings (in poplar writing and some academic outlets), and because they are not similar, we’d rather stick to terminology that embodies Woodland traditions without the association of a very different Native housing tradition of the Southwest. But truly the term “wikiup,” just like the term “wigwam,” are born of the Woodlands region.

(http://woodlandindianedu.com/wigwamlonghouselodge.html 5/18/2019)      




Craft Weaves Together Community

Cambia: Love of the Small

This video comes out of a Cambian conversation about minimalism and functionalism.  The two ideas are not necessarily opposites, although sometimes a minimalist ethos can prevent things from being as functional as they could otherwise be.  But is function always necessary?  How much skill, and sophistication, and access to resources do we really need to live a good life?  Perhaps, if we focus too much on function, we miss opportunities to connect with each other.

But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we build our community according to minimalist or functionalist principles. Either would be fine. What matters is that we take the time to really listen to each other, and develop robust empathy for each other’s values.  That’s what community is all about.




Cambia: Love of the Small

Communities Conference Workshops

Here is the workshop and partial presentation schedule for the upcoming Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  The below links are to blog posts on these elements.  There is a posted full program (with short descriptions for every workshop are in the newly published program).  

Cambia lunch

Saturday September 1st

9:30 to noon

1:30 to 3 PM

4 to 5:30 PM

Sunday September 2

9:30 to 11

There is still time to register for this amazing event.  Twin Oaks Community is hosting this event in central Virginia Aug 31st thru Sept 2.  There is also great Labor Day (Sept 3) program at Cambia Community, less than one mile from the Twin Oaks Conference site.

TO 50 group shot
Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary – Circa 2017

Communities Conference Workshops

Bicyclist’s Diary

By Noah

In early April I was biking from Washington DC to my hometown of Greenville, SC, on an old mountain bike with all my belongings tied on to it with paracord from Walmart. At the end of the third day I was 150 miles into my journey, in the middle of nowhere Virginia. The sun was setting and I was loudly dying of exhaustion as I pedaled slowly past a pointed sign, ‘cyclists welcome.’

welcome signs matter

I looked at the place, looked at the sign, looked at the road ahead, looked at myself, looked at the sign.. I was indeed a cyclist and all signs pointed to a place that I would be welcome. I didn’t even notice the giant, suspended boat with a deck built around it, or the huge wooden tricycle immediately to my right. I didn’t notice much other than an old house and a rumbling in my tummy. I hopped off the bike, walked past another welcoming sign, and knocked on the door.

I never got back on the bike.

I had arrived just in time for dinner. Gil, who had let me in, was cooking, while another dirty man, woman, and child smiled at me from the bed in the kitchen. I was sweating so much it looked like I had pissed myself. My first impression was suspicious, but after a shower and being shown the composting toilet I felt mostly safe with my new hippie friends. We laughed a lot at dinner and I decided I would stay a day to rest and see what this place was about.

Thumbs cooking

5 weeks later I was driven to the bus stop to complete my ride into South Carolina.

Cambia is a small egalitarian community comprised of nomads and a small central family. They build everything on their property themselves, live in harmony with the natural world around them, and work as hard as they play. I have never known such immediate, unpretentious warmth and love. We lived together, worked together, and played together. I’ve probably never had so much fun, like, ever. Can’t wait to see them again.

Noah – author of this post

Ruby + Whimsy

Bicyclist’s Diary