Today is an important one for Dawn Smith. The group that she helped to found, ASRi (Alternative Solutions Resource Initiative), is hosting a presentation by David Eisenberg (of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology) in Victoria, and it’s also their official public debut. ASRi is a coalition of building professionals who’s goal is to create a comprehensive document of the testing, regulatory, and research information available about natural materials. This document will be used by builders to assist them when they apply for permits, as well as engineers and inspectors. It will take the burden of gathering this information off of individuals working on their own. Dawn expects the endeavor to develop over years to come.
When talking about the direction that natural building needs to take, Dawn said, “I think our edge is to really grow up and take ourselves seriously. That means developing business plans, implementing things, coming up with training, coming up with a professional nature of it. I support the fact that we came out of a backwoods, grassroots, off the radar heritage…But that’s not the future from here on. The future from here on, is getting things credible to the point that we can take on doing large developments, so we can start doing renovations, so we can tie into government grants to do retrofits on houses, or strawbale wraps retrofits, that kind of stuff. And I think the challenge is how to do that without selling out. That’s a challenge. But my experience with ASRI is that it’s possible. I’m starting to meet the people who I want to work with professionally, who also are really values based. We’ll see. I don’t want to sell out, but we can’t keep doing it the way we were doing it 15 years ago. Now, is the time to scale up. We’re at that point.”
Dawn and I spoke in her home base of Victoria in British Columbia. We also discussed her background and experience in taking the internship route in learning to build. She studied at OUR Ecovillage, Emerald Earth, and OAEC. We spoke of appropriate communication, facilitation, and group and gender dynamics in building. I appreciated her sense of self-searching and discovery. Recently, it’s become clear that her talents for project management, organization, and communication are perhaps her most useful gifts to a worksite.
Dawn speaks of natural building as the movement that it is, and works to find her place in the service of that. As a young adult, she was making the choice between becoming a wild life biologist to be in nature and a Unitarian Universalist Minister to help people and lead group process. But when she found building, Dawn told me that it was “a way to meet both of those needs. And this sounds weirds to say, but building feels like my ministry. That’s the way I express my feelings about the world, and what I want to give it; and I love it, love it so much.”
Besides ASRI, and her involvement on the board of the Natural Building Network, this coming year she plans to focus her energy on starting a building cooperative on Vancouver Island. She also has a blog on which you can follow her work.