The Earthbags are Here!

Bags You Can Fill with Dreams

The first deliveries of salvaged bags have arrived in our living room!

I was an enthusiastic, if not inwardly resistant, recipient of these bags, which we found on our doorstep thanks to the efforts of Cindi with Green Acres Eco Village and Saddlebock Brewery near Goshen on Hywy 45.  Having cold feet (and I do have very cold feet even in summer) about the actual building process, I felt akin to a bride pondering how she could possibly know what life would be like after 30 years of marriage, shuffling her fancy shoes sideways towards the alter instead of straight down the aisle like a woman who knows what she wants.  I wasn’t built to build buildings, and I’m not really sure I’m capable of it. But the building phase aside – Ripples itself, behind-the-scenes, is what I’m made of.

The more practical reason for my hesitation was: Where are we gonna put all these bags?!

The bags are polypropylene from a local brewery, originally printed in Munich, Germany I believe.  They’re kinda…flour-y, so definitely NOT gluten-free!  I got covered in powdery white stuff (which I believe to be flour) while taking this picture.  There were spiders living in the bags so I didn’t want to subject Ryan to cuddling with them.  Luckily I escaped unscathed.  Each bag is filled with many more bags folded inside one another!  Hard to believe this will be part of a house someday.

Look at all these earth bags! Wow.

Look at all these earth bags! Wow.

We haven’t finalized purchasing land, as we like to (try to) consider how the community will be affected 10, 50 years after a decision this huge.  There are ways to make larger ripples by purchasing land from a like-minded organization in a location with broader appeal, increasing the community’s access to educational workshops, services, and good ole’ fun with nature.  We’re working on it.  Meanwhile, we have some bags!  Carts are still useful; the horse will come later.

Meanwhile, we absorb time with the sponges of rather boring-looking office work.  Like finger prints, it takes detective work to see the results of our droplets and connect one hour we spend at a computer to fewer starving children or increased habitat for native species.  For the next several years, Ripples aims to make a difference that doesn’t require a magnifying glass to detect.  But to do that, we have to plan.  Not “plan” like, “I plan to eat Thai food this Friday night” (although I do).  Plan as in: create an entire Wiki, a replicable online information resource that someday will be accessible free to anybody around the world who has questions about how we converted to a sustainable lifestyle.  Ryan is the detail-oriented brain behind this project, which includes everything from plumbing to the budget to web design, topics that will help us literally build the dream with full transparency.

This is like a tsunami-ripple but an anti-destruction one.  Picture: Mary Poppins magically cleaning the children’s nursery with every toy suddenly falling into place. Like that.

Yet I linger in the land of doubt and self-criticism when the yardstick of alternative society can’t find a measurement for Ripples.  If it isn’t a hunger walk, a blood drive, a barn raising, a documentary showing…then what’s it worth?  Nothing?  Sometimes I think we’re not doing enough, especially when I see the hundred-times more awesome projects around Northwest Arkansas and the world, the silent leaders who spend hours farming, cobbing, building a huge earthship with their friends and kids…and then Ryan, ever supportive and insightful, says that I shouldn’t compare projects with totally different goals.  The tortoise and the hare have different ways of approaching the finish line.  He asks:

“How many other families who want to live sustainably are they supporting?”

“Would they enjoy spending tons of hours learning to edit a web page so that someone in the Caribbean can have a visual learning tool?”

“Are they creating a plan for their project that will enable it to help others even after they’re gone?”

With these words, he inspires me to continue admiring others’ work while measuring myself against my own tortoise standards.  He is the ultimate patience-carrying pack horse, hardly ever tiring of the work, just putting one hoof in front of the other and saying, I know this trail, we will get there someday.  He’s the steady stream that doesn’t stop flowing even while working two jobs on top of Ripples!  I love the spirit in this man.  So we have all these empty soon-to-be-filled-with-earth bags.  But I’m not fooled.  It’s Ryan who’s already filling them – with dreams, and a meticulous plan that will make our headquarters and future services turn into blissfully tangible reality.

"Now the Hundred Acre Wood boasted many natural wonders, but none was more beautiful than a tiny stream running through the forest. This particular stream had a very long way to travel and by the time it reached the edge of the forest, it had grown up so it was almost a river. 'Being grown up,' it said to itself, 'there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.' " - Winnie-the-Pooh and a Day for Eeyore

“Now the Hundred Acre Wood boasted many natural wonders, but none was more beautiful than a tiny stream running through the forest. This particular stream had a very long way to travel and by the time it reached the edge of the forest, it had grown up so it was almost a river. ‘Being grown up,’ it said to itself, ‘there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.’ ” – Winnie-the-Pooh and a Day for Eeyore

  • Brad Volz

    Wonderful post Amanda, keep on filling those dream bags. You described your journey and goal very well, building a library and trail for others to follow. Brad

    • Amanda Bancroft

      Thanks! We are fortunate to receive letters from other families asking for help getting off-grid or living sustainably, and we are learning from what they’re doing, too! I continue to be inspired by your blog.

      • Brad Volz

        Sounds like you are creating a nice network. And thanks for reading my blog too! I’m always pleased to hear that the stories inspire others.

  • worldwatchman

    Amanda may I suggest you go to Owen Geiger’s site. He has an ebook and DIY DVD that are very helpful in understanding using earthbags. He also has a natural building blog. He’s been very helpful in understanding the whole thing plus the use of many other options.

    • Amanda Bancroft

      Thank you that’s a suggestion we share with others, too! Actually our earthbag house was bought from Owen Geiger, along with the ebook. He’s super helpful with our questions and plans. Yes his blog is fantastic, as well! If you’d like to read more on our house plans, check out:

  • Simone

    Beautiful post Amanda! Inspiring, genuine, while showing how you are overcoming insecurities about comparing yourself to others in alternative circles (I struggle with it as well) all at the same time. Also amazing that you show the beauty of drawing on the strength of Ryan through it all. Beautiful, beautiful! Thanks for all you do!

    Oh, on a side note: Could you possibly shed some light on your land search process? My partner and I are searching for affordable land as well, but at times feel we are over our heads in that we are 1) pretty young and have no experience investing in property (land or home) and the legalese can all seem like gibberish, 2) really don’t want to finance land as we are debt averse, and 3) are hoping to find counties, states, regions with few to no building codes to eliminate the possibility of issues down the road. All of this along with the usual questions of finding a local cultural fit, figuring if the local economy could support us long term, and etc. Feel free to PM me.

    Thanks so much and sending much love to you, Ryan, and the Ripples family!

    • Amanda Bancroft

      Thank you very much for reading, Simone! Your words help guide and fuel my future posts. On that note, I’m planning on responding to your question with Ripples’ next “Making Ripples” column all about Finding Land, from our perspective of avoiding debt and building codes while considering the value of social entrepreneurship and working from home. More to come November 14th! Thank you for following our journey.

    • Breland

      My wife and I are in the same boat! We desire so much to find affordable land on which we can build our home and expand in the future to accommodate other families, or rather, individuals in need of a place where they can stay and get back on their feet. Earthbag building is our method of choice for erecting habitations on the land. Like you, we are beginning to feel like we are over our heads for the same reasons, plus that earthbag building is very new and hasn’t been trialed and tested in the Southeast enough to really know a surfire, fail-proof construction that will work well here in northeast Florida. So much to learn and plan for.

      • Amanda Bancroft

        Welcome to Ripples, Breland! We have so much to learn about how to build our house and educational center (which will be mostly online) and are glad to have others who are interested in exploring these topics to benefit the world. We’re still vetting various land locations in northwest Arkansas, and are hopeful that one of them will be our forever home sometime soon. Thanks for reading!