Working From the Ground Up

Between traveling to some of the most spectacular sites and locations that the United States has to offer, Castleton students are spending their time in the Santa Fe area undertaking an amazing and one-of-a-kind opportunity to do ground-breaking work, literally.Arriving early in the morning and working late into the afternoon, students in the Castleton Semester in Santa Fe have for several weeks now excavated, shaped and molded muddy mixtures, while doing some heavy lifting to assist the volunteer non-profit organization Adobe-in-Action in building a new home for a family in Espanola, NM.

“We were invited to help build a house for a family in the first couple of weeks of us living in Santa Fe,” recalls student Nathan Dunn. “I don’t think any of us could have imagined that it would become one of our favorite parts of our semester in the southwest.”

A primary component of the semester’s curriculum, the Adobe brick making process has existed in the American southwest for centuries and is not only simple in, but also, according to organization founder Mike Lopach, one of the best resources in the pursuit of a better world today.

“We’re using the best resource we have available to us, the Earth itself, to create a means to combat poverty and build homes for families. The medium has been around for centuries, and it’s at this juncture in human history that we can truly apply it usefully,” Lopach said.

The homeowner, Rocky Pete Olson, is a friend of Lopach and fellow graduate from the Northern New Mexico College adobe home building program. He is not only a member of AIA, but the first recipient of the program also, working to rebuild his family’s home which burned down seven years ago. With the aid from Castleton students and other volunteers from youth groups and church organizations, Olson’s goals and ambitions are clear-cut. He’s set on an amazing outcome for his future home.

“I want to be able to build an energy efficient home that can be an example for the kind of work our organization can accomplish with help from the community. Our college professor always believed that a life-size project such as this would be great to show people, and especially good for college students.”

In the short time since the beginning of the summer, Lopach and Olson have produced over 1500 bricks with help from youth and church volunteers. Since Castleton’s arrival on the project in September that amount has been doubled with roughly 200 to 500 bricks made on average weekly. The end goal being 6,000 bricks to build a four bedroom, two bath home.

The time spent helping to build the home has not only impacted the family involved, but the students of CSC as well as many such as senior Paul Chrisman planning to return in 2011 to continue in helping.

“I really enjoy working with Adobe-in-Action” Chrisman says while molding a batch of the mixture into its brick shape. “I don’t even know how I’m going to get back out west to keep working in the summer, I just know that I want to and that’s all that matters.”

In the upcoming months, Lopach hopes to fundraise further and promote the cause amongst more local volunteer groups, but he also hopes undertake the process to attain Federal backing along with the group’s already present support from the Department of Agriculture and the State of New Mexico.

“Adobe has a place in our culture, and it is a project for our generation that is sustainable in every way. To have participation from groups such as Castleton is just humbling and shows that there are good people who care,” Lopach said.

To contact Adobe-in-Action, visit their website at:

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