Current Projects

Rural Studio Farm and the Black Belt Food Project

West Alabama has a new nonprofit working in Greensboro: the Black Belt Food Project (BBFP), started by our friend Sarah Cole of Abadir’s. The BBFP aims to build a stronger, more inclusive environment for children and adults through food-based educational opportunities. Eric Ball, Rural Studio’s Farm Manager, joined Sarah’s newly formed board, which includes Dr. John Dorsey, Director of Project Horseshoe Farm; Stephanie Nixon from Hale County Library and founder of Sacred Space, Inc.; and Amanda Storey, Executive Director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Sarah Cole is standing smiling at a range, seasoning some dishes

Sarah has already collaborated with Rural Studio on several events, like preparing all the excellent food for the Moundville Pavilion Project celebration (made with produce and flowers from Rural Studio Farm).

But now Rural Studio is building a relationship with the BBFP to begin to offer Rural Studio Farm as an educational resource with the broader West Alabama community. Notably, in October, Rural Studio, Newbern Library, and the BBFP are putting together a food event called Food for Thought: A journey through food, history, culture & taste.

And since Rural Studio Farm is producing more food than we can use, this week we started sharing extra produce with the BBFP to be distributed to the public at pick-up points in Greensboro, like in Project Horseshoe Farm’s new “store” space at their headquarters in downtown. It’s a “take what you need, give what you can” market stand.

Meanwhile, on the Farm, we’re moving into Autumn. We are harvesting some of the last warm-season crops like pinkeye purple hull peas, okra, peppers, zucchini, and squash. Sweet potatoes are filling the greenhouse, and we are starting lots of cool-season crops: lettuce, arugula, carrots, kale, spinach, chard, turnips, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, rutabagas, and more.

Sweat and Sweat Equity in Four Marianna Homes

Partners celebrate the ribbon cutting and dedication of four new high-performance homes in Marianna, Florida.
Photo courtesy of Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity.

On a hot, sunny day exactly 511 days after breaking ground on the first of four homes in the Chipola Street Development, we gathered on July 21 to celebrate the dedication of the four completed homes. These homes represent a collaborative partnership between Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity (CAHFH), who developed the homes and managed construction; Chipola College Building Construction Technology (CCBCT), whose students received clock-hour credit while working to construct the homes; and Auburn Rural Studio, who provided the designs and technical assistance to build these high-performance homes. This collaborative also represents a nexus of needs to which organizations are working to respond: first, expanding equitable access to housing, second, providing high-performance homes that continue to benefit homeowners over the lifespan of the home, and third, growing a local workforce trained in building these high-performance homes. In addition to this tripartite collaborative, Regions Bank and Fannie Mae worked with CAHFH to ensure home affordability while simultaneously increasing CAHFH’s capacity to deliver more homes in their local communities.

Equitable Housing Access

The site for the four homes was a parcel that CAHFH had held in their portfolio for quite some time, as the narrow, sloping lot had proved difficult to develop. The benefit of the parcel, however, was its centrality to resources, including proximity to the town’s civic complex (including post office and courthouse) as well as to grocery stores. And, though the size of each individual parcel did not meet the minimum requirements of the zoning ordinance, CAHFH’s good relationship with the city allowed for them to both obtain a variance and demonstrate a method for infilling these small, in-town parcels.

On the financial side, CAHFH, Regions, and Fannie Mae worked together to pilot a process by which the sweat equity built into the houses is valued as a contribution to the downpayment. The affordability of the house is preserved via a deed restriction developed by Grounded Solutions Network and specifically designed to work with shared equity programs.

High-Performance Homes

All four homes were designed, constructed, and certified to meet ENGERGY STAR, FGBC Green Home, and FORTIFIED Home for Hurricane Gold standards! The house completed first, Buster’s House, received a final HERS score of 38; it is predicted that the house will save $697/year over a comparable home built to-code. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, that equates to a whopping $20,910 in savings. In addition to their energy efficiency, the homes are also designed to resist damage from high winds and rain. Since Florida already has robust building codes around resilience, CAHFH was already very familiar with the concept of providing a continuous load path – meaning that the roof is tied down to the walls and the walls are tied down to the foundation, allowing the home to resist strong wind forces. In addition to the continuous load path, the homes feature impact-resistant windows and extra layers of water protection on the roof. FORTIFIED certification can potentially lead to lower insurance premiums for the homeowner, providing monthly savings in addition to increased peace of mind. This project gave us our first opportunity to look into Florida Green Building Coalition’s Green Home standard. This standard is a points-based program (similar to LEED) and seeks to address Florida-specific climactic conditions for improved efficiency, health, and resilience performance. These high-performance homes aim to provide the homeowners with safe, comfortable, and durable homes that will continue to be an asset for many years to come.

Local Workforce

Sometimes opportunities emerge out of challenges. Construction on the homes began while there will pandemic-related challenges were limiting the number of CAHFH’s volunteers – a crucial component of the Habitat social and affordability models. Around the same time, Chipola College launched a Building Construction Technology program as part of their mission of enhancing CTE (career and technical education) opportunities across the state of Florida. Timing proved advantageous for both CAHFH and Chipola College – they initiated a partnership whereby CCBCT students received clock-hour credit toward construction certifications while building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Furthermore, these students received practical experience on the construction of high-performance homes, better able to respond to climactic challenges.

Needless to say, the Front Porch Initiative team learned a ton from this project! We’re grateful to have such wonderful collaborators in the Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity team (Carmen, Isaiah, Pete, Cynthia, Jennie Anne, and Tamara) and the Chipola College Building Construction Technology team (Darwin, Scott, and the CCBCT students). Here’s to the first four of what we hope are many homes to come!

The homes in the Chipola Street development represent four different product line homes, from left to right: Buster, Dave, Joanne, and Sylvia.

Press coverage of the event:

WJHG News Channel 7: “Habitat for Humanity finished four new homes in Marianna” by Ramsey Romero | July 21, 2022

Dothan Eagle: “Ribbon cut to signal finish of Habitat for Humanity tiny homes in Marianna” by Deborah Buckhalter | July 22, 2022

The First Month: 3rd-Year Edition

Rural Studio welcomed eleven new 3rd-year students to campus this Fall. Before we could begin this semester’s work on Rosie’s Home, we partook in Rural Studio’s bi-annual Neckdown Week.

Among several projects around the area, we helped lay the foundation for the C.H.O.I.C.E. House project, provided maintenance on the Newbern Firehouse, helped with upkeep of our own campus and home, and power-washed and weeded the Safe House Black History Museum in Greensboro. Neckdown was the crash course in Rural Studio and Newbern.

Now that us 3rd-years have gotten thrown into the deep end of the goings on at Rural Studio, we can officially start our project: Rosie’s Home.

Welcome to Red Barn!

The 3rd-year class had a busy first few weeks in the Red Barn Studio. We started by getting to know our clients Rosie and Frankie. We created collages after meeting them to explore specific locations of the home.

While we were getting to know the clients, we had another project. We went to dollar stores and second-hand shops to pick up a variety of materials. Then we weaved, layered, and meshed the materials, and the result was funky–even for Rural Studio–and we’ve been known to do some weird stuff.

Pin-up of materials study in Red Barn

This project was a collaboration with the 4th-year Interior Architecture studio that is back on main campus in Auburn. In a Zoom meeting, we shared work from both studios including the materials, as well as our collages. Using all of the information and materials we previously organized, we teamed up (2-3 Rural Studio students and 2-3 main campus Interiors students) to explore how different materials might affect the atmosphere of Rosie’s Home.

Presenting to the Interiors Studio in Auburn from the Red Barn

Most recently, we began a study of all the previous 20K Homes. Looking at all the materials that make up the walls, we began to research their qualities, such as healthfulness, energy efficiency, and cost. We then presented our research and our work from previous weeks to visiting architects Cheryl Noel and Ravi Ricker of Wrap Architecture in Chicago.

Our reviewers offered a lot of great feedback on our presentation, graphics, and research and we are excited to continue to progress our design for the interior of Rosie’s Home!

Woodshop Class

Along with our studio course, we take a Woodshop course and a History Seminar here at Rural Studio. Our Woodshop class will focus on creating cabinetry for Rosie’s Home. The first assignment was to study cabinetry, focusing on function, space, and material of typical cabinetry, as well as cabinetry and storage in past Rural Studio projects. The course instructors Steve Long and Judith Seaman began an introduction to the workspace consisting of rules and regulations, and how to use the equipment and tools in the shop. They also gave us a presentation on the history of wood in the state of Alabama and in the local area of Hale County. Finally, we are excited to start our first woodworking project: a cutting board!

History Seminar

The History Seminar is on Monday afternoons with our instructor, Dick Hudgens. We travel around the local area and surrounding counties to study the vernacular architecture in West Alabama with an emphasis on wood constructed Antebellum homes. In the most recent class, we visited Glencairn in Greensboro. It was completed in 1837 and the original owner was John Erwin. During the tour, we learned about almost every detail of the home from the handcrafted cornices to the scrolls on the furniture. In order to study the intricate details of the home, we sketched the interior of the front door and surrounding trim work and the exterior elevation of the building. 

White Antebellum style home front elevation.
Glencairn Exterior

Stay tuned this semester!

All in Good Form

As Summer winds down, the C.H.O.I.C.E. House team is heading into Fall with a shiny new slab, but how’d we get here?

finished slab pour

Picking up from our last post, we trenched for plumbing and put a pipe puzzle together, making sure that all of our pieces were properly placed before pouring concrete. A big thank you to this week’s guest stars on site, our friends Elisia and Caitlyn.

In the past couple of weeks, twenty new faces arrived in Newbern signaling the start of a brand new academic year. With the new year comes “Neckdowns,” and our team was lucky enough to have a whole crew of helpers throughout the week. Continuing with our prep for “The Big Pour,” our new 3rd and 5th-year friends showed up to place rebar and grout our CMU cells to further strengthen the foundation.

After the pipes were buried, we brought in gravel as the next ingredient in our slab sandwich.

Vapor barrier and mesh then followed, as well as formwork for the showers. Because the shower needs to slope to drain water, we built formwork that will allow us to do the showers as their own pour. The maintenance closet also gets its own pour, so we prepped for that too.

Once we got everything placed, plumbed, and tied, we were ready for the main event: “The Big Pour.” Once again, thanks to the crew from Crosby Carmichael for the concrete. With the help of our concrete finishers, we got the whole pour done in a morning, and we were able to use the extra concrete to set anchor bolts for the porch.

Who knows what these next few weeks hold? We do, actually.

Our trusses are ready for delivery, and by the time this is posted, our lumber package will be on site. We’re also taking some time in studio to explore new details for the windows and the porch, so we’ve got plenty to nail down before our next post, literally and metaphorically. 

girls in matching coveralls
In honor of New York Fashion Week, the ladies wore their matching coveralls, an homage to the SS20 boiler suit trend.

Truss Us, Things are Stair-ting to Frame Up

Welcome back! Patriece’s Home is finally starting to look like a house! With the foundation work complete, the “leftovers” team started to move on up.

Before framing, the students installed the termite flashing, anchor bolts for their front porch column, and sill gaskets to reduce air infiltration between the slab and the pressure treated base plates. 

Then the walls flew up! The team, along with Steve Long (5th-year studio faculty), finished framing the exterior walls and interior bearing walls in two hot Summer days. All of the walls were secured and braced, then the students began making headers for the porch walls and interior closet wall. Looks like this team has liked “stick”ing around Hale County!

And what’s THAT?!? BOOZERBEAM™ out of Anniston, AL, donated a 3.5” x 9.25” x 10’ glulam (glued laminated wood) beam for the team to use as the header in their kitchen! Two students drove to Anniston to pick it up and it works perfectly. A HUGE thank you to the fine folks at BOOZERBEAM™!

As the students were nailing in the top plates that attach all the walls together, the truck arrived with their roof trusses! The team then wrapped their framing in their bottom layer of ZIP sheathing.

The next day the team waved goodbye to Patriece’s children on their first day of school and had a successful morning putting up the trusses! After six hours working on scaffolding, and thanks to the help of Shane Jackson and his crane, the students got to climb down and surprise! It’s a house! The home now stands tall and dignified. Patriece’s kids had a great surprise when they came back at the end of the day. 

Since that glorious day the team has been putting blocking in the six foot gap in the trusses and within the exterior walls to so they can begin sheathing the building. The Patriece’s Home team is drying the home in as they get reinvigorated with a new fall semester and new class of Rural Studio students!