Current Projects

Ribbon Cutting in Johnson City, TN

Group in front yard of home watching dedication ceremony
Representatives from the City and community gathered to celebrate the dedication of a new affordable, energy-efficient home.

On May 15, the Front Porch Initiative team celebrated a ribbon cutting with Eastern Eight Community Development Corporation (E8CDC) for a new affordable, energy efficient infill home in Johnson City, Tennessee. The project represents outcomes possible when mission-aligned partners work together; this collaboration was made possible thanks to the commitment of E8CDC, the City of Johnson City, Johnson City Housing Authority, NeighborWorks, Appalachian Service Project, and Auburn University Rural Studio.

In 2011, Eastern Eight purchased a piece of property in a well-established neighborhood only two miles from downtown Johnson City. The site fronts a tree-lined street and slopes down in the rear, with alley access and a wide view of the neighborhood. The 50-foot-wide infill lot with setbacks limiting the buildable width to 34 feet, ideal for a house in the Front Porch Product Line. E8CDC selected the two-bedroom Sylvia’s House prototype for the site, with porches addressing both the front yard and back alley. The resulting intervention matches the scale and rhythm of the existing neighborhood fabric. Durable exterior materials minimize required maintenance, and a tight building envelope with high-performance mechanical systems minimize energy required to heat and cool the home.

Aerial view of houses
The new home fits comfortably into the fabric of the existing neighborhood.

E8CDC was awarded HUD Community Development Block Grant funding from the area’s HOME Consortium to enhance local housing opportunities. E8CDC partnered with Appalachian Service Project (ASP), a non-profit builder historically focused on repairs and replacing homes in their five-state service area. When breaking ground on this project in April 2021, merely a year into the pandemic, the full impacts of rapidly rising land and housing costs, a tightening labor market, and emerging supply chain issues were not yet known, nor their effects on the affordability equation. However, E8CDC always returned to the most important question: “What does it cost if we don’t build this home, and others like it, when they are needed now, more than ever?” Now that the home is complete, it will be sold to a family in the local community.

Rural Studio is both proud and humbled to have been included in this partnership. Together we have all learned a lot on this project, and we look forward to working hard to do again and again!

Press coverage of the event:

Johnson City Press: “Eastern Eight CDC unveils new affordable housing project” by Sarah Owens | May 17, 2022

Group photo with Rural Studio team and partners in front of home

Onion and Garlic Harvest

One of our favorite events in late Spring here at the Rural Studio Farm is digging up all of the tasty onions and garlic. These alliums—along with shallots, leeks, chives, and scallions which we also grow—are versatile, easy to grow, and keep for a long time in storage.

Two students excavate mature garlic bulbs from a raised bed

Onions

Onions likely originated in the Middle East and Central Asia and have been cultivated for around 7,000 years. There are short-day and long-day onions, so named because of the number of daylight hours that signals the plant to start forming bulbs, which are modified stems that serve as a food reservoir for the plant. As Earth approach the Summer Solstice, daylight hours increase and days grow longer the farther from the equator one goes. So here in the South, short-day onions perform much better, while regions above about 37° latitude are more suitable for long-day onions because of the added day length.

For short-day onions, the earlier they are planted, the larger the bulbs. We plant our onions in February here at Rural Studio. This year we grew onions from both seed (started in January) and onion sets, which are small onion plants that were shipped to us. Both varieties are sweet onions: one is a Walla Walla-type that is suitable for growing in the South (Walla Walla is in Southeastern Washington), and the other is a Vidalia-type onion. These two regions are famous for their sweet onions because they boast volcanic soil that is low in sulfur. The low sulfur content means that onions grown there are mild. It is the sulfur-containing compounds that give onions their tear-inducing pungency and sharp flavor. Unfortunately, these same sulfur compounds, like allyl disulfide and allicin, are also responsible for many of the health benefits associated with eating onions (as well as garlic).

Once the tops begin to dry out and fall over it means that the onions are ready for harvest. After they are harvested, we then laid the onions out to cure with the tops and roots intact because any cuts can allow pathogens to reach the bulb and cause rot. During the curing process, the tops dry out and so does the outer skin, protecting the onions so that they can keep for months in storage.

Garlic

Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world and most likely originated in Central Asia. In most regions, it is best to plant garlic in the Fall because you get larger yields than Spring-planted garlic. We typically plant ours in November, like we did for this year’s crop. It is important to mulch the garlic to suppress weeds, protect the plants during the winter, and retain moisture as the weather warms moving into Spring.

Just like onions, there are two types of garlic: soft-neck and hard-neck. Soft-neck garlics have smaller, more numerous cloves and generally keep in storage very well. Hard-neck garlics, on the other hand, are more winter-hardy, produce fewer cloves, often have stronger flavor, and produce a long edible flower stalk called a scape. We have grown both kinds of garlic here at the Rural Studio Farm; however, this year we only grew an unknown hard-neck garlic that we received from one of our neighbors.

The garlic will set scapes in mid-Spring. They are best harvested when they are young and tender, like asparagus, and they make for excellent eating. It is generally recommended to cut the scapes anyway, as they can draw nutrients away from the bulbs and reduce yields. If left, however, the garlic will produce a large globular light-purple inflorescence of flowers called bulbils. This year, we let the garlic flower and were rewarded by an abundance of butterflies and bees.

The time to harvest garlic is when the bottom two to four leaves begin to wilt and brown. Each leaf corresponds to an individual clove, and the browning indicates that the cloves are no longer actively growing. Like onions, the harvested garlic must cure for about two to three weeks to dry out and make suitable for long-term storage. The roots and necks of the garlic will only be trimmed once the heads have had time to fully cure. Most of them we will eat, but we will save some of the harvested bulbs to break apart and plant again this Fall.

This year we harvested 427 pounds of sweet onions and 67 pounds of garlic. We’ll be enjoying onions and garlic for many more meals to come!

Make A List, Check It Twice

Welcome to Summer in blazing Hale County, Alabama! The heat and humidity have set in and the team is hard at work preparing to break ground. Before we can start, we have a few things to smooth out: details, deconstruction, and a mock-up. 

The next steps are to begin expanding the current foundation footings and replacing the columns. First, we will need to deconstruct some of the pavilion as it currently stands. In order to understand the deconstruction/reconstruction process better, we have created a storyboard of the process, sketching out each step, while also showing where each piece of equipment will be on site at each stage.

students working
The team sketching out the construction process

In preparation, we have been regularly meeting with our structural engineer, Joe Farruggia, to finalize structure calculations. We also recently met with JAS Design Build (Seattle, WA) to get feedback on the framing model that we have been utilizing to understand the process of framing our structure and had a visit from architect Dan Wheeler (Chicago, IL).

Meeting with the JAS Design Build team about framing strategies

JAS Design Build’s team confirmed that we are on the right track and offered some suggestions on how to manage a cantilever using lookouts that extend out to help reach the “knife’s blade edge” detail. Meanwhile, Dan challenged us to study how the steel skirt at the base of the column will come together and how the lighting design of the base relates to the overall concept.

Reviewing designs with Dan Wheeler

Soon we will construct a large-scale mock-up (which is a right-of-passage here at Rural Studio) that helps the team practice details at a one-to-one scale. We have begun to finalize the details of the finished roof and ceiling materials. The mock-up gives us an opportunity to test the metal and new details, while also practicing pouring concrete footings, building a column, and testing lighting.

Tune back in next time for an update from the team. Until then, stay hydrated, it’s hot out here!

Summer Shenanigans

The Patriece’s Home team, affectionately known around the Studio as the “Stairs Team,” just hasn’t gotten enough of Hale County! Now college grads and no longer students, Adam, Laurel, Daniel and Lauren picked right back up and finished their details mock-up as “leftovers.” The team is using their mock-up to test metal shade devices for windows and the articulation of their wood-clad porches.

After hunting through differing foundation types for their home, the team talked to Tyler from C & T Excavating Inc. and is now moving forward with a plan to sculpt the site with engineered fill for their slab-on-grade foundation.

Patriece’s Home has been focusing on the landscape opportunities in their home’s design. They are not only using natural, space-making tools to ground the house on the site, but to shape and protect areas of outdoor activity, such as play, sitting, parking, and driving. The team Zoomed with Emily Knox, a landscape architecture professor from Auburn University, to discuss their design for siting home, how the landscape design can extend across the whole site, and both existing and potential “materials” (trees, shrubs, grasses) for the site.

Thankfully, the team had their mock-up and details ready to be reviewed because our friend and consultant Dan Wheeler (from Wheeler Kearns Architects in Chicago, IL) showed up again! Dan had an intense design discussion with the team about the wood cladding on the interior and exterior of the home. He left the group with lots of tips and a positive direction toward establishing a character for the wood details. Let’s see what the team decides!

And because the team is itching (literally, the mosquitoes are waking up) to start work on site, they completed their batter boards for their excavation date set in two weeks! They will be in the business of purchasing, perfecting, and tying loose ends as they eagerly await this date. So wait for the next blog post when the team will be playing in the dirt!

Until then, here is a gallery of some Hale County summer shenanigans!

Can You Dig It?

Last time we talked, the team was preparing to get into the ground, so let’s dig in!

As soon as the team returned from graduation, we wrapped up our mock-up construction. We then stepped back and reflected on our details, figuring out what worked and what needs improvement. It was exciting to get a sneak peek at what’s to come for the actual units. Simultaneously, we started site prep!

First up on site, batter boards! (The drawing doesn’t stop in studio people!) Batter boards are a way for us to draw in real life. Each colorful string pulled across our site represents a line in one of our CAD drawings. Using a combination of strings and wooden stakes, we’re able to create a very precise footprint of the units on the ground. This helps us know exactly where to excavate the trenches for our footings as well as the final height of the CMU block wall.

Speaking of footings, we’ve also been in talks with Joe Burns, a new character in the Rural Studio Cinematic Universe. With the help of his engineering expertise, we determined the appropriate footing size for the porch’s 14’ overhang. Pouring a really robust footing allows us to expose the thin “spaghetti” trusses marching along the porch header while still taking into account the uplift that may occur at the columns.

With all of our site prep up and going, we’re ready to dig. Cross your fingers and toes, and with any luck, we’ll be up and out of the ground in no time. Until then, over and out.

very cute kittens
The team also gained a few helping paws on site. Meet Okra, Duo, and Mouse!