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By Mary Lotus
Micaela Machado, general contractor and founder of Old Pueblo Hemp Co, believes the best introduction to building with hemp is for people to just get their hands on it. This was the guiding principal behind the three-day workshop she organized this October in Tucson.
Old Pueblo Hemp Co, so-called after a nickname for the city of Tucson, is a relatively new company. After struggling to find general contractors who were willing to build with hemp, Machado, decided to take on a two-and-a-half year process and contractor training to become one herself.
“We are focusing on hemp lime construction and hemp blocks,” said Machado. With a hydraulic press, “we can make up to 60 blocks an hour, so it’s really fast.” Old Pueblo collaborated with Tulum-Mexico based company Heaven Grown to put organize the workshop. “Heaven Grown has elevated my level of natural building so much,” said Machado.
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“These workshops are so important,” Machado said, describing her own experience.
“I had been into hemp, had heard about it but until I went to a workshop and worked with it, got my hands on it, it was almost like a fantasy,” said Machado. At the Tucson even, “we had people coming in from as far as Colombia and Florida and Jersey, and then we had local builders too. I really wanted these local builders to come and see that this is here, in Arizona. To create this sustainable industry this has to stay local.”
The workshop, which was originally going to focus on hemp block production, expanded to include more natural building materials. “We worked with the hemp wool, hemp wood, hemp rebar, hemp lime and lime plaster.” Of the things they constructed were three dog houses, one made entirely of reclaimed materials. “We are utilizing the recourses that are here, and all of these things don’t need to go into a landfill.”
Stephen Clarke with Heaven Grown opened her eyes to even more possibilities, like using different limes or including agave in the mix, said Machado. “He taught me that hemp is a medium that can be used with all kinds of different things, especially the materials we use out here in the dessert like adobe and lava-crete. All of these different materials that we can use together to get away from the concrete industry and create non toxic, high performing, homes.”
Clarke, on the other hand, was also introduced to something new in hemp rebar. “He was like, I didn’t believe it was real,” said Machado. Hemp rebar is fiberglass, coated with a bio-resin made from hemp. “They are tested, FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Polymer) rated rebar. You can bend them, but they are at least twice as strong as steel rebar.”
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The workshop took place at Machado’s parents house in Tucson, with 27 people in attendance. “I even had a family come from Texas. [The] daughter had said dad, for spring break I don’t want to go on vacation I want to go to this hemp building workshop. That is exactly what I wanted to see,” said Machado. “We had my son here who is 6 years old, and the oldest attendant was probably in her 70s.”
The workshop also served to connect locals working within the natural building world, which is opening the door to the possibility of a natural building alliance within Tucson. “We have always admired each others work… It is a really exciting thing for us. There are so many different lanes in this natural building world,” says Machado. Collaboration on building could be down the line, for example with adobe blocks from Tucson based Awareness Ranch. Each of these materials creates homes with different energies, says Machado. “It would be so cool to see how they intersect. I bet it would feel pretty great.”
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Originally published December 4, 2022 on Hemp Building Mag