Grandmother, artist and activist, Pamela Bosch, is rebuilding her Bellingham, Washington home using hemp, love of community and a spirit of ingenuity. She is a pioneer in America’s hemp-building movement, and an active player in the larger grassroots effort to improve the world, as Pamela puts it, “from the bottom up.”
In 2015, Pamela began researching hempcrete, a sustainable, non-toxic building material, made from mixing hemp hurd (the inner part of the stalk), lime and water. She traveled the world, networking and researching, then built a prototype outbuilding in her backyard. It’s an all-natural, breathable wall insulate that resists pests and mold and regulates humidity, with none of the off-gassing or harmful effects of common building materials.
I recently had a chance to meet Pamela and see her work in progress. We started in her living room—a cornucopia of guitars, hand drums, a piano, paintings and artist’s supplies. She showed me the plans for her renovation, then took me out back, past an old pickup truck with a forest mural painted on its sides, to her beautiful little hempcrete studio.
As expected, the space had an earthy feel. The wall colors were neutral and calming. There was a built-in loft bed, a sitting area and a mat with a red pillow on the floor. A fresh Spring breeze came through the open windows and cooled the air. The acoustics were similar to that of a concert hall.
DOPE Magazine: How did you get into this?
Pamela Bosch: My house was built in the late sixties. It’s not very efficient, and it has a flat roof that’s rotting, so I knew I would need to remodel at some point. I started looking for a non-toxic insulation. I thought, since the Canadians have been growing hemp for almost twenty years, they would probably be making insulation from the stalk. But it was only available in Europe.
So, I kept Googling hemp insulation, and the term ‘hempcrete’ came up. That was it. That was about three years ago and I haven’t stopped researching. Last year, Steve Allin, who lives in Ireland and wrote one of the first books on building with hempcrete (Building With Hemp, Seed Press, 2005), came over and did a workshop. We had about fifteen people come from Alaska, L.A., locally and [other] different places, and we built this demonstration shed. Now, I’m tearing the west side of my house off and rebuilding with hempcrete.
Q: How long will it take?
A: April 10, 2017 was the launch date. The demolition started shortly after that. There was some concrete work, removing some asphalt. Now the framing will probably take six to eight weeks. Then we’re going start with the packing of the hemp, anywhere from mid-June to mid-July. I’m thinking that will take two months in total.
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Q: Packing the hemp—how does that work?
A: You get a great big pan [concrete] mixer, and you mix together the hemp, lime and water. When it’s the right consistency and in the right proportions, you put the mixture in five-gallon buckets, and then take it to your forms. Your forms are maybe two-and-a-half feet high, with spacers, around your [wall] studs. You dump the hempcrete in there, level it off, and then tamp it down with a mallet. This way your studs are all encased, with your wiring and plumbing already in place. You remove the forms in a couple of hours, move the forms up and do another row. You just keep going, adding hemp.
Q: How will this house be used as a community resource?
A: I intend to use this house as an educational facility. I want to accommodate groups of people—and jam sessions, too.
Q: An educational facility centered around hemp-building?
A: Yeah, but that spills over into advocacy and green building. It spills into community organizing. I like to keep it open. The idea is begin with a grass-roots model that will eventually impact on the world. You know, if we’re going to have a democracy, it needs to be bottom up; not top down. You can see, it’s not working the other way.
Q: Where does your energy and passion come from?
A: I don’t know. Maybe I was born a renegade. I identify myself as an artist by nature. I’ve always been excited by what we can do if we put our minds to it. I studied art because art includes everything. And that’s our essential nature—to be creative, to be in this world, to interact and change, imagine and dream and assist in good outcomes. You know, we’re not passive victims; we’re activators. What we think about and do today is the legacy we’ll leave. I have grandchildren…but it’s not just for them, it’s for the future of humanity.
Q: That reminds me of the Native American ‘Seventh Generation’ philosophy, where the idea is to look seven generations ahead when making decisions.
A: It really places us in a meaningful context, and changes the way you think about things. I feel very fortunate. This property, the city and all the people that have shared with me have created this perfect storm where something like this could be pioneered. I almost feel like I’m just witnessing this set of circumstances that let this take place. It’s a kind of creative impulse. I feel a lot of purpose behind what I’m doing, and that the world is giving me the support I need.