Building blocks

New projects seek to Be the Change

Kyle Isacksen applies a wet clay plaster to a pallet tool shed.

Kyle Isacksen applies a wet clay plaster to a pallet tool shed.

Photo By kat kerlin

Cobitat for Humanity is hosting a strawbale vault workshop Aug. 13-20 in Big Smoky Valley. $500. For more information, call 287-1329, or visit

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is slathering wet clay onto a wall built from straw bales and wooden pallets. He’s working on a tool shed he and his new Cobitat for Humanity business has donated to the under-construction Urban Roots Farm in west Reno. Through Cobitat, Isacksen builds natural structures and teaches workshops. He started it about a month ago after spending six months in Southern Oregon learning about cob and natural building techniques.

But Cobitat is a “cottage industry,” so to speak, to support what he’s really excited about: the Be the Change project he and his wife, Katy Chandler-Isacksen, are trying to get off the ground after a soul-searching trip across the country.

The Isacksens’ vision for Be the Change is of an urban homestead in Reno devoted to family learning and service. It would be car-free and electricity-free with an organic micro-farm, a permaculture and natural building demonstration site and host to service groups like the Bicycling Superheroes, who travel the country dressed as superheroes and help whoever needs help. There would also be a spiritual and service component, and it would operate on a gift economy, where everything is offered freely, and community connections are more valuable than cash. The Isacksens were inspired after living at such a site this past year.

Katy and Kyle first came to Reno in 2004 and taught at the High Desert Montessori School. Later, Kyle managed the River School for a couple of years. Teaching tapped into their desire to be of service, and the River School helped them make strides in sustainable living. But they were looking for “an integrated vision” that combined living simply with service and spirituality.

“So we decided to do a family walkabout,” says Kyle. “We traveled cross country looking for the bigger vision.”

Their travels eventually led them to La Plata, Mo., and the Possibility Alliance. It’s an off-grid, Ghandian community on 80 acres. It welcomes more than 1,000 people a year and 10 residents, features permaculture gardens, workshops, nonviolent social and political activism—and, says Kyle, it operates primarily on a gift economy and about $11,000 per year. For Kyle, it embodies “living simply so that others can experience abundance.” That regards not only a low carbon footprint, but also the idea that the less you have, the more you can give.

“Their quality of life is huge, and their footprint is miniscule,” says Kyle. The Isacksens spent about seven months there before deciding to create something similar here, through Be the Change.

The Isacksens are used to living simply. They and their two young boys have lived in a 200-square foot strawbale cabin. Kyle doesn’t have a car. They have few possessions because, for starters, where would they put them?

“It’s hard to do gift economy stuff if you have to support a big lifestyle,” says Kyle.

The Isacksens may have few needs for their lifestyle, but they need about $55,000 to find and fund a home for Be the Change. A donor has offered to match at least $20,000 of what they raise. With the match, they’ve raised $38,000 within their first three weeks of fundraising.

“It’s an experiment,” says Kyle. “I don’t know how it will end. But if what we’re after is cultural transformation and a better world, I think we need to try some risks.”