Natural Building Certificate Program

Training the next generation of skilled natural builders

*We are not able to accept applications for 2020 due to the pandemic. We are working to reformat the program and look forward to offering it in the future.*

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On-the-job training + focused classwork

The Natural Building Certificate Program (NBC) is a unique opportunity to get real, hands-on experience working with professionals on a permitted, high-performance natural home while also learning the background and theory of the work you are doing through a focused curriculum of class work.
You will gain experience in a range of natural and conventional building materials giving you a wide base of knowledge to begin to prepare you for employment in construction. The long-range goals of this program are to train builders, create job opportunities, help launch future businesses, and form a network of trained builders who can grow the capacity and depth of the high-performance natural building community in San Diego and beyond.
We'll begin with the safe and effective use of common construction tools and then get into the installation of the straw bales in a strawbale home. Then we will proceed with lath, clay plaster, adobe block, and other natural and not-so-natural construction techniques needed to build a permitted high-performance natural home.

Program Topics

Strawbale Building

Learn how to handle, shape, and install straw bales as in-fill in a post-&-beam system that becomes the core of a high-performance natural wall.

Straw-Clay Building

Learn to form, mix, pack, and detail straw-clay as infill between studs to create sound and thermal insulation in partition walls in a natural home.

Natural Plasters

Learn how to assess, mix, and apply structural clay plaster over strawbale and straw-clay walls to create the strong skin of a high-performance natural wall.

Earth Building

Learn how to select, assess, mix, form, and finish different types of earth building such as adobe, cob, and earthbag to add thermal mass to a natural home.

Natural Finishes

Learn how select and apply a range of non-toxic natural finishes such as oils, veneer plasters, paints and lime washes.

Building Science

Learn the science behind how buildings function and why these natural materials perform so well in high-performance building enclosures.

Jobsite Safety

Learn how to keep yourself and others safe, organized, and productive on a construction site.

Career Skills

Learn about the business side of natural building: staying on the right side of the law, requirements for getting a license, insurance, estimating, bidding, and contracts.

Why offer this program?


  • Train sustainably-minded laborers and tradespeople
  • Grow the depth and capacity of the natural building community
  • Sow the seeds of new regenerative businesses
  • Strengthen the network of green businesses in San Diego
  • Shift the dominant paradigm from within
  • Legitimize, substantiate, and mainstream natural building

With the climate crisis worsening quickly, the world needs the benefits that natural building can offer as soon as possible. High-performance natural buildings can be regenerative - they don't just do less harm, they can actively help us face our environmental issues by making buildings that sequester more carbon than was used to build them. Demand for natural, non-toxic, carbon-sequestering buildings is high but there is a lack of skilled builders, tradespeople, and laborers to meet that demand. 

Many natural building educational programs focus solely on natural materials and do not teach the broader skills needed to build permitted homes. With more than a decade of experience building permitted high-performance natural homes, we want to share our knowledge to help scale up a skilled, knowledgeable workforce to handle building a regenerative future for San Diego and beyond.

By providing real, on-the-job training and targeted classwork covering the basics of natural and conventional building, we are training people to be prepared for real jobs in construction where natural materials can be utilized. Through networking with local sustainable businesses, we will match supply and demand for trained sustainable workers, some of whom will, in turn, go on to create new sustainably-oriented businesses. San Diego will become a nexus of regenerative building.

This program is perfect for individuals who:

  • Want a chance to have a hands-on experience building with natural materials on a permitted job
  • Are new to the field of construction or have some construction experience but are looking to transition to more sustainable construction
  • Want an introduction to high performance natural building through part-time on-the-job training
  • Are looking to round out a sustainable design education with some hands-on experience

Program Instructors

Rebecca Tasker & Mike Long

Rebecca & Mike are designers, builders, general contractors, and co-owners of Simple Construct, a design-build company specializing in carbon-smart strawbale building. Simple Construct has been involved in the construction of more than a dozen strawbale buildings in San Diego, and designed and built the Fallgren Home, one of 27 buildings in the world to achieve Net Zero Energy certification through the Living Building Challenge. With backgrounds in visual art, Rebecca and Mike have taken their training in form and color, their love of natural materials, and added cutting-edge building science to produce beautiful, efficient, and healthy buildings. Rebecca sits on the board of the California Straw Building Association and has published articles on strawbale building. 

Josh Robinson

Josh has over 18 years of experience in the field designing, installing, and teaching about creating ecological abundant gardens, home, farms, and businesses. He holds a Master’s Degree in Ecological Landscape Design from Prescott College.

His work has received multiple awards as well as being featured in Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden and Art Ludwig’s Create an Oasis with Greywater. Josh has started two permaculture based landscaping businesses including his current business, Ecology Artisans, where he designs and leads crews in installing beautiful, functional, and abundant landscapes throughout San Diego.

Interested in learning more about this program?

Sign up to learn more about the program requirements and application process

Program Partners

Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for your interest in this program. Here are answers to frequently asked questions:

Anyone over the age of 18 who can work in the US and meets the criteria below is eligible. You must be able to provide paperwork to prove you can work legally in the United States.

Construction is an athletic endeavor. You must be in good shape, be able to lift 50 lbs, climb a ladder, and reach objects on the ground from a standing position.

For this semester, pre-apprentices will dedicate 2 consecutive eight-hour days per week to working on-site and a minimum of 2 hours per week to classwork for 12 weeks. Because the program is based around construction projects, every semester will be different in timeframe and scope. We are also considering offering shorter, more intensive programs in the future as well.

Due to the pandemic, we are not offering this program in 2020. We are working to reformat it to be able to offer it safely.

The previous semester was June 24, 2019 - Sept 20, 2019 (12 weeks)

The on-site work will be 2 consecutive weekdays, most likely Wed & Thurs or Thurs & Fri. The classwork is mostly self-paced online, with some webinar and some in person, schedule will be based on the availability of those accepted into the program.

It will always be on a job site somewhere in San Diego County. Last semester was based at Terra Corazon Farm in Valley Center, CA.

You will be both: when you work on-site, you are an employee who is expected to participate with the crew in the production of the building. On your own time, you are a student working through the classwork towards earning the certificate. If you are unwilling or unable to do either the onsite work or the classwork, you will be let go from the program.

This semester, the program is designed so that the pay for on-site work will cover the cost of the educational component. Depending on grant funding and other factors, this may be different in future semesters.

You will be expected to provide your own basic tool kit (pencil, utility knife, measuring tape, and hammer). You will be responsible for your own housing, food, and transportation. You will need access to the internet to complete the classwork and will be excepted to purchase or borrow the books required for the classwork. We will provide all of the other tools and materials necessary to participate.

You are required to have personal medical insurance. As an employee, you will be covered by our Workers Compensation and our General Liability insurance while working on-site.

We anticipated offering this program 1-2 times per year but the pandemic has interrupted the program for 2020. Please check back for more information.

We will accept 4 participants this semester

No, this program is designed to create a rich and meaningful experience in a short amount of time and both aspects are required. In the future, we plan to develop a separate educational track for people who already have work experience to earn stand-alone certificates entirely on-line, but they are not available at this time.

Successfully completing this certificate qualifies you to apply for a job with Simple Construct. It may also be a helpful qualification when seeking employment with other companies in related fields.

Successful completion of this program will result in a Level 1 Certificate of Knowledge in High-Performance Natural Building awarded by the Sustainable Living Institute. It is a pre-requisite to other High-Performance Natural Building Certificates that will be offered by SDSLI and Simple Construct. Currently, these certificates are not associated with an accredited institution but we are seeking collaboration with industry leaders and bodies of accreditation for future certificates.

2019 was the first semester of this program and we have not published the testimonials yet, but we can share evaluations for other classes/workshops we've offered upon request. Each participant in the program will fill out an evolution that will be available to future applicants after this semester.

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