Grad students help out Kid City with mud house

Most children spend their summer playing in the mud. This summer, one USF graduate student has joined them for a good cause.

Jeanine Minge, also an instructor in the Communication department, started Inner Earth two and a half years ago with Nikki Pike, a graduate student in the Fine Arts department. They use a substance called cob to build “sacred and aesthetic spaces in the community.”

Cob, like adobe, is a mixture of straw, sand and clay that is strong enough to build environmentally friendly and sturdy structures. Minge described it as a grassroots process.

“It takes us away from industrial cartels,” Minge said. “We actually take pride in what we build.”

They started small by building benches, and in May, the two began working on a much bigger project – a house.

Inner Earth began working with Youth Alive, a facet of Kid City at the Florida Children’s Museum, to build a cob house in Kid City’s miniature city. The house will include a “live” roof with a garden on top to help aid in its purpose of educating visitors about the environment.

Youth Alive was referred to Inner Earth by a business partner, and after meeting, the two recognized their similar goals and the potential to work well together.

“We saw how each could work with the other,” said Lisa Belligan, manager for Youth Alive. “It’s a great partnership.”

Youth Alive has a leadership and development team comprised of locals ages 14-16 that need support to help them learn different life and work skills. They continue with the program for one year, and are rewarded with small scholarships at the end.

Belligan said the benefits of the teens involved in the program are apparent.

“The growth and maturity of these teens has been outstanding,” she said.

Amber Zimmerman, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, flew to Florida for summer vacation to help with the project. She said she likes the intention behind the project and finds it to be a nice change of pace from school.

“It is like when you’re 5, playing in the dirt – except this has a purpose,” she said.

Minge said that since the project began in May, she has worked roughly three days a week for eight hours a day, calling the work hard but fun. The process has had such an affect on her that she has changed the topic of her dissertation to write about Inner Earth and the cob house.

“We restructure the way we understand community by working together in an emergent, co-constructed structure,” Minge wrote in the first draft of her dissertation. “Working with the earth, we form a new understanding of ‘nature’ and the world of which we are a part.”

The project is funded through the Bank of America Foundation and the art department, which often funds community art projects.

The exterior of the house will be completed the week of July 25, with aesthetic details to be added in the fall. It joins a miniature post office, hospital, library and even a miniature McDonald’s inside of Kid City.

Minge and Inner Earth also worked with the Centre for Girls this summer to build a bench in their courtyard.