Making Money, Making a Difference: A Dancing Rabbit Update

This is what a Dancing Rabbit Village Economics Summit looks like! Photo by Illly.

This is what a Dancing Rabbit Village Economics Summit looks like! Photo by Illly.

Hi friends. This is Alline, writing for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Most of us who live at Dancing Rabbit have come here to make a difference. To, as the quote from Mohandas Gandhi goes, “be the change we wish to see.” The mission statement for Dancing Rabbit’s non-profit arm includes the notion that our sustainable society will “…have an influence… by example, education, and research.”

But how exactly does that work? Situated on a former pig farm in the middle of rural and sparsely populated Northeast Missouri our reach is somewhat limited. We are active online but are hardly a household name (yet!). We decided 18 years ago to remain an affordable place to live, and so do not charge a membership buy-in fee. This leaves our community-level bank accounts dependent upon lease fees and CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) income, which go to the Land Trust/Village side of things, and member dues and (much appreciated) donations, which go into the non-profit coffers to increase our ability to share our knowledge with the world.

Many of us hope to make a difference by the way we live our lives. I agree with author Paolo Coelho, who said: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” It has never been our plan to encourage everyone to move to a rural area and live in strawbale houses (although we are delighted when people do want to). Instead, we hope that others can learn from both our successes and our mistakes, and that appropriate bits of our striving-to-be-sustainable lives can be implemented regardless of where one lives. Our recently completed webinar/online education series is one great resource to find out more about some of the things we are trying.

Our yearning for a simpler, more sustainable life often yields stockpiles of happiness in addition to stockpiles of tomatoes, potatoes, and beets. But without stockpiles of money, how does one change the world? How does anyone make a difference?

I dream of being a philanthropist; with a ton of dough there would be so many ways to help. Unfortunately I’ll never be a tech guru, or a real estate mogul, or the recipient of a trust fund. I left a high-paying job for a different sort of life here in Missouri, knowing that I’d be trading that enviable income (which also came with no free time, exorbitant rent, traffic jams and lots of noise) for a much lower one. I consciously made the choice in favor of time, community and a better values match over cold hard cash. But it is often challenging.

Many of the members here at Dancing Rabbit value the importance of organic produce, of paying a fair wage, of social justice in its many forms, and a way of life that is non-exploitative of the earth and of its inhabitants. But we struggle with balancing our desire to support these values, which are often more expensive, with the realities of our lives, which are often lower-earning.

Knowing that consumerism and greed are frequently the motivation behind big business, and that the earth and its inhabitants ultimately pay the price of this greed, can make it challenging to find a business and/or a way to make a living that feels true. My own business, the Milkweed Mercantile, has a really goofy business model – how on earth does a store survive in a village full of people who don’t shop for recreation?

Dancing Rabbit’s Long Term Planning committee (yes, it’s true – we have committees for just about everything!) has been aware of the struggle of many members: to truly thrive our village has to be sustainable, not only ecologically but financially as well. So this week, after the Board of Directors meetings, we held a three-day Economic Summit.

Five friends of Dancing Rabbit who have expertise in a variety of financial realms worked with us through a number of different processes. There were “fishbowls” (where the experts sat in a circle and discussed their ideas for DR, while we sat outside the circle and observed), brainstorms involving the whole group, individuals sharing information, and much, much more.

A number of ideas, both short and long term, were explored. None are quick fixes, but the more we are aware of the financial realities the better we can deal with them. The meetings felt powerful and ground-breaking; I am very grateful to the “experts” for taking the time from their busy lives to come and help us!

That gratitude leads us right to this Thursday, which, of course, is Thanksgiving. The more I learn about the true early history of our country the less I want to participate in holidays that were, frankly, rather awful. However, any and every opportunity for gratitude is an opportunity I am happy to embrace.

Speaking of gratitude, I am thankful for Chris and Keri Feeney, publishers of the Memphis Democrat, the local Memphis, MO newspaper in which this column appears (in addition to being sent via email to the Dancing Rabbit mailing list). They have a solid and steadfast commitment to all of the local community, regardless of our opinions, and have welcomed this column since 2000.

I continue to be grateful for all of the neighbors who have shown us kindness, for the beauty and bounty of our land, and for those with whom I am able to build a village and a life. To those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! May it bring you time spent with those you love, a second helping of pumpkin pie, and a comfortable pair of elastic-waist pants.

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Super exciting! Our first-ever Online Education Series, “How to Live Like an Ecovillager: Low Carbon, High Quality”, is now complete! You can order the 5 webinar bundle, which gets you a bonus extra Q&A session for free, or watch only the ones that interest you most. Check out the series’ promo video, or find more info here!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Not Hibernating (Yet)! A Dancing Rabbit Update

It was a gorgeous day for a gravel moving work party! Photo by Tereza.

It was a gorgeous day for a gravel moving work party! Photo by Tereza.

Like rabbits in the wild, those at Dancing Rabbit do not hibernate in the winter.  Sure, there’re fewer visitors and less outdoor work to do, but there’re always board meetings!

Zach here, reporting live from somewhat of a flurried week.  No, not snow.  It’s been unseasonably warm, which has meant extra time for building and a longer-than-usual growing season.  In the latter of those two, I can speak to a bumper crop of radishes, mustard greens, and bok choy at the Thistledown kitchen.  Mild weather has meant fewer fires and less hot cocoa – so far.

In the former of those, our “Rabbit of the Week” this week, Hassan, held a gravel moving party to fill in the foundation trench around a new house he just broke ground on.  The spirit of community (as was mentioned last week) pitched in, and quite a few people showed up to help.  It’s not a barn-raisin’ but it sure shows how many hands make for quick work.  He also called for a gathering, per our burgeoning three-week-old tradition, to tell his life story on Friday night.  It was a winding tale, one where he described having lived in dozens of different places and rarely settling down for more than 9 months at a time… until he came to Dancing Rabbit.

Here is more home than anywhere else, it seems, to him and many others.  More people have moved here recently who will add to that book of tales. Brent, from Chicago, sold his laundry business and has been brainstorming entrepreneurial ideas here while pounding dirt into tire walls.  He’s trading in one glamorous career for another, I suppose. Roshana is making an attempt at retirement, dropping her full time job at a newspaper in rural Kansas in favor of part time online work and the promise of community. Our membership and residency committee has been busy as well, interviewing several new candidates who want to immigrate soon. As a newbie, I’ve been told that things slow down as the days get shorter. But so far that doesn’t seem to be the case.

This week I hosted a trivia night at the Mercantile.  It was a rousing evening that included place name anagrams, famous historical deaths, science, and a round I called “World Herstory” in homage to the vibrant feminist activism here.  Speaking of trivia, do you know what the word “lop” means when describing a rabbit (I mean the animal lagomorpha, not the villagers)? It designates those breeds with downward-facing ears!

Perhaps the foremost happening of this past week in the community was the annual in-person meeting of the Dancing Rabbit Board of Directors. Over the course of three days, and in collaboration with Rabbits, this dedicated group debated important issues that set the course for much of what the village will do in the coming year: budgets, program planning, staff re-organization, and addressing the mission statement were among the major topics this year.  But perhaps the biggest of all was discussion of a potential name change for DR’s non-profit outreach and education arm. Dozens of suggestions were submitted by friends and supporters of the community, which the Board narrowed down to less than 10, and which a committee will now narrow down to one.

The village has no plans to change its name any time soon, though.  We will continue doing what we’re good at — natural and green building, organic gardening, sustainable consumption practices, and a commitment to loving and growing with each other every day. The re-naming is meant to reflect DR’s intent to have an increasing impact on the world around us, which has been a goal since the beginning.

But we do have plans to always get better at the things we do. DR is, if nothing else, a laboratory for sustainable lifestyles. With that in mind, this coming week holds for us an economic summit, where prominent thinkers on alternative and sustainable economics from around the country will gather to discuss ways to develop guiding principles for our economic system and development and to explore some practical applications of these principles.

What is the best way to be sustainable both ecologically and economically? How can we demonstrate to others the practices we have found success in, and how can we import successful ideas from elsewhere?  These questions have been on my mind this past week, and hopefully a few answers will arise in the next few days from these well-trained economic brains.

Rabbits don’t hibernate in winter — we have that in common with lagomorpha. In fact, sometimes I feel busier than ever as the cold approaches.  But I’m still awaiting those days of sitting by the fire with cocoa, nestled tightly among friends and braced against the chilling northeastern Missouri winds that push us out of the fields and into our burrows.

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Quick reminder! This Thursday, November 19th, our online education series continues with our fifth webinar: “Building Skills for Cooperative Culture.” There’s a hidden sustainability gem you might not know you’re looking for: how to get along with fellow human beings. Dancing Rabbit Inc.’s Executive Director, Ma’ikwe Ludwig will be exploring how one of the most important things you can do for the planet is learn to cooperate! Register here, check out the series’ promo video, or find more info here!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Many Hands Make Light Work: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Excavating a round foundation for Hassan's latest building project. Photo by Hassan.

Excavating a round foundation for Hassan’s latest building project. Photo by Hassan.

Oh, the lovely swirl of living in community… Despite the month I see named on the calendar, which usually means things start slowing down, there still seems to be a heck of a lot going on at Dancing Rabbit right now. Tereza here, with a rundown of community happenings during the week that was.

Rabbits have been busily prepping for winter (not least due to the arrival of the first hard frost), an upcoming Board meeting, an economic summit, getting approval for the nonprofit’s budget and programming for next year, and so on, not to mention everything else we do to keep our lives, homes, and families ticking along.

I’ll start with my obligatory weather report: it’s been absolutely lovely (by my standards)! Yes, it has been chilly at night (note previous mention of hard frost), but the days have mostly been unseasonably sunny and warm, which means I haven’t had to light a fire in my tiny house yet. Woot! I tend toward feeling chilly (and disliking starting fires) almost all the time, so for me this is very exciting. Seeing temps in my house easily reaching the upper 70s on a sunny afternoon with zero effort on my part makes me very happy.

I’ve also been enjoying watching Ted prep firewood for his house and the kitchen we share. Somehow I’m able to watch him and not in any way feel compelled to do my own firewood anytime soon. The image of a small child with her fingers in her ears humming “la la la” comes to mind… If only I pretend that the deep cold will never come, surely it won’t, right?

I’ve been pretty busy with my first ever National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo)adventure. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. So far I am on target, but only because there’s no requirement that they be polished, high-quality words. The idea is to get them out of your brain and onto paper or screen so as to feel you’ve accomplished something. What I’ve got so far certainly qualifies as something. A big, wordy, unfocused something, perhaps, but I’m having a ton of fun with it, and that’s what it’s all about for me!

One new event that I think hasn’t been mentioned in this column yet, or at least not by its name, is Rabbit of the Week. Sharon and Hassan came up with the idea of putting the names of all Rabbits who wish to participate into a hat, and picking one each week. That person can then hold whatever special event they wish during that week, including the option to share their story with the community. Not too long ago in this space, Nik wrote about Katherine’s Rabbit of the Week event, a power-free fun/blackout evening. This last Friday it was Illly’s turn in the spotlight.

To a large and enthusiastic crowd in the great room he told the story of his life in relatively short form (he was trying to keep it to about half an hour so folks who wanted to watch the presidential debates would be able to do that as well). He shared vignettes both harrowing and hilarious, and since he used to work in the music and television industries also managed to drop some famous names. I for one really enjoyed it.

Hearing the people we live with talk about their lives before coming to Dancing Rabbit is both fun and helpful, I think, since it offers insight into them as people, and more understanding of who and how they are in the world. Living and working so closely with each other, the more insight into and compassion for each other the better, say I.

Hassan is Rabbit of the Week this week, and he’s offering a gravel-moving work party, which sounds like fun. Or at least one of those compelling “many hands make light work” experiences. He’ll also tell his story Friday night; perhaps you’ll hear more about that in next week’s update.

Speaking of the gravel party, I have yet to drop by in person to check out Hassan’s new project. I’ve been meaning to ever since I heard the excavator last week, digging the foundation. Judging by the noise, a lot was done. He’s been working on gravel moving on his own since then, though I heard some of the kids helped out as well. I hope a lot of folks come to the party this week, so we can watch the many-hands phenomenon in practice.

In other news, Ma’ikwe has been away for what seems like a very long time, finishing up her fall speaking tour, making presentations, and teaching workshops. I asked for a quick highlight from her trip and she said: “I’ve been present for the birth of two communities [in Boston and Asheville] this month… as in: have vision in place and I was there when the land deal was sealed. That’s been exciting!” She’s getting home this week and I look forward to her being back for a while.

Another event I took part in was a Shalom Retreat, led by a couple from New York. Those of us who participated did some intense emotional work in the loving presence of our community mates. It was profound for many of us, and I look forward to further exploration and connection along these lines with those of us who enjoy, er, maybe that’s not the best word… appreciate this kind of thing.

Finally, in other, fairly astonishing, news, the spirit of volunteerism appeared at the WIP (week in preview, i.e., our weekly planning) meeting on Sunday, wearing a big plaid blanket and rattling large rusty chains, to offer deep appreciation to new resident Brent for his work on technical (i.e., computer) issues in the position we lovingly call the TecTec. (No, I don’t know what that stands for anymore either, but I’m sure someone in the community will enlighten me seconds after this update goes out.)

Wishing you and yours a bright and beautiful November!

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Don’t forget! This Thursday, November 12th, our online education series continues with our fourth webinar: “How to Create a Successful Co-op: Sharing Your Table, Tools, & Transportation.” Sharing is not just a kindergarten skill, it’s essential for the planet! Cob Carleton, 8-year resident of Dancing Rabbit and sharer extraordinaire, will illustrate the strong connection between the art and science of resource-sharing and low-carbon living. Register here, check out the series’ promo video, or find more info here.

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Clever Costumes and Collared Cats: A Dancing Rabbit Update

The Ironweed cat herd gathered for a picture before heading off to the first stop on the DR-traditional Halloween Progressive Fiasco! Photo by Ted.

The Ironweed cat herd gathered for a picture before heading off to the first stop on the DR-traditional Halloween Progressive Fiasco! Photo by Ted.

November has arrived and still we have had only superficial frosts, with tomatoes, basil, and nasturiums persisting in the thermal shelter of rock walls and buildings. Temperatures are headed back up to short-sleeve weather for the first half of the week here, and autumn work will be enlivened once more. Ted here amidst firewood and other winter preparations to bring you this week’s update.

The return of warmth didn’t stop us having a chilly Halloween evening for our annual Progressive Fiasco Saturday night. The clouds cleared to bring a crisp, starry night for the festivities, as we gathered first outdoors after dark at Critterville out on the periphery of the village, and then progressed to other, more sheltered locations as the evening waxed. Still, each transition in our traveling celebration meant braving the outdoors again, though not without company and the warmth it brings.

Clever costumes abounded, some of which took an hour or two and several party stops for me to figure out (or overhear conversation about). We Ironweeders all planned and dressed and arrived together as a herd of cats wearing the sort of collars that have become both popular and infamous here in the past year, as we’ve discussed the kitty lock-down period in spring and early summer (to protect ground-nesting birds from voracious feline pets). They are wide and bright and meant to warn such birds of our approach. Two of us are on the current Village Council, and two others recent past members, so perhaps the political angle on a village issue came naturally.

The Mercantile offered me another chance to try bobbing for donuts on a string, which I’ve mostly watched kids and others do in past years, but attempted and succeeded at this time. Just had to find the right motivation. We also managed a wide-angle group photo there, which we’re still trying to track down.

Thistledown had hot cider and two-line spooky stories, Ironweed served alien eyeball concoctions, and Skyhouse anchored the tail end of the party for a couple hours, with dancing, snacks, and Halloween ambiance.

Thankfully for those who stayed late, the night held an extra hour of sleep, despite the sun being at a more advanced stage for a given hour come morning, with daylight savings kicking in overnight. It was nice to have light upon waking at a normal-ish hour, but it led for me to anxiety at the advanced rate of the passage of limited daylight hours by the time I actually arose for breakfast and to wash all the party dishes.

Between and alongside bouts of rain this past week, plenty of other events kept us occupied here. For Sara and me, most of our week up through Thursday night was preoccupied with preparation for the second of a series of webinars dubbed “Ecovillage Answers” and hosted by our educational nonprofit, Dancing Rabbit, Inc.

Ours, titled “The Carbon-Efficient Kitchen,” focused on carbon footprints as related to food, and how to ratchet down our food-related collective impact on the planet.

My focus on the information we were preparing to offer meant that I found myself for the last few weeks obsessively aware of the impact of my various food-related choices day-to-day, especially while traveling to the East Coast to visit family with Aurelia.

DR, Inc.-sponsored eco-footprinting research over the past couple years suggests that the average Rabbit is consuming at about 10% of the average American’s rate in a number of key areas. I attribute much of that reduction to living as a whole group of people who all make decisions with an eye toward ecological sustainability. Changing our consumption behaviors and habits is so much easier when normalized by group buy-in.

Some of the hardest moments for me are when spending time with friends and family who are not yet organizing their lives and all their daily choices around the most sustainable/lowest impact options at each juncture. I prefer to demonstrate rather than remonstrate, and there is only so far it feels reasonable to push my beliefs when in that company. Each disposable or even recyclable container or car trip I fail to avoid leaves me feeling that much heavier. How large already is the mountain of such impacts I have personally been responsible for in my life?

Our webinar went off without any significant hitches, and was followed by a lively question-and-answer period with participants. Sharon and Dennis hosted the presentation in their home, Robinia, and Illly and Rae covered the technical side with various computers and recording devices arrayed around us to bring it all together with our remote participants.

We hope to keep up conversation with those who joined us, as they grapple with shifting their daily choices to reduce their individual and collective impacts on the world. Dennis presents the next installment this week, talking about carbon impacts related to activities in the home.

It’s not too late to sign up for the remaining webinars in the series! If you’re interesting in making your footprint smaller and fending off calamitous climate change in the coming century, please consider joining our presenters for the remaining webinars; if you sign up for the bundle you also get access to the two that have already happened.

My brother just wrote this morning to say he was working on a bok choi kim chi (a spicy, fermented vegetable condiment consumed in great quantity in Korea). I’m brewing up my own kim chi today with some Chinese cabbage that volunteered in our garden, and the last of the Critters’ daikon radish that they kindly sent my way for the purpose.

Dan Kelley dropped off great quantities of apples and cider Thursday from his Blue Heron Orchard in Canton, the only certified organic orchard in the state of Missouri. With the cider fermenting, and more cheese to be made this week, I think I’ll have an even half-dozen ferments going at once. I don’t love the coming cold, but I do love harvest time!

Now it’s back to garlic planting and firewood for this Rabbit. May all your ferments be perfectly scrumptious, and your root cellars well-stocked, as you head into the cold and dark of the year. Happy November!

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As Ted mentioned above, this Thursday, November 5th, our online education series continues with our third webinar: “At Home with Carbon-Conscious Living.” Dennis will guide you through specific steps you can take to make your home and lifestyle part of the climate solution, sharing insights into your home carbon footprint, designing and building houses with low carbon in mind, how to use new and old technologies to power your home, tips and tricks for carbon-conscious home heating, and ways to live well with less stuff! (In other words, how to live like an ecovillager!) Register here, check out the series’ promo video, or find more info here!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Power-free Fun (and Pumpkins!): A Dancing Rabbit Update

A star filled pumpkin lit the way during the Black Out evening. Photo by Nik.

A star-filled carved pumpkin lit the way during the Blackout evening. Photo by Nik.

“It was pretty magical – something that I don’t think could happen anywhere else,” said resident Zach.

If you were invited to party in a total blackout, what would you expect would transpire? A wholesome candlelit evening of shelling beans, wooden board games, and singing Cat Stevens may not have been what anyone expected.

Nik here, typing by solar light.

After living at Dancing Rabbit for nearly five years, Katherine was missing something from the earlier days of fewer solar panels, wind turbines, and no backup power from the grid. Back when the weather had a direct correlation to power. Back when energy conservation was a need with immediate consequences in everyday life, there were power levels to let the community know how much power the Community Building’s battery bank had to give.

Bob would write the power level that day on a blackboard in the hall, depending on how cloudy and windy it was and how much juice was in the battery bank. Green meant “go”, full power: charge your electronics, watch that episode of “Lost”, get that electric razor out and shave the dog! Yellow meant conserve: use electricity midday when there is sufficient sun, but don’t stress out about it. Red meant stop, use electricity only for emergencies and essentials…not to watch “Lost” (the last episode wasn’t worth it anyway…). And then there was black.

Black meant total blackout. No power in the tank. So on Friday night, Katherine called for a blackout evening, to remind people, especially relatively new folks, that electricity was once a luxury and that they still had fun.

Carved pumpkins grinned soft light across the room, candles were on each table, and a candelabra sat proudly by the piano. We ate together, as we do weekly, for Friday community dinner, and then lingered to talk and play board games that didn’t require reading small type. In one corner a ukelele and guitar strummed out Cat Stevens’s “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” with growing voices joining in the chorus. Whenever a big group of people come together, some smart and opportunistic Rabbit uses it to their advantage; this time it came in the form of a bowl of dried bean pods that everyone around a table sat shelling as they chatted.

The children seemed more relaxed, focused on the pumpkins, carving one with a spoon (knives in the darkness didn’t seem like a great idea), which actually worked great. That nostalgic smell of pumpkin guts and seeds wafted in the air as they happily eviscerated the gourd.

It was a magical evening, as Zach said, even though he and other new residents had to be convinced that an evening in the dark with absolutely no electricity would be worth attending.

“It’s a culture shift,” Katherine said. It’s something we take for granted, and it’s easier to not conserve power when we don’t see the immediate consequences for it. It’s like taking out a loan at high interest and not seeing how much will be paid in the long run. It’s like hearing about global climate change but not seeing its consequences until years of drought followed by years of being rained out. We are supremely privileged in what we have in this country, and yet it’s a culture shift to remain as responsible in times of plenty as in times of lean.

Yet, not everyone was excited to attend the blackout night. Some were not eager to relive the days in the dark. A long-time member mentioned that it stopped being fun after weeks of no power in the winter: “There comes a time when comfort is important in life.”

I held both of those views as I sang in the candlelight, and I felt supremely thankful. Thankful for what I had, and also for what I knew I didn’t need.

The night drew out past midnight. The last flickering pumpkin was decorated by cut-out stars, and they projected up across the ceiling like a planetarium. As the candles were finally blown out and the pumpkin seeds swept up, a lingering awareness followed me to bed. A light went on (in my head) knowing that conservation didn’t equal deprivation. The fact that so many people had one of the best nights in a long while shows that in the glow of our phones and screens we have been missing out on something lost.

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And in other news, our first ever webinar in the Dancing Rabbit Online Education Series happened last Thursday! The series continues this week, when long-time Dancing Rabbit residents (and amazing cooks) Sara Peters and Ted Sterling invite you into their kitchen for their class: “Creating a Carbon-Efficient Kitchen.” Check out the series’ promo video or more info here!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

A Handful of Hazelnuts: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Here's a path less traveled, or at least less photographed: Wisteria Lodge, Grain Bin Apartments and the Milkweed Mercantile on the right, Itty Bitty Cabins and the Grocery Store on the left, looking towards Skyhouse in the center. Photo by Nik.

Here’s a path less traveled, or at least less photographed: Wisteria Lodge, Grain Bin Apartments and the Milkweed Mercantile on the right, Itty Bitty Cabins and the Grocery Store on the left, looking towards Skyhouse in the center. Photo by Nik.

Hmmm… My week in a nutshell? This week was at least a handful of hazelnuts.

Katherine here, writing about a full yet pleasantly un-momentous week (from one Rabbit’s perspective).

This is written with the utmost respect for an even-keeled life that at times has the most beautiful of balance. My dad (Happy birthday, Bill! Love you!) has sometimes said, “there’s always something.” Well, I am glad to report this week that there are less of those “somethings.”

Life grew on. Grass browned a bit and the flies lazed instead of buzzed.

Althea and Ben brought home a bucket of hazelnuts, which in turn had us sitting around husking and smashing to get at the delectables inside. While Mae and I chatted about village life (politics, gossip, Halloween costumes), Althea used a brick and her increasingly skilled dexterity (she’s six, ya know) to break open the nuts for munching.

As autumn encroaches, the pumpkins arrive and the leaves fall. The sunny days are kissed with cool breezes that have us wearing a bit more layers than usual, only to be shed with our continued physical labor.

Joe and I were out in the garden this week planting garlic (as many Rabbits were) and preparing for the cooler times. The tomatoes were frost-bitten as the turnip greens heartied up for a delicious meal. I served the last visitor (viz) group of the season (a fantastic bunch they are) turnip greens sautéed with sunflower seeds and raisins. De-lish (delicious) I say again! The sweet of the raisins cuts the bitter of the greens to create a yummy in most co’s tummies.

While I did hear the decree from a younger generation, “I want this, this, not this, and this”, which translates to “rice, beans, no greens, sweet potatoes.” The encouraging answer to this was, “she grew it,” which in the end meant, they ate it. :-)

The vegan carrot cake from The Farm Cookbook (one of my favorite CBs) was the star of the show, and I really appreciate Patricia and Julio as my totally awesome visitor cook helpers!

So yes, the gardens are going to bed for the year and the greens of our land are changing to beautiful hues of red, yellow, brown. Wexers (work exchangers) and other folk are making their way to their next destinations, may it be for just the winter months or even longer.

Potential Rabbits are figuring out how to come back in the spring, where to live and where to eat. The anticipation of fresh faces is exciting, yet so far away. The anticipation of freshly fallen snow and ice on the pond is even more pulling as my mind begins to calm for the end of the year.

Something of our coldest months absolutely warms my heart: the natural progression of slowing down, hibernating, sipping tea with friends and knitting by a warm fire. Those are the times that I find myself longing and preparing for with every coming day.

Winter travel plans are being made among Rabbits, and the distant train whistle brings back my youth— rides to see grandparents across country on the Amtrak we still ride today.

My parents would stick me in a cardboard box under their feet riding coach for a fun and safe journey. I got to sleep in a fort and they felt secure knowing that I would not wander off in the night.

I may be a little big now to cozy up under those seats, but the 33-hour train ride from Missouri to Texas is still a pleasant one nonetheless. I love chatting up people in the club car, sharing stories, lives, perspectives. It is amazing how much folks open their minds to hear about our village with its cob houses, wind turbines, and crazy little thing called non-violent communication.

My life is inspired every single day by the Rabbits around me and if I can share that feeling across the country to shift even one person’s perspective, then that feels pretty good to me. It is not just the water-saving and bike riding messages I seek to share, it is also the benefits of living with one another and helping to make even those un-momentous times more enjoyable.

Living in community has proved to be the hardest and most rewarding decision I have had to make in my young life. As I reach my 31st year this December, I reflect on the choices that have brought me to this point and remind myself to have no regrets, only lessons.

While train-rides and sleigh-rides may be a little premature, the memories and warm fuzzy thoughts of what is yet to come promise good times ahead. Today I will continue gardening the last wilty plants of the season, and perhaps fold the communal towels that are glaring at me from across the room. Food will be prepared and eaten, buckets will be filled, moved, emptied; my life will continue to plug along and there will be many friends and tiny adventures along the way.

Until next time, friends, bon voyage!

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Last chance to register for the first ever Dancing Rabbit Online Education Series: How to Live Like an Ecovillager: Low Carbon, High Quality! Rabbit teachers will share what we’ve learned about living rich full lives using fewer resources — the first class, “Ecovillage Answers to the Climate Crisis: 10 Ways to Shift from Angst to Action” is this Thursday, October 22nd, and it’s FREE! Check out the series’ promo video or register here!

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Come see us in Kansas! Rabbits will have a booth at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka this weekend, October 24th and 25th — do stop by and say hello!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Seasons and Seasonings: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Daikon radish is fun to harvest, particularly in an evening gown. Photo by Ben.

Daikon radish is fun to harvest, particularly in an
evening gown. Photo by Ben.

Howdy y’all. Ben here, writing to you in the predawn hour from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. That predawn hour is coming later and later these days, leaving precious few moments of actual daylight in which to work, slightly less than twelve hours, to be exact. By eight o’clock in the evening, I am generally exhausted by the day’s tasks, which generally involve the manipulation of goats, squirreling around, stashing firewood, saving seeds, and harvesting food before winter.

Before the sun rises, the roosters perform a cacophony of crows and calls, heralding a new day, perhaps their last. I slump out of bed and uncrinkle my weary bones. This is usually the hour of my finest physical condition, but it’s dark, so I can’t do anything with it besides start a fire for the kettle by the dim light of a hand crank radio.

By seven, seven-fifteen, daylight is barely breaking still, not yet burning off the vestiges of chilly night air. I don’t know about everybody else at Dancing Rabbit, but between the limited daylight hours for foraging, the lack of rainfall, and the lack of vegetative growth, the goats and ducks and chickens have been quite busy nibbling and munching all they can in preparation for winter. The donkey seems nonplussed, per usual, if only slightly shaggier.

As a child, I recall my elders bemoaning the ever quickening pace of time. Here I am, in the middle of October of aught fifteen, wondering what just happened to my year. Autumn winds have been coming on strong, whipping around miniature cyclones of poplar leaves. The grasses and forbs become tougher and more brittle on a daily basis. Naked forms of honey locust stand festooned with blood-hued creeper vines. The soggy sod of spring is transformed into hard, sparse, dry earth.

Chicken coops, outhouses, and tool sheds become home to caterpillars, box elder bugs, cluster flies, and those fake little brownish lady bugs. The night is home to hooting owls, yelping coyotes, and scurrying rodentia. Bear reports seeing bobcat nearby. Perhaps the house cats around here have become complacent in their predatory duties. More likely, the arrival of new predators harkens the slow, steady return of healthy habitat out here.

It’s a visitor week again, the last one this year. Though I acknowledge that hosting visitors is just a part of what we do here, and an important part too, I admit that I’ll be a bit relieved when “the season” is over, and I look forward to being able to move heavy things around in a donkey cart without being asked what I’m doing.

Some of us Rabbits live for the social interaction and pollination that occurs during the span of visitor season. Visiting folk often bring us new songs, different skills, diverse knowledge, and wide experience, which can be refreshing here in landlocked rural northeast Missouri. We really get an assortment, and variety is the spice of life, they say. Me, I really only require a handful of seasonings.

A lot of folks come through Dancing Rabbit, and I think we have a lot of expectations for each other. Sometimes these expectations are met. Sometimes they aren’t. There’s the prepper/survivalist types, who bemoan how unprepared we are for the end times. I figure that I’m better off not having anything that anyone wants, should the global social order unravel. Besides, the global social order probably ought to unravel a bit. Try telling the folks over in Syria that the end times are coming soon.

Then, in a similar vein, is the self-sufficient set, who are aghast over our lack of food security, or the lack of a village blacksmith. These people have probably read some books on the subject, with easy to understand diagrams of how to plant a considerable crop of grain with a team of draft horses and just know they could do it too, and wonder why we don’t with our oodles of time.  Look, folks, nobody has ever been self-sufficient. And if you really think about what that would require, nobody would want to be. People need each other. I don’t need everybody, but I do need somebody.

We also have folks of every dietary stripe come through. The raw foodists get disappointed at our lack of mangoes and macadamia nuts here in northeast Missouri, while the paleos are disappointed by our lack of caves or cavepersons. I try to sell them a duck, but they won’t eat it because it’s not a wooly mammoth, and then they slink off to town to get a cheeseburger. Then there’s the metaphysicists, who can’t believe we haven’t gotten the whole levitation thing worked out. Maybe after we figure out how to keep the bio-diesel from clotting up in winter, we’ll all work on our hopping skills.

Occasionally, people get the idea that Dancing Rabbit is some type of cult. If it were, we’d probably spend a lot less time in meetings, and have a higher population. Sometimes folks get the sense that this is a nudist community. If that were true, don’t you think we’d locate ourselves somewhere that doesn’t get so cold? Maybe the nudists and raw food people can form a satellite community in the tropics, where that stuff makes more sense.

On the whole, the folks who come through here are reasonable, like-minded people who are welcome to share in our food, work, and space. When I got interviewed for my residency here at Dancing Rabbit, someone asked me how I felt about being part of a demonstration village. I figured they meant it like an historic re-enactment village, or a renaissance fair. Fine, I said. I’ll sell apple cider out of a donkey cart, if that’s going to save the planet from ecological peril. I’m happy to demonstrate how to chop wood, make hay, or keep my outhouse from blowing over.

But that wasn’t what they meant. What they meant was, how much scrutiny can you handle? The truth is, it kind of depends.  The past week or so has been filled with student groups, professional photographers, and a couple of dudes with a drone. Really, a drone. You know, like the kind used to drop bombs, or snoop on people. Except this one is used for aerial photography.

I get it, I know, drones are just tools, like hammers, putty knives, or cellular telephones, which can all do good things and bad things, depending on who’s wielding them. It still just dings my paranoia bone in the wrong way. Besides, I don’t need aerial footage of my vast collection of buckets and tarps. I know where most of them are, thank you very much. Take it from an ecovillager, it ain’t littering if it’s there on purpose, and you don’t forget about it.

This is why I like to hide in the bushes. There are people here who can deal with drones, college students, and the general public. I am not one of them. I’m better off gathering hazelnuts and walnuts with my kid, creating new paddocks for the livestock, and transplanting tree seedlings. The view here is pretty nice, with the wild cherry trees awash in gold, the massive cottonwoods half bare, moaning in the breeze. Osage trees drop their fruit to be nibbled by squirrels and other critters, while a small tribe of blue jays stalk the tops of acorn bearing oaks, breaking the quiet with their calls and shrieks. Grasshoppers laze about, chilly in the morning, probably unaware that they’ll soon become some chicken’s breakfast.

The days have been pleasant, almost too much so, a sure sign that winter is pawing at our door, which I have finally fixed for the last time, I hope. In town, folks are planting garlic, saving seed, even putting their gardens to bed for the winter. The gauntlet of visitor season is nearly run, and soon begins the time in which we Rabbits can draw inward, reflect, connect, or just read a book or two.

If’n you wanna stop by, shoot for April. But please leave your drones at home. I might be willing to step out of the bushes by then. As for right now, the sun has risen, and I have less than twelve hours to do what needs done, whatever that looks like today.

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Land Day Reflections: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Dancing Rabbit celebrated its 18th anniversary Saturday with a family-oriented wiffle ball game.  Here, young Emory gets ready to swing while Brent pitches. The score? Who cares? Photo by Dennis.

Dancing Rabbit celebrated its 18th anniversary Saturday with a family-oriented wiffle ball game. Here, young Emory gets ready to swing while Brent pitches. The score? Who cares? Photo by Dennis.

Eighteen years ago seven dreamers, armed with a plan, two old computers and a lot of optimism, purchased 280 acres in rural Scotland County, Missouri. There wasn’t much here at the time — a machine shed, an old pole barn that had been used to house pigs, a pond with a leaky dam and a lot of eroded soil.

With a lot of hard work, creativity and laughter, things look a lot different at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage today. There have been at least 24 buildings constructed, mostly by hand with renewable and sustainable materials. We have planted thousands of trees, acres and acres of native grasses and forbs, amended many acres of depleted soil for our organic gardens, and met hundreds of new friends.

This is Alline reporting for Dancing Rabbit, in celebration of our 18th Land Day.

On the first Saturday of each October we gather to celebrate Land Day, to honor the day the land was purchased. We try to have something for everyone. This year featured our Land Day ritual, a ceremony where we share the history of Dancing Rabbit through stories, keeping memories alive through oral tradition.

There was also an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, with Hassan at the stove flippin’ flapjacks as fast as we could eat them; a land walk with a surprise tea party out at what we call “the old homestead”; a game of Ultimate Frisbee and a game of wiffle ball, which we love because anyone can play; a potluck dinner; and lastly songs and more stories. Whew!

Walking through the village yesterday I did an informal survey of what Rabbits liked best about Land Day, and why. When I asked eight-year-old Zane to choose his favorite part of Land Day, there was absolutely no hesitation — “PANCAKES!” he exclaimed. “All you can eat pancakes!” Then he thought about it for a moment and added “…and all of the dessert at the potluck dinner…oh, and the sliders!” I think it’s safe to say we have a future gourmand in our midst.

Jordan, a Mercantile work exchanger (also referred to as a “wexer”) agreed with Zane: it was the pancakes, hands down.

Aspects of the ritual ceremony were favorites of many. Kale, Ironweed wexer, was touched by the stories from the ritual: “They help me feel more connected to everyone here.”

Ted enjoyed “the stories of calamity, and reminders of how we were able to fix things by working together.” He’s right about multiple calamities – Ma’ikwe’s roof blowing off, the two-story Skyhouse building almost collapsing into the cistern in the middle of a thunderstorm, Ironweed’s turbine blowing down… In retrospect they make for entertaining stories, but at the time were frightening and challenging. It is helpful to reflect on how, even in the bleakest of times, we came together to solve problems, and were able to do so precisely because we were working together.

Nathan was impressed that we were able to tell the stories without any props, notes or founders, demonstrating that our community is old enough to have a true oral tradition.

Kurt appreciated the personal nature of the calling of the directions; he mentioned what a lovely job Bob did with his presentation of the South, evoking warm winds and warm people.

Erica, one of our newer members, remarked how after the ritual she felt lucky that so many people had worked so hard to build our little village: “They’re not even here but we still remember them, and what they did.”

Cob mentioned that he learned new parts of the Dancing Rabbit story this year when Stan from Sandhill recounted what it was like for their small community before DR arrived: “Like-minded folks were few and far between; many of their friends were at least 50 miles away.”

Here at DR we will always be grateful for the groundwork that Sandhill did, enabling DR to settle here in Scotland County and helping us so very much, especially in the early days. It is a blessing to have neighbors like our friends at Sandhill (whom we love and respect)!

Other Rabbits mentioned how much they enjoyed the land walk, which was led by Thomas. Way out on the land the walkers encountered a surprise tea party hosted by Katherine, Mae and Althea, who jumped out at new arrivals and shouted “Happy Land Day!” When asked what her favorite part of the day was, Althea giggled and said, “Hiding!”

Mae, recently returned from a trip to New York, said with a sigh, “I’m just glad to be home.”

Thomas took the opportunity to climb the old windmill, although he did say it is getting more difficult each year – the platform is no longer at the top, and the entire structure is covered with Virginia Creeper. I don’t really believe that he’s deterred much – I’m looking forward to watching him climb it for at least another 20 years…

Vick cheerfully said he liked the wiffle ball the best, because it’s easy and not strenuous. Nik loved the song circle, others said “the pancakes were awesome” and “this place is really rad and we’re creating it together!”

I couldn’t say it better myself!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.