Older and Colder: A Dancing Rabbit Update

"Land ho!" Thomas leading an ecology-focused land walk during an Open Space retreat session. Photo by Dennis.

“Land ho!” Thomas leading an ecology-focused land walk during an Open Space retreat session. Photo by Dennis.

Happy March from Dancing Rabbit! Whatever the weather says, the first of March always gives me a boost of hope that I may actually survive winter. Ted here to report on the village, after the week in which I reached the age of 40.

It isn’t that the cold is all that oppressive, really. Last winter’s multiple lows of -18 re-set the bar for me, and by comparison, this winter has been more of a coyote than a bear.

On the other hand, my firewood supply is different than last year’s. I waited to process wood till fall. Despite being well-aged, it hadn’t been cut and split long enough to cure. If you’re unfamiliar with wood heating: uncured wood burns sluggishly and produces both less effective heat and dirtier wood smoke.

The first means I have to burn more wood to achieve the same heat, which means more labor, expense and ecological impact. The second also means lower quality of life in a village where we spend a lot of time outside working, playing, and commuting between buildings, even in winter.

In the end, it also means my toes are colder. There is no push-button or dial-in convenience in wood heating such as has become the standard in mainstream culture. I have chosen to participate in all the stages of wood heat, from sourcing to cutting, splitting, moving, stacking, restocking house supplies periodically from outdoor sources in frigid weather, and building and maintaining fires for hours daily. I want to know the real cost of my comfort.

There is only so much time in the day. Sometimes we can’t manage to keep a fire going steadily in our house, owing to travel or commitments or just winter lassitude. We have accumulated lots of throw blankets over the years. We wear wool long underwear under varying warm layers for most of five months, and I wear a scarf and hat inside and out much of the time.

We are pleased to wake up in the 50s most winter mornings. We usually let the fire taper off when/if we reach 65 or so, but as we’ve gotten down to the less cured firewood amidst February’s cold, there have been a few days we’ve settled for a high of 57. That’s about 20 degrees below what my parents consider normal in their push-button house. My warmth-loving mother would not be happy.

Humans are adaptable, though. I read this week about refugees of political, ideological, and military struggles, especially those escaping violence in Syria in the past several years, and the marginal, alienated existence most of them are experiencing in Turkey, Lebanon, and other landing points. Shivering a little when I wake up in the morning in my safe, rooted home and village, with enough food to eat, is a First World Problem.

To offer a disclaimer, though: there are varying standards of warmth in the village, reflecting the numerous choices we’ve each made in construction. Some are about building materials (green vs. natural building), some about design strategies (size, earth contact, passive solar heating, grid-tied vs. off-grid, kitchen included vs. in a separate building, and the varying cost per square foot that these choices add up to), and some are about state of completion (the temperature-regulating earthen berm around our house is incomplete, for example). The overall impact of these choices remains a live debate at Dancing Rabbit, particularly in reference to the ecological impact of building and of maintaining our structures over their lifetimes.

Villager and Dancing Rabbit, Inc. Executive Director Ma’ikwe left this week for the first leg of a national speaking tour, intent on sharing Dancing Rabbit’s work and experience with a still larger audience as she travels along Amtrak’s various routes across the country. I happen to have friends and family with good connections in two tour stops on opposite sides of the country, and so have been able to help find places for Ma’ikwe to stay, and seen just a little of the organizational web forming around this effort. The spring schedule is packed, and we’re excited for updates on how it’s progressing. Safe travels!

As Nik wrote last week, we were in the middle of our annual retreat, and the remaining days, organized in the Open Space Technology style, were varied and thought-provoking. Sara and I have back-to-back birthdays at the end of February that overlap retreat more often than not, so I took advantage of the loose planning to organize a 15-minute fun run in summer attire (plus birthday cape!) to celebrate my 40 years, and to spite the wind, cold, and snow. About 10 of us went out jogging for 15 minutes or so, and were cheered by some of our more appropriately-attired friends both going and coming. I was pleased to have built up a bit of a sweat upon our return.

Post-retreat, we’re now left to find homes for the numerous thoughts and initiatives arising from our many retreat discussions. We also head now into spring, when mental work must share time with ever more physical and outdoor work. I have some seed stratifying in the fridge, and it is time to mix up potting soil and get our first garden seeds sprouting. I also need to wrap up tree pruning and figure out where to plant shrubs and trees soon to arrive in the mail. Bulbs are peeking up outside and maple tapping crews are heading out to collect sap.

Many of us who host work-exchangers in the warmer season are actively communicating with applicants and interviewing to establish our summer crews. I’m talking with folks from California and Newfoundland and various points between. Their enthusiasm matches my own, and the warmth and energy of spring are seeping into my bones slowly but surely as I share with them the variety of work and learning opportunities we’ll be getting into. If you’re interested, please check out the work exchange opportunities available on our website and send us an application!

Now’s also a good time to consider Dancing Rabbit’s visitor program. If you’ve been thinking about a visit, to gain knowledge and perhaps consider making this your home, it’s not too soon to contact our correspondent and apply for a spot in one of our five 2015 visitor sessions. The first spring session is nearly full already.

Here’s hoping for swelling buds and growing warmth to all our readers, wherever you may be. We’ve almost all seen some colder weather, but we’re nearly through the worst of it. Hope to see you at Dancing Rabbit soon!

•                  •                 •

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.

Retreat! (or, I Can’t Get No… Sat-tis-fac-tion!): A Dancing Rabbit Update

Katherine, Dee, & Rae are up to planning Open Source logistics. Photo by Illly.

What are Katherine, Dee, & Rae up to? Planning Open Space logistics! Photo by Illly.

The only pleasant part of the negative temperatures of late is the satisfying way that wood splits. Or realizing that no matter how old you are, breaking the brittle top layer of a frozen puddle with your boot toe is secretly satisfying, like cracking through the top of a creme brûlée. Maybe humans just like to break things, especially if it can be a clean, crisp snap.

Nik writing to you all in the middle of Dancing Rabbit’s yearly retreat. Now that sounds great, doesn’t it?! When the logs are so cold they practically chop themselves, the whole village goes on a 5-day retreat. Where to this year? Costa Rica? Barbados? Pocahontas, Arkansas? No thanks, we’ll just hole up in the Common House and be happy for radiant floor heating.

But what kind of retreat is that, we all might ask? Aren’t we supposed to be getting away from this workaday, goat-eat-goat world?

Well, retreat at Dancing Rabbit is a time to come together and present what has been happening for each of us (and our committees) over the last year—to take count of what we accomplished and then decide where we want to intentionally put our energy in the coming year (but there’s also trainings and connection exercises and of course puppet shows, just like any other company retreat…).

Committee reports are always a highlight of retreat, as one would imagine. A lot of committees are needed to run the ins and out of this village, and an annual presentation is the place to let their work shine.

Some of the more memorable reports included the Village Council’s long list of decisions and proposals, accompanied by a slideshow of all the fun things the rest of the village got to do (like sledding, playing frisbee, climbing rocks…), which made us all appreciate our elected body of core decision-makers as opposed to the olden days of endless plenary meetings to get anything decided on. Did I mention there was an accompanying sound effect for each and every decision mentioned?

Eco-progress, a committee that oversees our village’s progress in everything… eco, forwent the power point presentation (to conserve power most likely) and went the Subterranean Homesick Blues route, making all their slides on recyclable cardboard. I’d never seen so many fascinating bar graphs…

Our non-profit and outreach arm’s reports were a bit more dry, but full of accomplishments and challenges alike. But then Land Management’s report was presented by a blind, inter-dimensional frog, who gave us a thorough diatribe on garlic mustard. Par for the course, really.

Beyond the reports and presentations, training exercises sprinkled the days. One such exercise on how to navigate difficult and possibly explosive questions from visitors and guests, was called “Steppin’ in it,” where we discussed how not to “step in it” and make things worse when dealing with such questions. Questions we discussed ranged from, “Why hasn’t anyone built a bicycle-powered smoothie bar yet?” to “Can I camp with my dog and three cats?” to “In the common house, where can I plug in my electric cat-waxer?” And now we are prepared to answer those inevitable questions with more grace.

The second part of retreat is reserved for very important planning; and the strategy is for it not to be planned! Well…kind of…although there is a lot of planning that goes into it, there is no specific agenda besides achieving…something…something yet unknown.

OST, or Open Space Technology, is an approach to purpose-driven leadership in hosting meetings, conferences, community events, symposiums, and of course retreats. It focuses on a specific and important purpose or task but begins without any formal agenda, and reaches beyond the overall purpose or theme. OST has been used by NASA, schools, telecommunications companies, local governments, and countless other organizations to create waves and changes in the way those organizations spend their energies and even how they run.

Using OST in our retreat gives us an open door and clean slate in what we want to achieve in the future, but can also be used as a problem-solving strategy to improve what we are already doing. If something isn’t working, or if something big emerges in OST, it can get a lot of traction on its way to being changed or implemented.

For those of us here who want to change the world, we first have to be ready to implement change in our own communities. Sometimes I think the latter is the harder one. But when ideas come, when new ways are presented, and we can get behind them to make a change, change starts.

And it can be a nice clean snap.

•                  •                 •

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.

The Great Blower Door Caper, aka Testing Buildings for Energy Efficiency

The blower door in place in The Haven, all ready to test its energy efficiency. Photo by Tereza.

The blower door in place in The Haven, all ready to test its energy efficiency. Photo by Tereza.

With winter still making the rounds, now is a good time to talk about energy — namely, the energy we use to heat our favorite hangouts. After all, most of the energy used in our homes and businesses goes toward temperature control.

Consider this: according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2012 the United States used over 333 billion kWh of energy for heating and cooling purposes. That’s about 25% of our total consumption, or more than a thousand kilowatts per person per year. Most of that electricity came from burning coal. That burnt coal translates to 5,720 pounds of Earth-warming CO2 going into the atmosphere, and 4,160 pounds of life-sustaining oxygen burned up in the process — per person.

With global climate change kicking into high gear, we are going to have to make some major adjustments to our daily lives if we want our grandchildren’s grandchildren to have something to look forward to besides high-speed highway chases with Lord Humungus (you know, the villain from the movie Road Warrior?).

For tips on cutting your heating bill (and decreasing your carbon footprint),
check out the bottom of this infographic and the resources on this page.

Getting back to the blower door referenced in the title of this piece, over the course of a few months this last building season Builder Bear worked with our resident queen of aesthetics, Jennifer Martin, to quantify and compare the different energy efficiency ratings of many of the buildings at Dancing Rabbit. For purposes of this article, I am going to call their dynamic duo Team JB. (Jennifer’s initial comes first, because that’s how she rolls.)

The point of this testing is to measure air flow in a structure at elevated pressure, using a power law equation that looks like a bowl of Greek alphabet soup. It starts with a machine called a blower-door, which consists of a frame-mounted fan attached to a manometer, an instrument that measures air pressure, and a computer for performing calculations.

You squeeze this big bad wolf into a door or window frame and electronically record the number of air pressure changes per hour, as it sucks the atmosphere out of your structure at 50 Pascals of pressure. While the machine is running, you can seek out leakage areas using either an infrared sensor that detects subtle temperature differentials, or a special type of smoke stick, which will allow you to see air movement with the naked eye.

After enough data has been gathered, the computer spins its hamster wheels and you can get a sense of how permeable your building is, and, if all of the unchecked orifices in the walls of the structure were concentrated in one gaping, energy-wasting hole, how big that hole would be.

Bear and Jennifer wrestle the blower door into place. Photo by Tereza.

Bear and Jennifer wrestle the blower door into place. Photo by Tereza.

OK, so anybody would patch a wall if it looked like Swiss cheese, but what’s the big deal about a few pinhole leaks here and there? Let’s look at the concept of asymptotic thermal transfer — this refers to the tendency of hot things to want to be cold, while cold things want to warm up. Basically, molecules are like teenyboppers: they all want to be just like each other. This means that a body of high-energy hot air will tend to transfer energy over to an adjacent body of low-energy cold air. When you’re trying to keep a room cool in summer/warm in winter, this dimension of thermodynamics can translate into more money spent, more coal burned and more rapid worldwide climate change.

So far, Team JB has studied twenty-eight buildings at DR, which currently range in number of air changes per hour from the low single digits up to about 30. (For a little context, the current International Building Code standard is 7 changes per hour, while the Passive House standard is a challenging 0.6 changes per hour.)

Right now, it’s difficult to be sure what the data means, but it is clear that in terms of air tightness, conventionally constructed buildings at Dancing Rabbit, such as the Common House and the Casa de Cultura, perform better than buildings featuring more natural building techniques.

But how do we know we aren’t comparing apples to orangutans? Simple: in addition to comparing the base number of air changes per hour, the process also includes looking at the ratio of the cubic volume of space inside the building to the corresponding volume of air moving in from outside, which provides a balanced method of contrasting buildings of varying sizes and makeup. In other words, per unit of volume, conventional buildings have fewer air leaks, and therefore less thermal bridging between the indoor and outdoor atmospheres.

Lobelia, Bear and Alyssa’s earthen-plastered straw bale building, currently tests at 11.5 ach/50 (air changes per hour at 50 pascals of pressure). This is after Bear sealed the joinery between timber and plaster with silicone caulk to ward off the icy breath of a particularly frigid winter. He made it clear to me that this small adjustment made a noticeable difference right away, and that even on the coldest nights (-30°F) the home only lost about one degree per hour after the fire in the wood burning stove had gone out.

Air tightness correlates very closely with energy efficiency because it restricts the transfer of heat energy in and out of a building. In a conventionally-built structure, the building envelope includes a range of sheet goods like plywood and drywall, as well as airproof tape, weatherstripping and insulation, all of which contribute to reduced levels of air infiltration. In naturally-built homes, comprised of materials like timber, straw, and clay-based cob, it is inevitable that numerous leaks will develop wherever two disparate materials meet, such as the imperfect union between a post of local Osage orange and the plaster adjacent to it.

Energy efficiency isn’t the only criteria we use, however, when assessing the value of natural building methods versus conventional techniques. Embodied pollution, for instance, is a critical factor to consider as well. Embodied pollution is a way of referring to the overall environmental impact of any given construction material, including details of its manufacture related to atmospheric carbon output, water pollution and habitat destruction; its toxicity; and even how much pollution is generated in shipping the material from A to B.

In almost all cases, conventional building materials hold much higher levels of embodied pollution than locally obtained natural alternatives. Here at Dancing Rabbit, many homes are built mostly of timber and straw harvested a short distance away and clay excavated within spitting distance — hardly any embodied pollution at all.

So how do we strive for energy efficiency in our homes while holding on to our ecological values? Bear makes a strong case for conventionally built structures on both counts. While embodied pollution is undeniably higher for conventional building materials, Team JB claims that lower ongoing energy expenditure for temperature control, protracted over the lifespan of the structure, will afford an environmental advantage in the long run. Natural alternatives, boasting much lower embodied pollution at the outset, require higher ongoing energy inputs to maintain livable conditions, since the shortcomings of materials like straw and clay will progressively take a toll on energy efficiency. Team JB is still in the early stages of their research, so this claim is difficult to prove on paper, but so far it seems to bear out (pun intended).

Like most things life, it’s often optimal to strike a balance, which in our case means striving to make clever and responsible use of all the materials we have available to us, both ancient and new. We’re thinking and talking a lot about how we can bring the best of both green and natural building methods together in our eco-superstructures of the future. The Green Community Center that has been designed for Dancing Rabbit is one such hybrid. As designed, this building would make use of reclaimed timber for its stick-frame skeleton, a mixture of straw bales and blown cellulose for insulation, lime plaster, and a plywood barrier, along with modern glazing and innovative use of cutting edge weatherproofing materials in all phases of construction.

I want to make one last point on this question of energy efficiency in our homes — even if you believe global warming is a hoax and/or you couldn’t care less about your personal impact on the environment, you still have a good reason to seal the cracks in your own attic: money.

Go take a look at your meter. Gaze into the swirling dials and forecast your future. How much juice are you going to be using in twenty years, and what do you expect to pay for it? I’m no fortuneteller, and I’m not the betting type, but if I were, I’d bet that in twenty years — with global temperatures fluctuating wildly and international demand for energy increasing every day — you’re going to be feeling nostalgic about whatever price you’re paying right now. So pick up a caulking gun and get down to business as soon as you can; you won’t regret it.

If you want to research all the ways that you can keep a little more money in your pocket while putting a little less carbon into the air, you’ll find a comprehensive set of resources here. There you can delve into the nitty-gritty of ecoaudits, quick and inexpensive energy saving upgrades you can make to your home, and a long list of Q&As provided by the experts. The first step to getting serious is to contract a local company who can run a blower-door test in your space and identify the areas you need to address.

Thanks for reading, and do consider visiting Dancing Rabbit, where you can learn all about the sustainable life and culture we want to share with the world, including efficient ecological building methods and so much more!

•                     •                   •


Vick is a misanthropic science geek with raconteur tendencies, metamorphosing from Las Vegas casino chef to rural eco-warrior. He spends his time writing novels and working online, when he’s not playing board games with Dancing Rabbit visitors.

All Aboard for the National Speaking Tour!

by Ma’ikwe Ludwig

DR's awesome Outreach Committee! Pictured are Lucas, Nik, Bagels, Rae, & Illly. Photo by Illly.

DR’s awesome Outreach Committee! Pictured are Lucas, Nik, Bagels, Rae, & Illly. Photo by Illly.

In just about a week, I hit the road! Well, it would be more accurate to say I hit the “rails”, but that has a different meaning, and I hope that isn’t what will happen! In any event, I’ll be boarding an Amtrak train to begin my nationwide journey, talking everywhere I go about Dancing Rabbit, climate disruption, and creating cooperative culture.

I’m excited. (I love public speaking and teaching, and we’ve put together a really compelling talk and series of workshops.) And nervous. (I’ve never spent this long on the road before. How’s that gonna go?) And curious. (Who will I meet? What will the outcome be? Will I really manage to consume Ethiopian food everywhere I go? Because that’s my hidden agenda with all of this…)

Mariyam, our Speaking Tour Coordinator, has been pulling rabbits out of hats all over the place, making sure I have venues, places to stay, local hosts, publicity, transportation and everything else a wandering sustainability expert could need for her work. She’s awesome. ‘nuf said.

I’ve also been spending lots of time in the last few weeks with the Outreach Committee, a dedicated group of Dancing Rabbit volunteers, which has been helping me put together new handouts and displays for tabling, including a groovy thing I keep forgetting the name of and calling the “pullie downie thingie” much to Rae and Nik’s amusement. (Nik tells me it’s called a “roll-up banner” and surely by now must be wondering why it’s so hard for me to remember. Don’t worry, dude… the important thing is that I remember what I’m talking about!)

Pocket projector! Isn't technology amazing? Photo by Nik.

Pocket projector! Isn’t technology amazing? Photo by Nik.

I’m also in love with my new gadget. It’s called a “pocket projector” and will allow me to give my talk nearly anywhere, even if the local tech breaks down. And it only weighs 2 pounds and can fit inside my suitcase. How cool is that?

And I’m very excited to be debuting a new workshop on this tour, called Encountering Climate Change. Inspired by the work of Naomi Klein, Joanna Macy and native and indigenous tribes all over North America, I’m venturing in to the important and timely work of helping people get real about climate disruption, in a supportive and emotionally safe environment.

I’m also offering four other workshops, all of them old standards I’ve been doing for years. And much as I’m excited about the new, on this big grand adventure, having some old friends along feels very comforting indeed.

So check out the speaking tour page to find out when I’ll be near you. Here’s hoping we meet along the way!

maikwebioMa’ikwe Schaub Ludwig is a pioneering sustainability educator, who, in addition to her work as DR, Inc.’s Executive Director, is head of Ecovillage Education US, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Fellowship for Intentional Community. Her work integrates ecological, economic, social, political and personal approaches, leading to a strongly holistic view of what it takes to truly be sustainable.

She is a regular writer for Communities magazine and the author of Passion as Big as a Planet: Evolving Eco-Activism in America. For more information you can visit her website: www.maikwe.net.

Seeds of Spring: A Dancing Rabbit Update

For Mae's 30th Birthday Spectacle, she sang and danced an original song about Dancing Rabbit, 'What's This?" Photo Mae.

Mae’s 30th Birthday Spectacle, singing ‘What’s This?” — with new DR-inspired lyrics — to a packed room. Photo by Nik.

Hello Readers! Lucas here, and It’s been too long. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with all of you again!

Winter festivities are in full swing here at Dancing Rabbit!

The snowfall a couple weeks back was more than I’ve ever seen in person, and I had a great time building an igloo with fellow rabbits! As far as I could tell, no one in the group had ever built one, but within a couple of hours we had the wall and a slightly-less-than-stable doorway to show for our efforts.

Additionally, our location was perfect for watching those who decided to go sledding. It was unfortunate that the two were happening at the same time. As I said in my last column– I’m determined to do something dumb on a sled. I just hope there’s a camera handy when it happens. Wish me luck, and mayhaps winter will provide another opportunity this year!

I love the way holidays are customized here!! In celebration of Valentine’s Day, DR has Validation Day. Instead of focusing on mainstream romantic (and expensive) gestures between couples, we choose instead to recognize the value of each individual, regardless of their current relationship status.

Community members make cards for everyone, and we all take turns writing encouraging notes on them. Eventually they will be passed out, and each co receives appreciation for what they bring to the community. It is all inclusive, doesn’t require a ridiculously overpriced rock, dinner, car, movie, or clothes. It requires only a willingness to express and receive kindness and encouragement.

I’ve found that even after being here for a few months, I am still consistently impressed with the creativity displayed at DR. During our weekly planning session (WIP or Week In Preview), we witnessed an amazing display of courage and ingenuity as Mae sung her Dancing Rabbit adaptation of “What’s This?” from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas in recognition of her birthday. As she sung, I looked around the room, and felt a deep sense of being in the presence of independent, pioneering spirits. And I felt honored to have the chance to take part in what is happening here- and to be counted among their numbers.

Although we may be smack in the middle of winter here at Dancing Rabbit, the coming spring warmth is already thawing our thoughts, provoking both the excitement of a season to come, and the introspection of seasons past.

This week we had our annual seed swap! As I begin planning the garden – my first ever – I find myself wondering which will grow more this year… myself or these seeds? I am also struck by the many fears we both, human and plant, regularly face:

We fear the chaos of change.

We fear that conditions will not be sufficient for our growth and propagation, that we may sprout forward only to find the world too harsh and unforgiving.

We fear that even if we do eventually bear fruit after all our striving, all our desperate effort, it might not even be good enough to be appreciated. There are so many things that can go so wrong. Murphy’s Law, right?

So it appears the seeds and I both have choices to make: Will we choose to shed our protective shells and stretch forth in vulnerability, or will we choose to remain protected, risking nothing, and gaining nothing in return? There’s a certain security in the “known” that the “unknown” cannot enjoy: familiarity.

Is that a good enough excuse to rest on the few laurels I’ve managed to gather together? I find that when I ask that question of myself at 34, I answer me with an emphatic “NO”. Which means the fears that the seeds and I harbor must be faced before any significant growth can occur.

Examples such as Mae’s serve to encourage the rest of us to come out of our shells, reach forward into the unknown, and grasp the person that we want to be, slowly merging them with our present selves.

We all only get one shot at this life. Can we make it count? Or will we pass through our lives with no effect on the world around us? I’d say those here at DR are striving to leave this world in better shape than they found it.

At this stage in my life, I still believe the seeds offer a more predictable yield.

Indeed, the seeds have some growing to do.

•                  •                 •

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.

I Heart DR: A Dancing Rabbit Update

A little melt hasn't stopped Bagels from making snow"cos". Photo by Katherine.

A little melt hasn’t stopped Bagels from making snow”cos”. Photo by Katherine.

Greetings friends and neighbors! Katherine here writing to you from the snowy (albeit muddy) prairie of Missouri!

A certain Handsome Groundhog has made this Happy Rabbit very happy with the announcement of six more weeks of winter! With the season as mild as it has been, I definitely welcome more time for sledding, broomball, and igloos!

Every Sunday at our little village, Dancing Rabbit has a weekly meeting called the Week In Preview, or WIP. We schedule our forthcoming week with meetings, community dinners, yoga classes, and special events like dance parties and movie night.

One of my favorite portions of the WIP is the “I Heart DR” section in which we say just that, what we love about Dancing Rabbit. This week was no different in our appreciation of each other, the land, and sled ramps! Nathan hearted Oliver and Ewan for helping him make the “best sled ramp ever”!

While winter tends to slow down our schedules around here and make for more connection time with each other and play, this week seemed pretty busy for a lot of us. Our busy schedules led to the most extraordinary sight of one lone Rabbit (Nathan) repeatedly enjoying his new ramp on our sledding hill, Vista de la Moo.  Rock on, man! I hope that you found that one perfect ride.

I think that one reason things seem busier around here is the preparation for our annual DR Retreat. Every mid-February the Rabbits come together for a weekend to present our goings-on of the year regarding our committee work.

With over 50 committees and tasks to keep this village running (if not always smoothly), we have a lot to re-cap. The presentations of such have taken the form of Pecha Kucha, which is a presentation style of 20 slides for 20 seconds (totaling 6 minutes and 40 seconds) per topic. The past few years have proven this a fun and informative way to share our work with each other, and often leads to laughter when a particularly amusing picture is shared with the group.

This year I will be putting together the slides for the Village Council (a decision making body that operates internally by consensus in lieu of the full membership) and the Member and Residency Committee (MARC). MARC tracks the integration of new residents and members with interviews, evaluations, and liaison programs. We maintain policy regarding the population and keep the community informed on individual’s intentions to move or leave the village.

Here is a sneak preview of the MARC presentation: total population, 65 Rabbits. Those numbers are broken down into 41 members, 14 residents, and 10 children. What we also take into account (which I will not break down for you here because either my brain will explode or yours will) is the on/off farm time of folks who live here. Many people travel during the winter season, sometimes for several months, which tends to skew our numbers in terms of the population ratios that we track in certain areas.

Dancing Rabbit has agreed to maintain a balanced gender ratio that will no go beyond 40%/60% for men and women. We also have a kid population cap that keeps us at 30% children of the total population. We do not limit the number of children that Rabbits may have, yet we may put a family on the waiting list for residency if their number of children puts us over that 30% mark. A waiting list is also used in the same scenario for the gender ratio and also the pet population. We maintain a dog population that will not supersede 15% of the total human population.

I do not know how all of these numbers and policy hit y’all but I can say that this has come from many years of meetings, bridging with each other, and figuring out what works for our community.

Some folks love dogs and others find them more of a burden on our society; thus the dog ratio. Some folks want lots of kids in their lives and others are striving for zero population growth for sustainability. Whatever the method to this madness, we have figured out how to live with each other and hold individual values in our collective consciousness.

To end this week’s article, I would like to share my own “I heart DR”.

I heart the midwives of Dancing Rabbit! Alyssa and Sara are amazing women who have been super busy this last month with 2 successful births. Congratulations, families!  Along with Teresa from nearby Rutledge, these busy bunnies have been bustling from births, to post-partum appointments, back to yet more expectant mothers, and now, on to the capital! Yes, to Jefferson City, Missouri for Cookie Day 2015.
Some villagers are encouraging the midwives by making sweet treats for them to share with our lawmakers, alongside a message of support for the work of midwifery. Alyssa is bringing literature on the benefits of midwifery and will speak on behalf of her work and passion. It is not only the hard work of these women that “I heart” but also their conviction to stand up for what they believe in and spread their message to others.

Strong women like this in our village are one of the reasons that I am proud to be a Dancing Rabbit. Thank you for that, ladies. In community, *Katherine*

•                  •                 •

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.

Grow Your Own… Vehicle Fuel?

Canola plants in the fall garden bed. Photo by Dan.

Canola plants in the fall garden bed. Photo by Dan.

by Dan Durica

If you’ve been following the antics of the fossil fuel guzzling world, you might like to hear about what we at DR have been looking into to make our world a better place…

In the late summer of 2012, I planted a 30′ x 3′ bed of canola seeds in one of the garden beds in my backyard.  By the time the cold weather set in, the plants had put on plenty of leaves and were big enough to overwinter, but the question was, would it be too cold in our part of the country for the crop to survive?

In the spring, despite a little nibbling by deer, the plants sent up flowering shoots and the bed went from green to a bright yellow.  Bees darted from flower to flower, excited to have something to gather nectar from, as there were no other flowers out at the time.  In a few weeks the seedpods had formed and soon after were drying out.  I ended up harvesting over 5 pounds of the tiny oil-rich seed.

Biodiesel at DR

We’ve been using biodiesel fuel in our vehicles ever since DR’s early days. Many years ago we would collect waste fryer oil from local restaurants and make our own biodiesel fuel using chemical processing.  The idea was to make use of a waste product and displace the use of fossil fuel for transportation.

Flowering canola, the following May. Photo by Dan.

Flowering canola, the following May. Photo by Dan.

We installed conversion kits that allowed us to burn our homemade biodiesel or waste veggie oil in VW Jettas. This worked for a while, but the waste oil as well as the processing was inconsistent. Needless to say, after several years of schlepping oil and running into cold weather problems, the motivation to produce our own diesel from waste oil lagged and we found ourselves buying more convenient and reliable commercial biodiesel instead.

When our older cars got cycled out of our fleet, newer cars were not fitted with conversion kits. But without conversion kits, even the commercial stuff caused problems in cold weather, so we switched to using straight petrodiesel in the colder winter months, a practice that violated our covenants.

In recent years, our vehicle co-op, DRVC, has been trying to find ways to better meet the covenant, but with limited success.  Two years ago we bought a Nissan LEAF, an all-electric car that has allowed us to avoid using fossil fuels in one car at least, since we charge it on our solar powered micro-grid.  But the LEAF has a limited range (60-90 miles) and cannot be used for hauling things the way our F-350 truck can.  Our diesel Jetta and Passat are still the only real option for trips over about 20 miles away, and the truck is indispensable for hauling large loads and pulling our trailer.

Growing our own fuel

Canola seed pods replace the flowers. Photo by Dan.

Canola seed pods replace the flowers. Photo by Dan.

One of the alternative fuel options we’ve been looking into is producing our own vegetable oil for direct use in our vehicles, and this is where the canola comes in.  If we can grow our own organic canola seed and press our own fuel oil from it, we will be using a local and sustainably grown fuel for transportation. Veggie oil conversion kits have improved since we used them years ago, allowing us to use either biodiesel or vegetable oil as a fuel throughout the year. These two tank kits would start the car on petrodiesel and after a second tank was warmed (5 minutes after starting), switch to veggie oil or biodiesel.

We could contract a local farmer to grow canola for us organically, and invest in an oil press and filter to process the fuel from the canola seed.  The oil we’d produce would come out of the filter press edible and ready, for frying pan or fuel tank, so we could not only produce our own fuel, we could make our own vegetable oil.

This could also open the doors for a cottage industry here, producing quality organic cold-pressed oils. Besides canola, we could also grow flax and press our own linseed oil, which is a product we use in our homes to preserve wood and plaster.  The fiber byproducts of the process make a protein-rich livestock feed that could be sold here, or traded to the farmer for growing the canola.

Further fuel for thought

Close-up: five pounds of harvested canola seed! Photo by Dan.

Close-up: five pounds of harvested canola seed! Photo by Dan.

One rumor about biofuels has been the claim that more energy is used in production than is offered by the fuel itself. This is essentially true of ethanol, but for straight veggie oil the way we would be doing it, I estimate an energy return on investment (EROI) of more like 9:1, meaning we’d get 9 gallons of fuel for every 1 gallon we put in. The EROI of gasoline is about 14:1.

One of the main obstacles to producing our own fuel, though, has been the recent change in diesel engines, ironically changes that were implemented to make diesel engines pollute less. Late models of the VWs we have been using in our vehicle co-op can no longer be converted for alternative fuels.

There is slightly more potential for truck engines, and our truck burns much more fuel than any of our other vehicles, getting only about 12 mpg where our VWs get 23-40 mpg. Our truck would likely be the best candidate for veggie oil conversion.

Some of my recent experiments with canola planting have been more challenging than the first year I planted it in my garden bed, due to extreme weather at planting time and our poor agricultural land.  But I think the crop could be grown in our area on better land than we have here at DR.

Much of what we do here at DR is experimental.  This is yet another example of our effort to create an alternative to the mainstream unsustainable way of life.  Problems resulting from environmental destruction are mounting and coming to a head, and if the wider society doesn’t change its ways soon…well, you know what happens.

Our recent eco-audit found that DR drivers consume on average 6% of the fuel of the average American.  If we can make that small percentage even more sustainable, we can further reduce our footprint on the world.

Dan has lived at Dancing Rabbit since 2007. He has a beautiful strawbale home, huge gardens, a small vineyard, and a hoop house. He is very interested in finding ways to build a sustainable economy at Dancing Rabbit.

A Chilly Reminder: A Dancing Rabbit Update

This past week came time to crush some more bottles in Dancing Rabbit's glass recycling routine. Crushed glass is used to replace sand and gravel in village construction projects. Photo by Dennis.

This past week came time to crush some more bottles in Dancing Rabbit’s glass recycling routine. Crushed glass is used to replace sand and gravel in village construction projects. Photo by Dennis.

Hi friends. This is Alline checking in for Dancing Rabbit.

The word this week is SNOW. We FINALLY got snow. SO MUCH SNOW! I cannot find an official snowfall report but I suspect it was around 6-8”. Or 47”, or maybe 83”…I’m from California, what do I know? Either way, it seemed like a LOT! It was gorgeous, beautiful, and downright spectacular.

While wandering around early taking photos of the snow-enveloped village, I ran into Bear shoveling paths (thanks, Bear!), Kurt using his bespoke snow plow (which he ingeniously crafted from a hand truck, ply wood, and some sheet metal – thanks Kurt!) and Illly, who was scraping snow off of solar panels around the village (thanks Illly!). The kids were running around like (very happy) crazy monkeys, and there was a lot of ooohing and aahhhing.

And there was, of course, sledding up on Vista de la Moo, with former work-exchanger, Michelle, back to lead the charge.

Inspired by Mae’s enthusiasm for “big snow”, there is now an igloo up at Critterville. What it lacks in authenticity it makes up for with wild creativity and determination. Construction will continue throughout the week, as more snow is predicted for Wednesday.

Sometime after breakfast on Sunday the power went out. Our first thought was what would become of Cob’s Super Bowl party? With a theme like “come for the commercials, stay for the food,” we’d been gearing up all week for it.

Power at Dancing Rabbit is a complicated thing. Brace yourselves, everybody – here comes some “good ‘ol days” talk:  Back in the beginning each building was powered by its own solar array and possibly a small wind turbine, and each building had its own battery bank in which to store electricity. Not being connected to the national grid meant that we were totally independent. We were careful with what appliances we used. With a gadget called a “Watts Up” we were able to measure output, and knew which appliances we could use and when. Heat-producing appliances like waffle irons pull lots of power, and were only used on sunny days or not at all. Our fridges were small and efficient. We were a bit obsessed.

Independence is all well and good when sun and wind is plentiful. When power in local areas was knocked out by storms, our buildings always remained up and running. But there were trade-offs (aren’t there always?) The winters here typically have two to three week stretches where it is cloudy and windless. Neither bodes well for solar or wind energy generation. During those times we’d ration our power, and as the batteries slowly emptied through electricity usage we’d spend evenings by candle light. We also began to prioritize which appliances stayed plugged in. The fridge? The water pump? The lights? Another down-side to independence is that in spite of advancements in solar and wind technology, the batteries in which we store our electricity remain old-school lead-acid batteries. These batteries have a lifetime of approximately ten years; they are gnarly to dispose of and not very “eco”.

A few years ago, after much discussion, we decided to invest in and install (what felt like) zillions of solar panels. This would enable us to create our own village-wide power system, and to power our new all-electric car (the Nissan Leaf). We made the even bigger step of connecting to the national grid, with the caveat that we would put back at least two times as much power as we draw from the system. This would enable us to continue to generate solar and wind power, but use the national grid as our “batteries” for storage. We called our system BEDR (Better Energy for Dancing Rabbit). Not all buildings here are connected, but most are. While this all might seem like a no-brainer to anyone living in a “normal” city, it was a very big deal for us. While we all appreciated the convenience and ease, we feared that as the years went on we’d become complacent and less aware of power that we were using.

Would we be able to continue to model an example of moderation and conservation?

In addition to convenience, many of us were excited to demonstrate the power (no pun intended) of community. What if more communities installed solar and wind and put power back into the grid? Perhaps then a few nuclear power plants could be decommissioned, or the tops of the mountains in coal-mining areas of Appalachia could remain intact.

Getting back to Sunday… Some buildings, which are on BEDR, had no power. Some buildings which were running on their own independent systems (households that have chosen not to hook up to BEDR) had power. The Milkweed Mercantile, designed to be a demonstration of many aspects of life here at DR, employs a third option — The Mercantile’s power system includes both batteries and a grid tie. When the grid power goes out, the building can still run off of its batteries. Sunday was an incredibly, wonderfully blustery day, the wind turbine was spinning its little heart out, and the batteries remained 97% full all day.

When the grid went down on Sunday morning, I think it was good for us. We were reminded of just how dependent we have become on cheap, easy power. We had computers and phones to plug in, lights to turn on, fridges and freezers to power — heck, we had a Super Bowl to watch! We were also reminded of the some of the good parts of community living. Because it does, after all, take a village, Cob and company reconvened at the Mercantile for the big game. Everyone stuffed themselves with vegan chili and corn bread, stuffed jalapeños, popcorn and much, much more while watching the game (and booing that particularly annoying vulture commercial). We enjoyed being snowed in together.

Life is good here, with or without power. Sending warm thoughts to all of you!

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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.