Heaps of Appreciation: A Dancing Rabbit Update

In appreciation for their latest summer worker, Kate, the Critters threw a grilled pizza party for her last meal at DR before heading home. Here, Chef Bagels got a little "floury" with his cuisine! Photo by Nik.

In appreciation for their latest summer worker, Kate, the Critters threw a grilled pizza party for her last meal at DR before heading home. Here, Chef Bagels got a little “floury” with his cuisine! Photo by Nik.

It was a fairly typical summer week in some ways– a few hot and muggy days, some welcome rain, and a couple downright cool nights, not to mention the usual heaps-of-stuff going on — yet in other ways it was anything but the usual. Tereza here with the news from Dancing Rabbit…

Perhaps the biggest happening this week is one of those bad news/good news stories: Ashly was in a car accident Wednesday night. The good news is she’s OK, and it was an extremely lucky thing. The car was totaled, but landed on the exact right fence post in the exact right way so that things were not very much worse for her. There was also an amazing show of help from our neighbors. I’ll quote from an email Alline wrote to Rabbits to let us know what had happened:

“When Jennifer and I arrived at the scene, there must have been 75 first responders. Dozens of trucks and cars with flashing lights. Someone with a big rig set up with his flashers about half a mile from the crash to slow and divert traffic. It was an amazing example of community and working together. Wayne Winn was there and was especially helpful in getting details to us as they tried to extricate Ashly… It was very, very scary. … We have kind neighbors.”

Ashly, and all of us who love her, want to express our great appreciation to everyone who helped, especially Sean Huff, who called the emergency and DR numbers for her. Ashly especially wants to express her thanks to the unknown woman who sat and prayed with her while those calls were being made. Whoever you are, please know that she very much appreciated your support in that difficult time. We are all so grateful that she is OK, and that we live in a place where we can count on our neighbors when things get tough. We all look forward to her full and speedy recovery.

In other bad/good news, we said farewell to Rachel and Tony, who left for California and their 6-12 month sabbatical this week. The good part is that we had a lovely, tear-and laughter-filled goodbye party for them. There were spoken appreciations, a puppet show, cupcakes (mmmm!), the presentation of a book filled with memories (and more appreciations) for the two of them, and (of course!) a dance party in the Casa after. Appreciations ran the gamut from teary to funny. Adriana ended her hilarious offering with the more serious and universally-agreed-upon summary: “Because you always inspire, always encourage; because this place wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you, and it certainly won’t be the same without you.”

Saturday night Dan held a performance of covers and originals in the Casa. Mark from Red Earth opened with his own original song for Tony and Rachel, which was lovely. Dan played two guitars (no, not at the same time!), harmonica, and what I think he said was an Appalachian dulcimer. The music was great, and the appreciative audience made for a fun night out. I love living with such talented folks!

After one of his original songs, a hilarious oldie but goodie about the Y2K bug, Dan mentioned that we shouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves humming the tune later… Yup, it’s catchy all right. Even my usual earworm-destroying technique of singing the words to the Gilligan’s Island song to the tune of Amazing Grace (or vice versa) has not been able to get it out of my head… Thanks, Dan!

An all-day consensus and DR process training took place on Friday, with the incoming Village Council folk required to attend, and a number of new and not-so-new Rabbits in attendance as well. Laird did the consensus piece, with Kassandra presenting the DR process part.

As we’ve grown as a community and transitioned from full-group consensus to the Council model, many areas are in flux and we are still finding clarity on some things. It can be confusing at times, even for old-timers like me, so I appreciate the chance to get together and go through it with other folks who are interested in governance and decision making.

[Insert time travel noises here]… going back in time a wee bit, Ted forgot to mention in last week’s update that we had an excellent presentation from Brooke and Professor Josh Lockyer about the results of last year’s eco-audit research. The whuh? Brooke (with the help of a number of research assistants) studied our ecological impact and quality of life last year, compared our data to mainstream America, and wrote her PhD thesis about the results.

Part of the research included presenting the results to Rabbits, most of whom probably aren’t going to read all 2 zillion pages of thesis-speak (yes, that is an exaggeration, but I saw her Facebook posts while she was writing and I bet she would agree it sometimes felt like zillions…). The data was presented well, and we of course had not-quite-zillions of questions (“Does the water usage figure for the average American include rainwater catchment?” “Does that vehicle miles data include kids?” “Will you please take out — um, we mean weigh and do data analysis of — our trash and recycling again?” etc.).

It was fun to be all together in one room with my community and see data on a screen that says we really are doing things differently here, and that what we’re doing makes a difference. Many of the numbers looked very good, though it was often difficult to gather the data on DR and/or find comparable data for America in general, so I’m glad that this research is likely to continue.

I’m looking forward to refining the process so that we can get ever-better data on where we need to focus to continue lowering our impact. We know that long distance travel is one area we can improve on, and that figuring out how to better measure food impacts is essential. Brooke is planning to write an article for the DR blog that will present the results, again in real-people words, rather than academese, so if you’re interested be on the lookout for that.

All in all, for me at least, the last few weeks have been a time of appreciating the people in our lives and remembering how precious the time we have together is. Thanks to all of you for reading. Now I’m going to go tell someone I appreciate them, and I encourage you to do the same (if that’s hard for you, I promise it gets easier with practice)!

•                    •                   •

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.

What’s the best way to build a green home?

14018004033_190a0e3139_zWhat’s the best way to build a sustainable home? As Lloyd Alter says, location matters most, so to begin, a sustainable home should be at an ecovillage like Dancing Rabbit, or anywhere that doesn’t rely on cars to get around. After that, what type of construction is most sustainable? Of course, it depends on the individual situation.

In Dancing Rabbit’s early days, we strongly considered Earthships as the best way to go. They are self-described as “radically sustainable”, a term DR has applied to itself from time to time. With a holistic approach incorporating energy use, water recycling, food growing, and low-impact building materials, they seemed perfect to address multiple sustainability issues at once.

G2_Global_model_Earthship_Taos_N.M.The extensive reference materials seemed to be a blueprint for green housing (although we couldn’t afford the full construction drawing set, now selling for $3,500). We even considered flying Earthship’s founder out to coach us, but $1,000/day and paying for a first class plane ticket was beyond our modest means. Still, we spent a lot of time poring over the Earthship books and talking about pounding tires.

About that same time, strawbale construction was also starting to make the green building news, thanks to folks like Matts Myhrman and Stephen MacDonald, The Last Straw, and Out on Bale. In the summer of 1995 Tony Sirna and I built a strawbale chicken coop at Sandhill Farm – our first foray into strawbale construction. It seemed to go pretty well (although we hadn’t yet mastered the art of plastering – that would be several years, and umpteen coats of fallen-off plaster, later).

In the end, we settled on strawbale construction over Earthships. At least for our Missouri climate and soil, staying up above the clayey ground seemed the better choice, and straw was plentiful enough in our area.

13994880101_a9a8048acb_b(1)Years later, two news articles remind me of that decision. One is that strawbale construction is in the next version of the international building code. As Andrew Morison puts it, this code “is the basis for the Residential Building Code in virtually every jurisdiction in the US. So once these jurisdictions adopt [the new code], there will be a straw bale code for almost every jurisdiction in the United States.” And it’s a small world – one of the big proponents of the code change was Dan Smith, who was the architect for Skyhouse. Congrats, Dan, and hopefully this code change will make building permitted strawbale buildings easier nationwide in the future.

The other reminder was a more critical piece by green building guru Martin Holladay, “Earthship Hype and Earthship Reality”. If you are interested in green building and don’t read Martin’s blog, you should, and this piece really gets into the details of Earthship construction, since apparently their sustainability claims set off Martin’s “E.A.S., or exaggeration alert system”. While there may be a place for Earthships in some circumstances, their cost and thermal performance issues make me glad that Dancing Rabbit focused in on strawbale in the end.

11519259206_6d9d73de4b_bHow long does a strawbale house last? I don’t know – all the ones I helped build are still standing, and others have been standing for over 100 years). Strawbale construction gives a good balance of affordability, beauty, thermal performance, air sealing (if plastered properly), local materials, and adaptability to a wide range of architectural styles. I can’t say it’s the best possible way to build, but if you want a green building and have straw in your area, you might consider it.


Cecil Scheib is Chief Program Officer at Urban Green Council in New York City. He is a founder of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and a member of its Board of Directors.

News from the Sunflower Kingdom: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Henry keeps cool during the dog days of summer. Photo by Katherine.

Henry keeps cool during the dog days of summer. Photo by Katherine.

The Sunflower Kingdom has again taken root in Ironweed garden, and indeed in much of the land surrounding it here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Ted here with the latest.

Sunflowers are native in this part of the world, and it shows: naturalized sunflowers, descended from various cultivated varieties planted by us in our garden as early as 2004, and re-planted lavishly by the local bird population each year, grow without any help from us in nearly all the cultivated space we tend.

Despite our self-impression of being ever more ruthless each year in culling volunteers before they root deeply in undesirable locations, the sunflowers in our garden every summer manage to look like a forest, with a nearly complete canopy. Last year’s champion reached a measured 17+ feet in height, thick and bony as my forearm, and there are numerous similar contenders each year; so you may understand that in our garden, with such tall, consistent cover, we often dwell in light shade from July through September when the sunflowers reign. That keeps the surface temperature lower, and gardeners happy!

When viewed more closely, it is possible to notice that the gaps in the canopy are strategic, and directly related to the presence of intentionally-cultivated plants we’re maintaining solar access for, like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, carrots, chard, and so on. Some don’t mind a little shade through the day and like the cooler ground temperatures, like the cabbages and kale, so a few sunflowers might be left in those beds. The corn and climbing beans are competitive enough to make it alongside the sunflowers, and I love to watch them vie with each other as the summer grows full.

This past week we hosted a one-week visitor session, which I had unfortunately very little time to participate in. It is times like these that I’m grateful to have lots of other community members willing to do some of the hosting when I can’t. I hope that our visitors had a good experience.

Much of the village energy last week seemed preoccupied with the extensive excavation and installation work going on. Horst Plumbing extended county water lines for us up Main St. and out to several locations radiating from town center, with Kyle directing both that and the installation of his own new rainwater cistern. Meanwhile Illly and Tony were hard at work in various locations on the latest round of laying cable and installing meters for houses to connect to our net-positive power grid, BEDR (Better Energy for Dancing Rabbit).

Progress comes with a cost, with roads and paths torn up, dirt heaped here and there, clay brought to the surface to turn to trenchant mud after the next heavy rain. In the past it has taken a few months for similar excavations to settle and return to more-or-less normal. But for those who’ve been waiting to join the power co-op, and those without running water who will now be able to access water much closer to their homes, this is a good step forward, and contributes ultimately to the continued growth of the village.

A good part of my time last week went to food preservation, starting with dilly beans and pickles. We have officially reached the time of year when the volume of produce coming in dictates that dehydrating, fermenting, and canning must be a primary task if we’d like to have a subsequent abundance in our kitchen when the snow flies and the temperature drops.

This week we’re into a first round of tomato processing. Sara just filled a dehydrator with slices, and we’re set for canning diced tomatoes tomorrow. Dan supplied us with two enormous trays full of the fruit Sunday as part of our CSA share, and soon our own will start coming in. If we’re willing to put in the time, those beautiful jars full of tomato-y goodness will smile back invitingly from the pantry shelves each time we contemplate a cook shift in winter.

At the weekend the Red Hill Rabbits (comprised of players from Red Earth, Sandhill, and Dancing Rabbit) once again journeyed down to the Show-Me State Games to compete in an Ultimate tournament with other teams from around the state. We were missing some of our more experienced players for various reasons, and though we were lucky to have some late additions to the roster, gelled as a team, and played hard, we didn’t manage to win any of our games this year. I still had a great time just being in it, and in spending some extended time off-farm with friends I often only get to see in snatches here and there.

Terra Nova, an intentional community down in Columbia, kindly hosted us once again for overnight tenting and a potluck meal. It is good to have friends in diverse locations, and the opportunity to renew connections now and again.

May your gardens be productive, and your temperatures as mild as ours this summer!

•                    •                   •

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.

Summer Potpourri: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Rachel (front left) took off Wednesday for a 500 mile fundraising bike ride. In true Dancing Rabbit spirit, a group of villagers rode with her to see her off, including her partner Tony (front right). Photo by Dennis.

Rachel (front left) took off Wednesday for a 500 mile fundraising bike ride. In true Dancing Rabbit spirit, a group of villagers rode with her to see her off, including her partner Tony (front right). Photo by Dennis.

It was a dark and stormy night. In fact, I think we had a couple of dark and stormies the past week, in addition to the bright and moonies around the so-called “supermoon”. This is Sam, back from a little hiatus when Cob stepped in to write for me. This week’s update is just a potpourri of different dimensions of DR.

This past week I enjoyed sharing time with other writers in a workshop at the Mercantile. Their artist in residence for the week was poet and friend Frankie, who guided us through writing to prompts and exploring each others’ work.  We came up with some memorable turns of phrase, and some beauties I hope turn up in published work some time. If I can, I’ll try to work the phrase “blistered flicker” into a blog post for you. Someday.

In other news, Rachel is on a 500 mile bike ride with friend-of-the-community Snack, in an effort to have fun and raise some awareness and money for the cause of improving access to disease-free water in Nicaragua. I checked out her website and was impressed by how little money can translate to a major improvement in quality of life.

We were treated to musical performances by Dream Girl and a couple of members of Eyelit. Our entertainment correspondent reports that she loved it, and was impressed especially by Dream Girl’s particular style: “An intriguing mixture of gypsy/cajun/bluesy synth pop, suffused with musical excellence and fun.” They did a show in the Casa Friday night, and a more laid-back acoustic gig at the pond the following afternoon. Rumor has it that the band really enjoyed their time here and intend to return.

The World Cup soccer finals happened, and a few of us watched in the Mercantile or our own homes. I’d tell you who won, but I’m sure if you care you already know. At the same time as the very last game, there was a plenary (aka full group) meeting going on.

Attentive readers may note that we have very few of these now that there’s a Village Council. But we still have plenary meetings for a few reasons, including choosing said Council. The first of two meetings scheduled to work on figuring out who will serve on this year’s Council happened Sunday afternoon.

As it turns out, the group present reached consensus on a slate, so the new Council, starting in September, is chosen and no more meetings, polls, emails, or salons will be needed on that topic this year. It is very unusual for a topic to resolve into a decision in less time than anticipated. Almost as unusual as a world class soccer game ending with a score of 7-1.

Our internal power co-op, BEDR, upgraded some equipment this week, at the cost, in addition to money, effort, and time on the part of co-op administrators and workers, of a half day of no power for those of us without batteries. It wasn’t too bad. We lived right through it.

Friend-of-the-community Lu is moving out of her house in Gorin, and sold her greenhouse to Cob, who enlisted the help of many able bodies to move it down to the rental gardens for folks to use who don’t have seed starting spaces in their own homes and greenhouses. It should be ready for use next growing season.

Throughout all of that, imagine us all sweaty from the humidity, and itchy from all sorts of plant and insect ailments, and some of us stuffy from allergies or sick from a stomach bug. There’s also always the sense that some folks are experiencing their dreams being bigger than their beings, and feeling their days are a little stuffed. The pond feels blessedly refreshing, and is well populated these days, especially in the afternoons. Floating on tubes with friends is a simple way to experience gratitude for the place we live, and the efforts of those who dreamed big before us.

•                    •                   •

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.

Community Corroboree: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Rehana plays her very unique rendition of "House of the Rising Sun". Photo by Amber.

Rehana plays her very unique rendition of “House of the Rising Sun”. Photo by Amber.

is a word that we don’t often enough hear. It’s an Australian term for a rowdy gathering or meet up. Its true meaning, though, is far more complex. Not only does it include physically bringing people together from different areas, but the meeting of minds, ideas, and philosophies to promote social and spiritual growth.

Nik writing this week, to bring you affirmation that, yes, communities need corroboree—be it festivals, block parties, quinceañeras, or an all-singing/all-dancing/cooking/natural-building team talent show…This last is precisely what occurred at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage last Saturday afternoon; it was a true corroboree of DR, Sandhill, Red Earth Farms, and Rutledge.

After a listless, rainy morning (the kind where everyone is content with the lazy grayness) four teams of four contestants each dragged each other, kicking and singing, to go have some fun! After the first round of song and dance stylings, the whole Casa de Cultura was in it for the long, happy haul.

A bevy of talented mermaids, voices, artists, and noses…yes, noses…all represented. For such a closely-knit community, some hold their cards very close to their chests. Who knew a nasal-flautist/contortionist was in our midst?

An Iron Chef-inspired cooking competition was underway next, utilizing the mystery ingredient: Chia seed! For anyone fortunate enough to have not had the…pleasure…to dine on the snotty, yet subtly crunchy, coagulant taste sensation that is chia seed, be glad to have not been in the judges’ box. That said, the dishes were creative, beautifully plated, and (dare I say it) even tasty. No doubt, years of needing to become culinary alchemists to feed others on a sometimes-vegan, sometimes-gluten-free, sometimes-raw, sometimes-paleo, foraged, local, and seasonal diet of many hungry rabbits and visitors, has made for many scrappy and capable cooks.

Lastly, in true ecovillage style, there was a natural building competition. Using only cob (the muddy and durable building material of straw, sand, and…mud) and any other natural-found materials, teams built fairy houses. The tiny house movement had nothing on these abodes. Flowers, branches, reeds, sticks, skulls, all were constructed into beautiful fairy-sized dwellings. There was a brief “parade of homes” and then the victors were crowned. The day was theirs.

And just the day before, a spelling bee for adults was put on. My face still hurts days later from the laughter.

To me, seems that as the village hosts visitors and guests, we put a lot of energy and excitement into those duties, and as the latest visitor session ended early, we had a lot of extra energy with no place to go…I, for one, am glad it went into fun and corroboree.

The tail end of that energy could still be caught, because we have one more (one week) visitor session in July! Visit the website for more info on signing up to see the village, learn techniques, see life work here, and eat your weight in chia seeds! (Maybe not that last one…)

Just like anywhere, life here isn’t always fun and easy, but when we come together for the sake of gathering minds, talent, and creativity, I find that there is no place like it. Hours and days and weeks of hard work on the behalf of many community members go into governance, policy writing, volunteer work, economics, and infrastructure, and that has made Dancing Rabbit run smoothly as a village and an entity. But truly it’s the hours of time we take to connect with one another that make us laugh until our faces hurt, hug, sing, and also connect by communicating difficult truths, that really keeps a village going. To create community, create corroboree.

 •                   •                  •

Please note! As Nik mentions, there are just a few spots left in our upcoming 1-week visitor program, July 14 – 21. If you’ve been wanting to visit Dancing Rabbit, now is your chance! Email us at dancingrabbit@ic.org to request an application!

 •                   •                  •

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.

Songs of Summer: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Detail of the new mural adorning the Larkspur household. Photo by Nik.

Detail of the new mural adorning the Larkspur household. Photo by Nik.

I don’t know about you, but I really look forward to the “fat” time of year. This is the time when abundance verges on overwhelm, and we do all of the work (fun) that is needed to preserve our bounty for the coming year. The corn is hip-height; the tomato plants stretch their limbs upward and outward at an almost real-time perceptible pace and the summer squash is threatening us with suffocation if we don’t run for our lives. Oh, and the hearty volunteer plants. Summer is here!

It’s Julie here, writing to you this week with a good night’s rest behind me, and a love for writing within me. This past Sunday, farmer Dan Durica harvested the first three tomatoes of the season from his hoop house, and sweetly gave me two of them! In another few weeks, our gardens will be bursting with so much produce that one would need to be impeached from a rational state of being to not be flooded with a sense of warm gratitude.

I can’t convey how wonderful it feels to not have to wear 5 pairs of pants to walk outside! This past winter seems as though it was a very well-written and -directed Sundance Film Festival documentary that happened to some Antarctic ecovillage. That wasn’t us. We were merely observers of those poor souls with frozen pipes, -35 degree windchills, unplowed roads, and dwindling firewood supplies.

There has been a noticeable increase in live music here at DR as of late. I feel so darn lucky to live in a place where culture migrates to us, and we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in top-notch entertainment without having to walk more than a few paces from our doorsteps.

Dancing Rabbit is a unique place to live in that we seem to be one of the largest destination points for musicians traveling within a 50 mile radius of us. I guess to entertainers we are the most interesting thing on their trek through so many miles of farmland. We were lucky to have been entertained on Friday by singer and songwriter Mark Mazziotti from Red Earth Farms, Brockell Briddle, a local singer and violin player, and The Human Revolution.

The Human Revolution sang many original songs that were performed in front of thousands of people before us, with personal and eco-political themes that we felt honored to bear witness to. I can’t think of anyone who would disagree with the idea of wanting healthier babies, healthier bodies, and cleaner air to breathe as the result of cleaner and more stringent environmental practices.

One of the songs The Human Revolution performed was about the recent federal deregulation to grow hemp. It is now up to individual states to decide for themselves if they wish to grow this crop. Grown for industrial purposes for over 12,000 years, hemp is supremely versatile in that it produces many food items, such as oil, milk, nut butter, salad dressing, flour, and cereal. Hemp is also a superior plant for clothing, rope, animal bedding and feed, paper, biofuels, biodegradable plastic, and oil-based paint. It’s even used as a replacement for wood in construction, and as a substitute for fiberglass in insulation when mixed with lime. The list of uses hemp provides is exhaustive. Now that this plant is slowly becoming legalized, I encourage you to consider contacting your state representatives in support of producing a crop that will reduce the use of pesticides, the clear-cutting of our forests, and the production of plastics that will remain in landfills for hundreds of thousands of years to come.

It was refreshing to listen to music that not only moved me on a personal level, but on an educational, environmental, and political level as well. It’s not too often that the music I listen to directly inspires me to research the latest laws surrounding a politically charged topic. I believe our world could be a different place if mainstream music would inspire us all the way the way The Human Revolution did for me.

 •                   •                  •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. We offer a free tour to the public at 1 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month, April through October. Find out more about us by visiting our our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Ecological Cooking—Solar Ovens: How to Cook with Sunshine!

Kassandra cooks dinner in the big solar oven.

Kassandra cooks dinner in the big solar oven.

In this second installment in her series on Ecological Cooking, Dancing Rabbit member Sam offers solar oven information and cooking tips.

On a sunny day at Dancing Rabbit, it’s hard to miss, or forget, the unfurled reflective panels of solar ovens being used in front of homes and buildings throughout the village.

We have one very large solar oven in our courtyard, central to several kitchens. It’s big enough for several large pans of food at once, and available to anyone who wishes to use it. Many individual families and co-ops have smaller solar ovens, some home-made, and several Sun Oven brand, which are available online and a pretty solid little go-to oven for single family size eating co-ops.

If you want to build your own solar oven, the internet is abundant with instructions to suit almost any purpose or budget.

Most of us are familiar with the concept: on a sunny day the interior of a car acts like a solar oven. The sun radiates energy through the glass, where it is trapped and heat builds up. In a solar oven that heat can be captured and put to use for cooking.

Cooking in solar ovens required a little more patience, planning, and luck than cooking in a propane or wood-fired oven. Solar ovens only work on sunny days, and as the sun’s position in the sky changes with the time of day, it helps to periodically turn the oven to intercept the sun’s rays most perpendicularly.

On the other hand, solar ovens use no fuel, create no air pollution, and dump no heat into the kitchen, making it a no-brainer for slow-cooked meals on sunny summer days. Given good insulation and seals, the captured heat accumulates, and effectively cooks anything you could cook in a propane or natural gas oven, up to about 300-350°F.

The easiest things to cook in the sun oven are those that won’t suffer from occasional drops in temperature due to a cloudy spell or imperfect aiming. Granola, bar cookies, batter breads, stews, and grains are the foods I see most often in our solar ovens.

Yeast breads do fine, though they take a little longer to bake than in a hotter oven, and might be less forgiving. Drop cookies work pretty well, too. When the forecast is sunny, there’re abundant options for solar oven meals, and that’s not to mention that a solar oven can be used to purify water by boiling or evaporation, or simply heat it enough for bathing or dish washing.

Be careful cooking beans in the solar oven, especially kidney beans,
because if you don’t get them up to 212°F, you might experience food
poisoning caused by hemagglutinin, a naturally-occurring chemical. To
make matters worse, if your bean temperature reaches 175°F, that will
actually increase the toxicity. A way around that problem is to boil
your beans on the stove for 10 minutes to destroy the toxin before
adding them to the dish in your solar oven.

There’s some disagreement among Rabbits over the absolute best type of cookware for use in a solar oven, but there are some universal understandings. Most importantly, your solar oven dish should fit in your solar oven. Finding just the right shape dish can be the quest of many a flea market excursion.

Next, anything very reflective, like shiny silver or white, is out, because if the light is being reflected off the dish, it’s not being absorbed and re-emitted as heat into the food. (Reflection can be useful outside the oven: having reflective panels that aim even more light into the oven can be a big help.)

Also important, especially for stews and casseroles, is a well-fitting lid, both to keep the heat and moisture in the food, but also to keep the glass from steaming up and blocking the sunlight from getting in. The right shape, the right albedo, plus a fitting lid? You’ve got a good enough solar oven dish.

Beyond those basics are a couple of choices. As to whether the lid should be clear or dark colored and opaque, my assessment is that it probably only makes a little difference, and one might be better in some situations and the other in others. Try both yourself and see what works for you.

Then there’s the question of thermal mass. Some folks like heavy dishes and others thinner. The former will hold more heat in the dish, ameliorating changes in temperature caused by clouds or the sun’s movement, while the latter will heat up faster. Which is best for you will depend on your cooking style, the weather, and what you intend to cook. Either will probably work, so don’t worry too much about it.

Building a very simple solar oven is the work of an afternoon, and could be a good hands-on science lesson for kids. A more involved version, with tight seals, good insulation, and abundant interior volume, could be an excellent investment against future energy bills, and a positive step toward a more sustainable lifestyle and a less polluted environment.

•                       •                       •

Sam’s had experience as a scientist, a sailor, a dive guide, a bartender, a housewife, a teacher, a farmer, a vagabond, and a business owner before coming to live at Dancing Rabbit in 2009 with her son. Now Sam spends her time working online, homeschooling, watching Netflix, doing committee work for DR, reading, writing, running a couple of tiny businesses, doing humey for hire, and occasionally gardening.

Give Those Chickens Space: A Dancing Rabbit Update

In preschool this week, the kids melted down their crayon nubs to make brand new rainbow crayons! Photo by Katherine.

In preschool this week, the kids melted down their crayon nubs to make brand new rainbow crayons! Photo by Katherine.

Howdy folks. Ben here, relaying to you another communique from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, though weary from a typical morning of tromping through mud, visiting my sheep, and seeking a dry roll of toilet paper.

As a gardener who doesn’t believe in watering his garden except in extreme emergencies (I am selecting for seeds that handle neglect), I am much pleased with the minor squall that rolled across us yesterday afternoon. As a person building his own home out of mud pies, I am somewhat saddened by the suddenly sodden nature of our construction zone. After yet another improvised single-person trenching in the downpour work party, I can happily report that I have staved off foundational flooding on a particularly tricky below grade corner of my home. At this moment, after the fourteen hours with a trenching shovel, my sandals still feel like a pair of squishy, muddy fish tied to my feet.

The Summer Solstice has come and gone, and once again I have watched my circadian rhythms go aflutter with the current preponderance of daylight. Readers of my previous correspondences might recall that I am often unaware of what all is going on at Dancing Rabbit, being trapped as I am in the often nearsighted business of managing a micro-sustainable homestead. This is particularly true at this time of year, when some sort of ancient survival instinct is triggered in me and I am unable to stop working, thinking, and doing. Don’t worry about me; I’ll start eating three meals a day again this winter. Hopefully I needn’t poke any more holes in my belt. Actually, the conditions I operate under may lead to the development of some type of easily consumable superfood. I’m thinking some combination of miso, coffee, Gatorade, and gravy that can be loaded into a drinking tube.

Glancing at the calendar I am suddenly aware that I am nearing the one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking of my house, the Foxhole. Although I haven’t conditioned myself to mixing two batches of cob before breakfast yet, the time is nigh. I do take breaks, most of them in the outhouse, which serves a double function for me. The primary function I’m sure you understand, and the secondary is as a sensory deprivation chamber.

I am making hay while the sun shines, quite literally, and with no help from any moving parts other than my elbows, my knees, and a couple of wheels. If conditions are right, I calculate that I can make approximately one week of stored winter forage for our animals with six hours of labor, utilizing a scythe, a rake, a pitchfork, and a cart. Is this economically feasible? I don’t really care. It’s more fun to me than working some other job to make the money to buy some hay that I know little about. I am also considering some other forms of winter fodder that can be gathered and stored, such and nettle hay (40% protein, I read it on the internet), buckwheat hay, honey locust pods, and perhaps my own small scale silage fermented in steel drums with corn, sunflower, sorghum, and sunchoke stalks. They probably don’t make much mention of these things in ag school, but I didn’t go there. Of course, I didn’t need to study too many books to figure out that cows need grass and chickens need space, and that eggs needn’t travel 2,000 miles to be eaten.

Though gathering food and firewood, collecting solar energy, catching water, and building a comfortable, practical home may all seem to be efforts in self-sufficiency, I would like to impress upon the reader that these activities aren’t merely provisions for my own survival. As a communitarian, and a human being alive at this time in history, I consider my survival mutualized. That is to say that from the personal, to the family, to the wider community, on through to the regional and global levels, we humans are not self-sufficient; we simply cannot be. I would perish without the animals I depend on for food and livelihood, the people who care for me and barter their own surplus for mine, and all the other entities, seen and unseen, who participate in our collective survival. I could raise all my own grain, make robes of buckskin, and flint-knap arrowheads and still need to relinquish my control to the larger ecosystem, and the smaller ring of comrades who support our mutual survival. I may be an individualist, but I am not blind to cooperation.

When will the toil end up here on my little hill of dirt? Probably never, and I like it that way. My work, frantic as it may sometimes be, keeps me connected to the very things I want to preserve for the future. Until recent times, I have been unaware of the properties of the different grasses, unable to read the sky for a weather forecast, unlearned in the variations of birdsong and frogsong. It keeps me connected to my human family too, as we all muddle about our business, processing greens for winter nourishment, catching sheep in a challenging game of red rover with my fellow part time shepherds, and the inexorable human powered migration of buckets to and fro across the village, transporting clay, compost, water, and the occasional chicken viscera (all of these things truly the stuff of life, or at least the stuff of my life) from where it was to where it needs to be.

I do look forward to rocking on my porch when I’m old and making the young’uns listen to me, no matter how off-topic I get; but in order to achieve this life goal, I need to put in the work now.

Yammering to folks about what you did and what you learned is a privilege, in my book, and one I do not consider open to all comers. I try not to offer advice in my young age, merely speculation. July marks year one for my clan and me in the terms of the rest of our lives. We built a little home and a little farm, and now the real work begins. Even if I continue to work as hard as I do and receive the support I have been getting, I will have a full lifetime of work ahead of me before I can take a rest that is actually restorative (that is to say, not until I reach the age where I ought to be dead). Like I said, I’m fine with that. And even if I run out of work to perform for myself, there will always be ways in which I can, and have to, contribute to the survival of our whole planet…even if that simply means telling folks what to do and how to do it.

Now give those chickens some more space, and pull your pants up!