by Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig
Frank of Deep Green Machine cuts the door into a shipping container (now the Grocery Store) last summer. Photo by Nik.
As the Executive Director of Dancing Rabbit’s non-profit arm, I get the fun task of sending out an annual update. How best to capture a year in a place like Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage? DR is such a mix of idealism, fun, activity and contemplation that it’s hard to do it justice by quoting a bunch of stats or trying to objectively summarize the year. So, I’m not even going to try.
I’ve instead picked ten trends, happenings and growth points to highlight for you. Think of it as a free-range update if you like. It roams from village happenings to non-profit ones, and from the philosophically high-minded to delightfully quirky details of daily life in a midwestern ecovillage.
Our diversity of approaches
While our LEAF, an all-electric vehicle, shows how DR makes use of modern technology to help fulfill our mission, the occupation of the hand-crafted home called Robinia is at the other end of the techie spectrum. Builder-owners Dennis and Sharon moved in on the fifth anniversary of the day they started work on their permaculture-integrated and artistic home.
On the other side of the village, the new Grocery Store offers another approach: a reclaimed shipping container is now home to our self-serve, bulk foods store.
There is a LOT of diversity within the village when it comes to sustainability, which is one of the things that makes us a strong, realistic demonstration. We have vegans and organic meat producers, both motivated by a deep love of the planet. We have people who work on computers, and people who work the land. Pick pretty much any sustainability issue, and we are probably mindfully embodying different approaches.
The economic development conundrum
One of the more interesting aspects of creating a small town from the ground up is creating an economy from the ground up. The heart of the matter is this: how do you materially create a culture that is ecologically sustainable and socially just? While the ELM system (our local currency) continues to grow every year, and there is more paid work of greater variety here than ever before, we are still asking ourselves serious questions about what “affordable” means, and what role the village itself should play in economic development.
While state and federal governments contemplate raising the minimum wage, we are similarly contemplating big economic questions, such as how to balance business and village infrastructure development with our DIY urges and desire to remain the most affordable ecovillage in the US. It is especially interesting to be having the conversation within the bubble of northeastern Missouri’s perpetually depressed economy: what small town in middle America isn’t struggling with economics?
Stay tuned while we continue to develop our answers to these questions.
Press inquires— oodles of ‘em
2014 was a record year for press inquiries. Communications Coordinator Tereza Brown spent many an hour considering whether we should have yet another TV crew come and put their spin on DR. While we’ve always had a relatively open door policy with the press, we’ve never seen this much interest, and at one point, Tereza was juggling three different reality TV inquiries. When Forbes.com and Al Jazeera come knocking, and we get a casual mention in The Guardian, we know something interesting is happening.
On the one hand, sustainable, cooperative living is still enough of an oddity that reality TV wants a piece of it. On the other hand, serious press is taking us seriously. Progress? Depends on how you look at it, but it certainly has our attention.
On a lighter note, there’s jam…
Just a few of this season’s fresh jams. Photo by Nik.
…as in the sweet, gooey kind, not the music kind (though we had a bunch of that, too). After focusing for years on getting the Milkweed Mercantile Eco Inn up and running, this year Mrs. Milkweed (aka Alline Anderson) turned her attention to her culinary passion: the making of jam.
And boy, did she make jam! Peach Jam, Earl Grey Jelly, Plum Spice Jam, Watermelon and Cantaloupe Jellies…
Those of us who frequent Sunday breakfast at the Mercantile have been quite happily overwhelmed with the whopping 27 varieties of Alline’s best, many of the recipes featuring local fruits and vegetables.
Alline (a bibliophile of the highest order) also wrote a sweet little jam cookbook this summer, which afforded her the chance in our weekly coordination meeting to say, with a nearly straight face, “The release party for my new book will be…” Priceless. And one of the little pleasures that makes DR a lovely place to live.
One of the best evenings of the year happened this past summer, when we packed the Great Room to overflowing to watch the slideshow and report from the 2013 eco-audit, the Master’s thesis work of DR (now) resident, Brooke Jones. While we have a lot of fun around here, we take our commitment to sustainability very seriously, and I know I came in holding my breath, wondering… are we really doing as well as we think?
Turns out the answer is yes! We really are right around the 10% mark of average US resource consumption in the categories I bragged about in my TEDx talk in 2013. We look forward to another year of research, as well as more activity spreading the word about what’s possible, and are hoping to get a deeper analysis of our food consumption (which it turns out is pretty complex to measure accurately) as well.
Dancing Rabbit is a secular community that, over the years, has slowly evolved to being a place that strongly supports members in their spiritual and personal development, while continuing to have no requirements around such things.
Two members of Men’s Group support each other at Tamar’s graveside service.
This year brought various workshops our way, The Gift of Anger, Mental Health First Aid, Vedanta Yoga, and Shamanism among them. We continue to use Restorative Circles regularly for conflict resolution, and have daily meditation and regular yoga, lots of co-counseling happening, and many individuals investigating their own growth edges, from Ken Wilbur’s work on integral spiral dynamics to good old fashioned prayer. Both men’s group and a couple different women’s circles are going strong, supporting their attendees’ emotional well-being. Some days I think we could be a living testament to that COEXIST bumper sticker, and I think we are all better off for it.
One of the things I love about Dancing Rabbit is that we aren’t pretending to be a finished product, and as I see my fellow community members digging deep into their own growth, I have hope that the combination of humility and creativity that got us here will continue to be the norm of how we operate.
One of the most painful events our country endured this year was the death of yet another black man under morally baffling circumstances. The subsequent protests and attention on race in this country is likely to go down in history as one of the most important things that happened this year in the US.
While Ferguson is only a few hours south of us, it would be easy to think of it as another world entirely: an urban, primarily black neighborhood is surely a far cry from a rural, primarily white ecovillage, right? This could make it very easy for us to distance ourselves, and yet I don’t think that’s the right answer.
I work as the Executive Director of a non-profit, the sector of society that is supposed to be working for our collective good in some way or another. What Ferguson has done for me, as an ED, is pushed me to ask—sometimes at 3 am—ever deeper versions of: “How relevant are we, and for whom?”
Suddenly everything is tinged with greater importance, and many of us have been appropriately sobered by having the spotlight firmly on race. So, at Dancing Rabbit, are we really contributing something to a world that can work for everyone?
There are a few pieces that I’ve been rolling around about this. I feel sure, for instance, that what DR offers is a world less materially driven and more people-driven. Our culture’s rampant materialism is one of the biggest factors in the increasing wealth— and social— inequalities in America, inequalities that hit people of color disproportionately hard.
Second, I’m encouraged that more people of color are visiting and getting involved with DR, and that we had visitors from 8 different countries this year. I’m also sure that our work will ultimately benefit the world at large—regardless of race, class or country. If we manage to slow down climate disruption and resource depletion, that’s for the public good.
And yet, it’s important for all of us to keep checking in and asking ourselves, “For whose benefit are we working?” and taking time for real contemplation. I personally don’t expect to be done with this one any time soon, and yet am encouraged that a number of others here seem to be similarly contemplative about this.
Really awesome new Board members
“Dancing Rabbit” is really two related entities: an ecovillage whose job is to build a demonstration project on sustainable living, and a non-profit whose job is to show the ecovillage off and ensure what we are learning is relevant and accessible to others.
This year, our non-profit was joined by five remarkable new Board members: Lydia Olchoff (a fireball who spends her days as a financial planner); Ed Pultz (a founding member of Sandhill Farm 40 years ago, and currently the kind of lawyer who isn’t much into suing people); Dr. Josh Lockyer (the professor from Arkansas Tech University who oversaw the above-mentioned eco-audit thesis, and who has taken a long term interest in the sustainable aspects of Intentional Communities); Melissa Carlson (an architect with credentials in both natural building and green design, and a Community Supported Ag advocate); and Dr. Chong Kee Tan (co-founder of Bay Bucks and a long-time activist around freedom of the press and democracy in Asia).
2014 saw the first strategic planning process the non-profit has ever done, and between that work and this amazing new bunch of folks, I feel the wind in our sails like never before. Expect Dancing Rabbit to be a bigger player than ever in changing our world over the next few years, in large part because we’ve recruited terrific new partners to help us get it done.
Climate disruption consciousness
Tri-communitarians young and old marched down DR Main Street for the world-wide Climate March in September.
This past spring, a number of us found ourselves dropping suddenly into much deeper awareness of how climate disruption has already entered our lives. While we are in general a very sustainability-oriented bunch, this year saw a surge in our self-education and attention on climate disruption.
Village members watched various films, had many conversations, and attended a presentation from Earth Deeds founder Daniel Greenburg. (The latter happened in the context of DR hosting joint meetings of the Fellowship for Intentional Community and the Global Ecovillage Network North America.)
A contingent of current and former Rabbits were among the 400,000 people who marched in New York in September, while a somewhat smaller contingent marched in solidarity here at home down Main Street.
This year also saw the founding of a Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL) chapter in NEMO, while one of our founders, Tony Sirna, is now in California working for the organization. While many of us see our daily lives as our main climate action, some have also become more politically active through CCL: meeting with our Senator’s staffers, writing letters, and making phone calls.
The upshot is that we are getting more active on this issue. I’m planning a national speaking tour this year that will address climate disruption and the practical solutions DR offers to this, the most pressing global challenge of our time. In the meantime, two books I strongly recommend about climate disruption are Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. And stay tuned for Dancing Rabbit’s own educational offerings on this topic in 2015.
Margery corrals her clutch down the path. Photo by Nik.
That’s right, ducks. One of the many benefits of sharing community space with the subcommunity known as The Critter Collective is the collective abundance of critters in our lives. This includes goats, chickens, a miniature donkey, and ducks (as well as one adorable small child).
The Critters have played a major role in providing organic, locally-raised meat for the carnivorous among us, as well as sparking my favorite moment of Critter Ben’s comedic genius this year: rendered duck fat shall forever more be known as “Crème de la Quack” in the Rabbit lexicon.
But the ducks I’m talking about are the ones that wandered, truly free-range-like, about the village roads, ponds, and woodsy patches all year. Starting out as ducklings (which the dogs and cats somehow miraculously left alone), we watched them grow up to be their current flock of six lovely, egg-producing mamas. Many a lousy mood was shifted by the sheer goofy sweetness and cross-species delight of having ducks literally waddle across Main Street in front of me, quacking gleefully to each other the whole way. Pure. Gold. Goofball.
So that’s it! Ten snippets from the village and nonprofit this year. I hope you’ve gotten a terrific start to your own 2015, and look forward to the adventures this next year might bring us all.
Dancing Rabbit Inc
P.S. Thanks so much to everyone who donated at the end of the year to our non-profit! We raised $33,172 this year. That’s $10,002 more than last year, and a big boost for our work heading into 2015. Thanks for being in it with us!