Stacking Functions: When is a Garden More Than a Garden?

Sharon waters a great example of stacked functions: Robinia’s rooftop garden. Photo by Dennis.

Sharon waters a great example of stacked functions: Robinia’s rooftop garden. Photo by Dennis.

A Permaculture Nugget

We’re offering several of the following “permaculture nuggets” over the weeks leading up to the Permaculture Design Course. Please enjoy!

When is a garden more than a garden? When it’s designed using the creative Permaculture Principle of “Stacking Functions.” Everything in a permaculture design has more than one use!

Robinia, my house at Dancing Rabbit, is a great example of stacking functions – the garden is literally “stacked” on the roof. Designed with a very walkable pitch, and covered with 10 inches of soil, the roof provides open space to grow food. My partner Dennis and I have successfully grown potatoes, squashes, greens, and tomatoes on top of Robinia.

But that’s not all the garden does! The thick layer of earth on the roof mediates the temperatures inside the house. In the winter it’s warmer than it would be with a metal roof, and in the summer it’s cooler.  And that means we burn less wood in the winter and use less electricity to cool the house in the summer.

And rather quietly, the rooftop garden is also capturing carbon. The plants on the roof – cultivated and non-cultivated – replace the ground level prairie grasses destroyed when the house foundation was dug. The garden on the roof takes in carbon in a way a metal or shingled roof never could.

Dennis and I like to mention at least one more function for Robinia’s rooftop garden: it provides a great place for watching sunsets!

You can learn more about “stacking functions” and many other permaculture principles at the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, August 29-Sept. 6. Earn a permaculture design certificate while experiencing life in an ecovillage! Click here for more information and course registration.

Sharon has lived at Dancing Rabbit for the past six years. She has studied and practiced permaculture for close to twenty years, receiving an advanced design certificate and, most recently, a teaching certificate. She is the author of a permaculture curriculum for children, and will apprentice teach with Bill and Becky Wilson at Dancing Rabbit’s permaculture design course in August.

All is not lost: A Dancing Rabbit Update

We're building a village! Joe finishing up the hand-dug foundation on his new house. Photo by Dennis.

We’re building a village! Joe finishing up the hand-dug foundation on his new house. Photo by Dennis.

Phew! Hot and stormy, wet and muggy, tons going on— must be summertime at DR!

Tereza here with the news of the week that was, or at least what I can recall of it from my memory, word from community mates, and the info on my calendar…

Three tri-community folk had birthday events this week. On Monday Sandhill’s Mica hosted a “try”athlon, where everyone was welcome to take part in any or all of the following: a bike ride from Sandhill to Red Earth, a walk or run from Red Earth to DR, and a swim across DR’s largest pond. I was in the contingent of folks hoping to help Red Earth’s Kim celebrate her birthday by hanging out at the event’s end and watching our more active community mates do their stuff.

Or at least that was the plan. But turns out the race actually started on time, and as I was nearing the pond I heard a lot of congratulatory yells, marking the end of the event. Upon arrival I found many wet and happy tryathletes bearing their race numbers and homemade awards, and joined them for celebratory monkey bread (made by Kim in her bread oven), as well as popcorn and other treats. I also got to wish my friends happy birthday, hear highlights of the race from some the kids, and connect with others for a bit before heading home and getting back to work.

Before returning to the birthday topic, I want to mention how much I love that I’ve created a life for myself in which such flexibility is possible. I can’t quite imagine any of my former bosses letting me leave in the middle of a busy Monday to do such a thing! I also couldn’t help but notice my improved attitude once I returned to the computer, leading me to wonder how much more productive my former work life might have been had it included such pleasant interludes…

Thursday was a big birthday— Cob’s 50th! Former Rabbits Sam and Kody made a surprise visit in time for it, and golly it’s been nice seeing them around the village again! Illly created a spectacle that evening, which was planned to consist of the birthday co running down Main Street and bursting through a structure of flaming thin wood-strips.

In my excellent seat on the screened Milkweed Mercantile porch, I enjoyed chatting with visitors and Inn guests during the lead up to the fiery event. Cob, quite wisely in my mind, asked Nathan to be his proxy. It was a job well-done, I think, though it happened so quickly that I’m pretty sure I missed the actual moment of impact. Or maybe I just blinked.

In other village news, word on the street is that Joe has finished, or almost finished, the hand-dug foundation for his house! Huge congrats to Joe! Just imagining digging it by hand I’m impressed. Even for a tiny building that’s a lot of work!

Saturday was hot and muggy, with a tornado watch on for much of the afternoon and evening. Most of the worst storms passed us by (thankfully no tornado, or even thunderstorm rating a severe label), but nevertheless there were some exciting wind noises from the trees and turbines during the strongest storms.

Also exciting: so much water and mulch heading downstream, making a lovely muddy mess of the path to my house. Many thanks to the mystery co (I’m guessing Ted or Theo) who scythed the area, making it a bit easier to navigate until I can manifest a little more robust path maintenance. And I so wish I could somehow magic some of the excess water to places that are in drought right now…

From the pictures I saw, it looks like the Rabbits who went to the Green Homes Festival near St. Louis had better weather for their Saturday, not to mention a lot of visitors to the booth. Hooray for reaching out and telling folks about the work we’re doing!

Sunday was a triple whammy event-wise: Father’s Day, Summer Solstice (for those in the northern hemisphere at least), and Red Earth Farm‘s 10th Annual Land Day party! Plus of course the usual Sunday stuff: weekly clean, week in preview meeting, and Village Council meeting. The Mercantile had a Father’s Day brunch, a number of folks held an animal-themed solstice ritual at the fire circle, and lots of folks went to the tour, games, potluck, bonfire and after-party in various locations at Red Earth. Happy Father’s Day, dads, Happy Solstice everyone, and congratulations to our awesome neighbors for reaching a community milestone!

And now for some hard stuff in the week. On Wednesday the tragic, racially-motivated church shooting occurred in Charleston, SC. I didn’t find out about it until Thursday morning, and it affected much of the rest of the week for me, with huge upwellings of sadness, rage, and powerlessness. My heart goes out to all who lost loved ones, along with my fervent hopes and prayers that as a nation we can look openly and honestly at the racial divide that exists and actually do the difficult work of healing it. Real progress on this front often feels slow and hopeless to me, but the words of forgiveness spoken by those who lost family members in the shooting has been a touchstone for me the last few days. I aspire to be more like them, and am humbled in the face of the huge challenge of dismantling racism.

And in another arena of huge and humbling challenge, Thursday also brought the long-awaited climate change encyclical from Pope Francis. I haven’t read all of it (it’s 180-some pages), but the summaries and quotes I’ve seen are… heartening? depressing? I’d say a mixture of both.

Heartening because, wow! Here’s someone with huge moral authority, clearly stating that climate change exists, and is an ethical and moral issue. He says that the dangerous impacts of a changing climate disproportionately affect the poor, and that those of us in developed countries need to make big changes now, not only to take care of the earth the Creator gave us, but also in order to treat our fellow beings well. Yeah. That right there. That’s why I live at Dancing Rabbit. To be part of creating and living the change that needs to happen if we are to be one good and healthy human family sharing one good and healthy planet.

And also depressing, because wow! The Pope says: “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.” Words like these, and many more, describing the devastating impact we are having on our fellow humans and this planet, our only home.

So to close… that’s the week that was, from my perspective. Lots of awesome, lots of major bleck.

I want to stay in a place of hopefulness, of believing that things can get better, that we can do better and be better. But honestly this week it’s been a struggle. I hold tight to my friends, my loved ones, people I admire from afar, and the beauty of nature all around me. And, this week at least, I’m clutching this quote from Pope Francis: “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

Let’s do that, humans. Let’s choose the good. Let’s make a new start.

•                  •                 •

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

A Unique Opportunity!

Permaculture Design Course at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
Aug 29-Sep 6, 2015

Sharon with Aurelia mulching the rooftop garden. Photo by Dennis.

Sharon with Aurelia mulching the rooftop garden. Photo by Dennis.

What do you get when you mix an ecovillage and a permaculture design course (PDC)?  An unparalleled adventure in sustainable, solutions-oriented living!

What is permaculture? In its essence, permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human habitat. On a physical level, the PDC explores ways to work with natural patterns to develop interconnected food, water, energy, and shelter systems. The course takes the very same design framework and applies it to social, economic, and all other aspects of human culture. It’s broad in scope and upliftingly powerful.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is, in its essence, a living experiment in sustainable human habitat.  For the past 17 years, we have developed homes and gardens, rainwater catchment systems, and solar and wind-based energy, all in the context of a prairie environment. We’ve also created a unique social culture, our own governance system, and an ever-evolving economic system based on our own local currency. We’ve experimented, made some mistakes, learned from them, and have lots to share about what we’ve learned.

The Permaculture Design Course at Dancing Rabbit blends theory and inspiration with practical, hands-on, how-to activities. Teachers Bill and Becky Wilson of Midwest Permaculture guide participants to explore the comprehensive, yet simple and practical, solutions-oriented framework that permaculture provides. And Rabbit villagers add to the richness by sharing experiences with creating cooperative culture in intentional community.

At the end of the nine days, participants will have tools and experiences that can apply to any human habitat, whether it’s the prairies of Missouri or a studio apartment in downtown Chicago. Participants also earn a full Permaculture Design Certificate, joining an ever-growing movement of “permies” throughout the world.

There are still a few spaces available in this one-of-a-kind permaculture course held at Dancing Rabbit from August 29 – September 6. Click here to find out more and to register for the course now!

It’s a unique opportunity, and sure to be a life-changing experience!

Sharon has lived at Dancing Rabbit for the past six years. She has studied and practiced permaculture for close to twenty years, receiving an advanced design certificate and, most recently, a teaching certificate. She is the author of a permaculture curriculum for children, and will apprentice teach with Bill and Becky Wilson at Dancing Rabbit’s permaculture design course in August.

Berries, berries everywhere! A Dancing Rabbit Update

Against a backdrop of kale, Aurelia shows some of the black raspberries her mom harvested. Photo by Ted.

Against a backdrop of kale, Aurelia shows some of the black raspberries her mom harvested. Photo by Ted.

While the June-bearing strawberries are starting to taper off now, berry season has just begun. Raspberries and mulberries have been full-on in the past week, and this morning Sara brought in our first major harvest of black raspberries. Not having brought a bowl to the garden, she cradled them in the trough of a very large and healthy cauliflower leaf! Blackberries are ripening and elderberries flowering all around our porch with their light perfume.

Ted here to share this week’s news from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, amidst the first flush of summer’s bounty.

I typically think of summer and think sunny, warm weather with occasional, relatively brief bouts of rain. Not so last year, when it was mild and moist more than not; and this year is following that same pattern so far, despite the few days in the 90′s this past week.

Nearly every day has held some chance of rain or thunderstorm in recent weeks, and most have indeed manifested at least a bit of wet. We have only had a couple major storm events with an inch of rain or more, but the ground has nonetheless stayed sodden, the chicken yard mucky, and the paths impressionable, prone to rutting in places.

As with most weather, some things like it, and some don’t. Cool and moist in the garden favors cabbage, broccoli, and the like— Sara has been bringing in some of the biggest cauliflower we’ve ever grown from our garden. Hotter, drier weather, within reason, favors the nightshades, okra, corn, squashes, and other summer veggies– the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant thrive, and don’t suffer so much from disease pressure, ripening more of their fruit without it rotting.

Among food-producing trees, I have come to the conclusion that pears may be the most trouble-free, steady producers we can grow here. But depending on the variety (some are resistant), they can suffer fire blight in wet conditions. This bacterial infection first desiccates and then blackens foliage in clumps, and fleshy, new growth is most susceptible. The blight pressure this year is heavy on those of our trees that are prone to it.

Thomas this week did some research and then offered a bit of training on pruning to control an infection, including the necessity of dipping one’s pruners in alcohol between each snip to avoid spreading the infection to new locations in the tree or to other trees. I’ve no wish for a drought, but at the moment I and my Seckel pear could definitely go for a string of dry, breezy days to slow the advance of the infection.

Our second visitor session of the season wrapped up its second week today, and several visitors have chosen to start seeking residency here. As a member of our Membership and Residency Committee, that means a series of interviews and getting to know more about these newer folks and how they perceive they’ll plug in to the village, what challenges and excitements they expect to face. It also means helping our village to grow, and that gives me joy.

Earlier in the week erstwhile resident Eric returned to wrap up his affairs in the village before heading off on his next adventure. That included emptying his temporary cabin, “Viking House”, and preparing it for transport to a homestead at Red Earth Farms, next door. Several Dancing Rabbit structures began life at Red Earth, including Wisteria and the Red Tent; this was the first to make the journey the other way.

By the end of the week, the vacated warren space already sported a trench for the foundation of Joe’s new house. Joe’s steady presence out there, slinging mud out of the trenches, reminded me powerfully of doing similar work shortly after I first moved here in 2003. I do not wish to start again from scratch, but it did bring up a little nostalgia for me. Hopefully I can exorcise the longing with the construction of a pottery shed I recently got approved.

Most of the other notable events this week ended up clustering toward the weekend. Friday evening Loren asked the Mercantile to host a dinner of fajitas and margaritas for her birthday, and the cafe turned out excellent steak, chicken, and tempeh fajitas to a crowd of a couple dozen while Loren welcomed friends on the porch. Tres leches birthday cake followed, completing the feast and leading us with happy bellies into a Q&A with visitors that evening.

Saturday night brought a no-talent show at the Casa, with our friends from Yarrow Hill at Red Earth providing both the emcee and a series of humorous “commercials” sprinkled in amongst the various acts. Many acts were musical, including a guitar piece by our youngest visitor (16!), and Aurelia and I in a penny whistle duet; but crowd favorite Mrs. Freud rounded out the evening with her ever-perceptive dream interpretations.

Nathan celebrated his birthday Sunday, and among other things requested a Matrix practice session Saturday afternoon. This set of communication tools, recently brought to our community through a weekend-long training, has caught on, with its focus on the impact of dialogue on interpersonal connections and understanding in building group consensus. We’re still exploring the ways we’d like to use it in village governance and other settings, but it has clearly started to fill in some missing communication pieces for a variety of villagers. Might not sound like the sort of thing most folks would celebrate a birthday with, but then Nathan is not like most people in that respect!

I also completed the electrical work of connecting Nathan’s house to our grid-tied, net-positive, village electrical network, known as BEDR (Better Energy for Dancing Rabbit). Though he’ll continue to rely on his off-grid system for most of his other needs, the connection was necessary to allow the installation of a new, highly efficient heat pump, which Nathan expects will almost entirely eliminate the need for wood heating, improving village air quality in the winter. That seems a good birthday present as well, given Nathan’s concern about this issue over the years.

In the realm of upcoming events, the village is getting excited to host as many as several hundred riders for a leg of the Big BAM, or Bike Across Missouri, on June 26. Various local organizers are working on everything from feeding the bikers passing through to offering them various needed services during their short stay.

Along those lines, the kids of our newly-formed Spiral Scouts group will be pursuing their Nutrition badges by making and offering cookies, kombucha, and herbal sun teas to riders and Rabbits, fundraising for various group needs and camping trips to come.

A group of Rabbits is headed down to St. Louis next weekend to exhibit at the Green Homes Festival, hosted by the Missouri Botanical Garden. We’re looking forward to building ever more connections with other Midwest practitioners and enthusiasts in the green- and natural-building fields.

Finally, excitement is also building about Dancing Rabbit hosting our first Permaculture Design Course later this summer. Midwest Permaculture will lead the event, with help from Rabbit Sharon, and the village will serve as both classroom and playground for the training, while also getting a few of our own trained. You’ll doubtless hear more on this as the summer progresses, so keep an eye out and get in touch if you have interest in participating.

May your own harvests be bountiful as the solstice approaches, and your feet not too muddy!

•                  •                 •

Interested in intentional communities and cooperative culture? Check out the Twin Oaks Communities Conference, September 4 – 7, 2015, in Virginia! The conference is a chance for people interested or involved in intentional communities, cooperatives, and community-based projects and organizations to share ideas, network, and enjoy a weekend together. There will be formal workshops, open space, plus many informal opportunities to cross-pollinate with other community-minded folks.

•                  •                 •

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.

Babies, babies everywhere: A Dancing Rabbit Update

A widdle bunny. Being cute. Which happens a lot here. Photo by Stephanie.

A widdle bunny. Being cute. Which happens a lot here. Photo by Stephanie.

Babies, babies everywhere! Every time I step outside, I see baby bunnies, adorable little balls of fluff, munching on the weeds around our yard. Thankfully they can’t get into our garden, protected by a good rabbit-proof fence, and the garden keeps on producing lettuce and tender, ripe strawberries by the bowlful every day.

This is Stephanie, enjoying the abundance of strawberries AND the abundance of bunnies in all their cuteness, whether they are nibbling on clover or playing games with each other in the yard.

Over in Critterville, babies are everywhere too. This week I got to meet the four sweet little goat kids, Cream, Sugar, Potatoes, and Molasses. By turns frisky, rambunctious, and cuddly, they love to be around people and, of course, to play with each other.

There are ducklings and chicks, bright balls of brown and yellow peeping out from under their mothers’ feathers. There are baby birds in nests all around the village, and proud parent birds anxiously hopping ahead of you when you walk, making sure that you go a safe distance away from their nests. There are seven stray kittens that Loren and Lucas rescued, cared for and found homes for.

And of course there is new life in plant form blossoming all around – allium, pinks, coral bell, chamomile, tansy, flowers of all color and design, beautifying meadows, yards, flower beds, and footpaths. I am grateful for the heavy rainstorm we had on Sunday evening, watering our plants and relieving the humidity and air pressure – followed with a brilliant rainbow.

On Saturday evening many villagers gathered to attend a presentation on climate change, given by members Sharon, Dennis, and Illly. After their training in Iowa with the Climate Reality Project, they practiced pushing their own edges to bring the presentation back to us. With sobering slides, video clips, charts, and other visuals they showed us the latest scientific research on the reality predicted if current carbon emissions trends continue, and what we can hope for if we all work together – personally, nationally, and globally – to change these trends.

It was a vivid reminder of why we are here, and what we are hoping to achieve through living this “ecovillage life”. We can all look inside ourselves, find our comfort zones, and then push those edges a bit farther – whether that means to learn the facts and speak out about climate change, to advocate with our political leaders, to divest from the fossil fuel industry and invest in renewable energy, or to minimize our own consumption and maximize our resource sharing with our communities.

Getting back to the babies topic – I have a baby of my own on the way, and it sure is a sobering reality to know that if current trends continue, most of the United States and the world will be in extreme drought conditions (among many other serious problems) by around 2050, when my child will be 35 years old.

Living “green” isn’t just a lifestyle to make me feel good about myself or to “save the world” for some abstract future generation hundreds of years from now. It’s about more than the baby bunnies, goats, ducklings, chicks, birds, and kittens, and flowers. It’s about our lives and the lives of our children… right here in Missouri and all around the world.

•                  •                 •

Quick note about some upcoming St. Louis-area fun! Rabbits will be exhibiting at the Green Homes Festival, Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the Butterfly House in Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO. There’s no admission charge for this event, which promises to be a “hands-on, day-long festival of learning, playing, and engaging with people of all ages and backgrounds with an interest in sustainable, healthy lifestyles”! Hope to see some of you there!

•                  •                 •

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.

Celebrating Connections: Gleanings from the Speaking Tour

by Ma’ikwe

Maikwe, Josi, & Illly filming a video based on Ma’ikwe’s climate change/DR talk at Hydraulic Pictures in St. Louis.

You may recall that I went on the first part of a National Speaking Tour this spring, where I spread the word about Dancing Rabbit, cooperative culture, and climate change. (Part Two happens this fall. Click here to find out more!)

Throughout my journey there were a thousand moments of laughter, awe, friendship, realness and passion, and dozens of new connections. This post highlights some of the connections I made with other organizations, the remarkable individuals within them, and even some social movements I hope you will appreciate discovering as much as I did. Enjoy!

Locally-specific community organizing: A PLACE for Sustainable Living, Oakland, CA

PLACE: People Linking Art, Community & Ecology, hosted the first ever “Encountering Climate Change” workshop I offered, and is basically a small-sized urban sustainable living project. It’s a terrific answer to a question we get a lot, “Can you do something like Dancing Rabbit in the city?” In my experience the PLACE answer is, “Yes, in many ways, plus you can do some things better.”

PLACE focuses on using art and sustainability to bring people together to experience a bubble of alternative culture. The small property features tiny houses, gardens, and greywater, as well as a community gathering, concert, and teaching space. Like Dancing Rabbit, art and signs of creative problem-solving are everywhere. Also like Dancing Rabbit, there is a palpable sense of community and camaraderie, a light-hearted touch in the midst of serious intentions.

We didn’t talk about their ecological footprint, and the small size of the property and urban regulations are certainly limiting how many different projects they can have going, and in that way, Dancing Rabbit is likely ahead of them. However, they are a multi-racial project and a vibrant urban center with a feel of cross-pollination from other nearby projects, both of which we’re unlikely to manage in rural Missouri. The contrast and overlaps were both fun to see, the PLACE people were gracious and laid back hosts, and this is a great example of how local solutions and foci are going to vary from place to place.

PLACE wasn’t the only small scale project applying principles similar to those we embody at Dancing Rabbit. There are two others I want to give a shout out to. Hawthorn Farm in Woodinville, WA is a small homestead that emanates quiet peace, where I was introduced to a concept–and breakfast– of the “hand harvested diet”. And the newly formed Shanti Farms in Springfield, MO, where owner Joshua Jones is catalyzing a remarkable project, bringing together urban farmers and a vibrant local music scene… perhaps the freshest example I encountered of the overlap between local food and local music I often witnessed in my travels.

Exporting the Communities Movement to the wider culture: Transition US

While it isn’t quite fair to say I “met” the Transition Movement on this tour, it is true that I met one of their professional staffers for the first time, and was deeply impressed with her calm centeredness, intelligence, and commitment. Marissa Mommaerts helped organize the very first talk on the tour, and attended the “Starting a Sustainable Community” workshop a few days later, immediately looking for how to apply what she’d heard in the talk to her professional work, as well as her own community dreams.

The Transition Movement was started by an ecovillage activist in the UK named Rob Hopkins, as a way to bring what we’d learned in the ecovillage movement to the wider culture, to have a faster and broader positive impact on the state of the planet. It’s called “transition” because the main focus is to shift already-existing places towards post-carbon living.

One powerful aspect of this model is that transition asks people who don’t normally work together (for instance, local business owners, small town politicians, and local organic farming advocates), and many of whom don’t normally prioritize sustainability, to problem-solve together based on local community needs. It’s a chance to really apply consensus principles (that everyone has a piece of the truth and everyone has legitimate needs) in a more mainstream environment.

Marissa called Dancing Rabbit a “glimpse of an abundant, fulfilling world that is waiting for us when we move beyond fossil fuels.” I call Transition US a glimpse into the widespread creative application of cooperative culture principles with the same endpoint: moving beyond fossil fuels. So ideally the ecovillage movement can provide inspiration and a pattern language for questions to ask, which the transition movement can translate into a diverse, broadly accessible application.

Seeing ourselves as part of a (r)evolution: The Evolution Institute

The Evolution Institute is the brain child of Binghamton University professor David Sloan-Wilson, who brought me to BU for a talk. Their website says, “Evolution Institute connects the world of evolutionary science to the world of public policy formulation. We bring evolutionary experts together with other experts for a respectful and constructive dialogue, resulting in a new agenda for basic scientific research, policy formulation, and policy implementation.” It is part think tank, part academic clearinghouse, and part practical tool makers.

What is so interesting to me about this organization is how they are bringing what is happening in academia around topics like cooperation and sharing economies into the realms of public policy formulation. They’re also developing practical tools that can assess the power of a project like Dancing Rabbit, and also potentially empower us, by helping us see patterns and connections in our work.

After living at Dancing Rabbit for a while, the sharing culture becomes the water we swim in. Until we spend a significant time away (say, two months on the road on a speaking tour…), we can easily forget just how remarkable this place is. And so groups like the Evolution Institute are a gift to us. By putting our work into context, they help us see clearly what we are doing.

They also play an important role in legitimizing the work we do in community. David originally connected with us when he and two fellow researchers were conducting a major study on quality of life in intentional communities (which a number of Rabbits participated in). So now, when I’m out there telling people, “Look, folks, this sustainable living thing doesn’t suck,” it won’t be just me saying it anymore. Furthermore, David’s work can help us understand more about why it doesn’t suck, and how to translate that for the wider world.

The power of faith: The United Methodist Church

Many, many people in the US these days get their community needs met through church. Faith communities are powerful, not only as a place for the contemplation and development of ethics, but as a powerful organizing tool for ethical action. And one of the fastest growing movements within faith communities is what is often referred to as Creation Care, biblically-inspired sustainability activism.

Five years ago at an Earth Day event, I met a remarkable UMC minister named Pat Watkins. We hit it off, Pat visited Dancing Rabbit a few months later, and went away feeling inspired and interested. Pat is now leading the globally-focused United Methodist Ministry with God’s Renewed Creation, and he connected us with several UMC churches with very active Creation Care programs across the country.

So one of my last stops on the tour was giving the talk at a UMC church in Stockton, MO [picture from the church kiosk]. Our organizer, Cheryl Marcum, told me several times how much she felt like I was there at God’s behest, and I felt a moving sincerity in Cheryl that deepened my respect for the very positive power religion can have in the wider culture, especially related to climate change.

Religion is a powerful force in many people’s lives and there can be both good and bad aspects of that. Churches provide a deep and authentic moral compass for many people, and few communities can mobilize to action as quickly as a church when it is called for. Pat and Cheryl are two solid examples of people who understand the deep ethical implications of our relationship to the planet, and are harnessing that power in alignment with much of Dancing Rabbit’s mission.

Rethinking economics on a much larger scale: Commonomics USA

It was two days before the last event of the tour, and I had a Skype interview scheduled with some guy named Matt Stannard from some group I’d never heard of called Commonomics USA. I was tired after two months on the road, and frankly went into it just wanting to get this last interview out of the way so I could tuck myself back in my own bed soon. But his questions were exceptionally interesting, and it quickly became clear that this guy was doing something powerful.

Commonomics USA might well be the organization I “met” on tour that has the greatest potential for truly deep social change. I’ve come more and more to see economics (policies, systems, world view, the whole thing) as the linchpin for getting us on track to be truly sustainable.

Matt is the Policy Director for Commonomics USA, whose website says it “works to advance economic justice, reclaim the commons, and promote democratic economies through nonpartisan partnerships with America’s public officials, grassroots activists, and the general public. We engage all forms of civic life to enable and further solidarity-based economies.”

The phrase that roused me from my late tour stupor during the interview was “materialized empathy”. This is very, very close to how I think of sustainability: that it is essentially a concrete expression of care for others, and at that point it clicked that he was talking about embodying what we are doing at Dancing Rabbit, on a very large scale.

The beauty of the work Commonomics is doing is that, if successful, it will open the door for projects like Dancing Rabbit to be much easier to bring into being. Right now, we are swimming upstream against conventional cultural values and policy manifestations from those values. Economic policies grounded in the valuing of the commons, with democratic control over resources and a focus on well-being instead of wealth accumulation, are absolutely essential if we are going to transition the world as a whole to the post-carbon reality both Transition US and the ecovillage movement envision.

Here’s the article  Matt published that includes our interview. Seeing the work we do here tied in to some of the biggest public debates raging right now is a great affirmation that what we are doing has relevance well beyond the 280 acres we’ve named Dancing Rabbit.

My takeaway from two months on tour? From the smallest of inspiring projects like Hawthorn Farm, to the far-reaching implications of the Evolution Institute and Commonomics USA, I’m deeply grateful for the glimpses into the great transition all these organizations represent, and I’m proud that Dancing Rabbit is part of the sustainable, cooperative culture movement that is slowly becoming reality.


The Joys of Line-dried Laundry, and More: A Dancing Rabbit Update

The shipping-container grocery store gets the first coat of its new mural. Photo by Alline.

The shipping-container grocery store gets the first coat of its new mural. Photo by Alline.

Greetings from Dancing Rabbit, where the men are adept with scythes and tractors, the women laugh often, and the children run loose like wild and happy wildebeests.

Alline here, with the news of the week… or in some cases, from the past.

This morning over coffee Ben reminded us that two years ago we had a HUGE storm with horizontal wind and torrential rain. It was during the second visitor session of the year, and many visitors were sleeping in tents that quickly became flooded. Most ended up seeking refuge in the Community Building. Ben recalls retrieving one tent from a tree, and staking down his new tool shed in hopes that it would stay put and not blow away and end up in Kansas, or even just Plevna.

Today a new and shiny group of visitors arrive, and we are relieved to see four days of sunshine in the forecast. For those reading this in far-flung places with climate-controlled buildings and grocery stores and farmers’ markets filled with food you didn’t have to grow yourselves – well, this obsession with the weather may seem a bit excessive.

However, farmers always have, and I suspect always will, talk about the weather. And even with just 10 tomato plants (drowning from all the rain, withering in sadness and decrepitude), I too, as a very small-scale farmer, watch the weather station like a hawk.

Not that it does any good. Knowing that it is going to rain again just causes a sense of foreboding, because, as even Noah found out, one can do nothing to stop the rain.

Another aspect of weather-obsession is clotheslines. Here at Dancing Rabbit we choose to hang our clothes out to dry instead of heat drying them, using the sun and wind instead of electricity or natural gas.

I happen to love hanging laundry outside to dry. I grew up with a clothesline; as far back as I can remember my mom hung the clothes out. I love that time in the morning and then again in the late afternoon to be outside, listen to the birds and the kids and whatever else is happening in my community. I love how the sheets smell of sunshine and fresh air. (Folks occasionally find me at my clothesline, huffing sheets.)

My brain is attuned to the sound of rain on our roof – the minute I hear it I’m outside, taking down laundry at lightning speed. Most Americans don’t share my obsession; I’m delighted to live in an area where so many people do. There are lots and lots and lots of clotheslines in Northeast Missouri.

But there is more to Dancing Rabbit than laundry. Not long ago Erica hosted a birthday potluck street party in the usual Friday night community dinner timeslot. She and Stephen (and friends) set up tables and chairs in the road outside of their home, Casa Caterpillar, and the tables were filled with a delicious abundance of food – everything from a sweet potato salad (much like a potato salad but using sweets instead) to Italian tapenade and amaretti (classic Italian almond macaroons) sent from Erica’s family in Italy.

Erica’s countrywoman Francesca created a scavenger hunt, which had Erica doubled over in laughter (the rhymes in Italian were apparently very well done) as she went from one stop to the next. Conversations went on long into the evening, the weather (see – there it is again!) was perfect, as was the day. Sigh.

Nik and Katherine began painting a mural on The Grocery Store (TGS), which began its life as a shipping container before coming here to DR to be fitted with doors and windows and filled with bulk groceries. Begun by Sam, TGS was taken over by Cob when Sam departed. He has launched a crowd-funding campaign to secure loans and donations to create a public market at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, where local producers can display and sell their fruits, vegetables, meats, and more.

We’re gearing up for the Big BAM (Bike Across Missouri) – there are stops in both Rutledge and at Dancing Rabbit on Friday, June 26th! We’re planning delicious food, and figuring out signage, parking, and how the heck to get up to 1,000 cyclists down our gravel road. Stay tuned for more details!

In other news, Dancing Rabbit’s Annual Eco-Audit has begun. Resident Brooke, who received her Masters degree last year and whose thesis was based on the eco-audit results of the past few years, is training a new research assistant (welcome, Carlina!), who will help measure and quantify our use of water, energy and fuel, as well as our trash and recycling. We do this not to “show off,” but to educate ourselves and to better understand our resource use– how much of any particular thing we’re using, where we can conserve, etc. — so we can continue to pursue our goal of living more lightly upon the earth.

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Don’t forget! This summer we’re hosting the first ever Permaculture Design Course at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, August 29-Sept 6, and we’d love to have you join us! Find more info here.

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

When Old is Better: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Another old way: Harvesting duck weed from the pond instead of purchasing or growing more feed for the birds. Photo by Nik.

Another old way: Harvesting duckweed from the pond instead of purchasing or growing more feed for the birds. Photo by Nik.

“What do we say to power tools?”

“NO!” The crowd roared in response. A man stood on a wooden stage in the middle of a crowded 10-bent timber frame barn; he held a broad ax aloft, like a mustachioed viking.

Roy Underhill, long-time host of PBS’s The Woodwright’s Shop, which you may remember flipping the channels and seeing two lumberjack-looking gentlemen talking about mallets in a set that looked like a falling down barn, was speaking at the Handworks Hand Tool Convention in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, just two hours north of Rutledge. It was a bit like Woodstock for wood workers…kind of. A ship of foolhardy wood enthusiasts from Dancing Rabbit biked up or carpooled for the event.

Weaving together woodworking, mythology, satire, and even a few Star Wars references on his soapbox…er, wood bench, Underhill had the whole crowd hanging on every word.  Woodworkers and tool makers from across the globe gathered in the timeless little town of Amana.

There were chisels, hatchets, travishers, moulding planes, and saws as far as the eye could see—but not a single corded (or cordless) power tool.  Mark, from Red Earth Farms, wielded his banjo all day at the event, and was spontaneously asked to warm up the crowd before Underhill took the stage—and he filled that barn and those people with beautiful tones.

Returning home to Dancing Rabbit that night, I not only thought about how for years I’ve been improperly sharpening a drawknife but also about how doing things by hand, or doing things “the old way” has a strong hold for many at DR. But then again, using technology and making the community a more prosperous place through engineering and science also has strong roots here, back to the founders. They were not cart-and-donkey back to the landers, but students and computer programmers who cared deeply about the future of the planet. Now there are Rabbits with a cart and a donkey, but that cart was still beautifully engineered!

When does “the old way” need help from “the new way”, and when does “the new way” become unsustainable? Ask ten Rabbits and you’ll likely get ten very different answers, but it’s one of those questions that make this such a dynamic place to live! How do we conserve energy and water and still wash clothes? “Scrub and wring by hand!” “Energy efficient washers!” “Hook up a bicycle to an old washing machine!” “My aroma is my cologne!”

Every need from the modern world translates to Dancing Rabbit, and finding out if that way is sustainable or not goes through everyone’s head and consciousness. Can we plant this by hand and still make a living? Can we cook this with a solar oven? Will this natural building material stand up to Missouri winters and Missouri rains?

Questions that can seem so minute, can have a very long thought process, especially when building—like how much insulative material needs to go in a roof, what that material is, whether it fits within the building covenant, and how much wood is needed to make that a well-engineered roof and is the wood salvaged or locally cut.

One of the biggest broken-record moments is when guests and visitors come very excited with new, grand ideas and ask, ‘Why haven’t you tried this?” or “Hasn’t anyone ever thought of doing that?” and almost always, not always, many people who have come and gone have tried and put it through the process and it hasn’t proven to be sustainable in either this specific village sense or the global sense. Ideas are the blood that keeps Dancing Rabbit alive, but yes, we know about earthships.

Most stances on that “new way” v. “old way” debate are all over the board with members of Dancing Rabbit, but some issues are definitely fought with hard stances. Like on the “new way” end of the spectrum, food production seems to be a big issue with many here. This past weekend, one of our own, Lucas, was invited to speak on behalf of Veterans for Peace at one of the March Against Monsanto rallies across the country, this one in Springfield, Missouri.

Monsanto, or at least its seeds and products, are well known in any agricultural area. Better yields and more pest resistant, but in exchange for restrictions that the seeds cannot be reused and a worry that genetically modified seeds (which fall into the GMO category) are not healthy for a biodiverse and productive land in the long term, or healthy for people.

From reports by his Rabbit support and cheerleader, Katherine, Lucas spoke in true Dancing Rabbit fashion—emphasizing what we can do on our own for good, instead of just slandering what they see as bad. Lucas is still fighting the good fight at home to make this a better place. We thank him for all his service.

While I sharpen my drawknife to start building a more sustainable home, I know every detail will be agonized over. But that’s what I want. I want answers and, even more so, I want questions. I want to question where that board comes from and how it was treated (in its milling process, not ethically) and how can I stain my shake siding naturally. And after a long day’s work on those questions, what’s for dinner? That’s a much bigger question!

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Have you been wanting to check out Dancing Rabbit live and in person? Now’s your chance! There are still a few slots left in the next visitor program session, happening June 1- 22, 2015.  If you want to be part of the fun, get in touch with us soon to request a visitor program application!

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Don’t forget! This summer we’re hosting the first ever Permaculture Design Course at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, August 29-Sept 6, and we’d love to have you join us! Find more info here.

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Finally, here’s a nice piece about us and our work: Sustainable Development in Action at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage — please share and enjoy!

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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.