Everyone Wins: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Donkey draws quite the crowd on his daily training walks. Photo by Nik.

Donkey draws quite the crowd on his daily training walks. Photo by Nik.

Hey y’all, Vick here.  My heart is still palpitating from the electrifying conclusion of a game I just finished playing with some of my friends here on farm.  (You WILL get your comeuppance, Oliver!)

You know, gaming of one sort or another is a favorite winter pastime here at DR, given that not one of us owns a television/cable subscription, and even on sunny days like the ones we’ve had lately, when funny white stuff is scarcely to be found atop the weather rock, many of us turn to games as a way to strengthen connections with our fellow villagers.

I’ve been doing my fair share of gaming lately and the wiseacre in me can’t resist drawing parallels between Dancing Rabbit and the games that keep us so well entertained.  For instance, this village is chockfull of jokers, Jacks/Jills of all trades, and plenty of people who are aces in my book – just like a deck of cards.

Even though there are only fifty-two cards in a standard pack, there are approximately 8 x 1067 possible combinations that can be achieved when they are shuffled together. This means that each time you shuffle a deck you’ve just made history, because that particular configuration of cards has probably never existed on this planet before, and, statistical jamais vu aside, the number of possible configurations is no less staggering when you shuffle a few dozen people together like we do in our intentional community – all those different ideas, preferences and life experiences… Try doing the math on that one.

Dancing Rabbit is also a lot like a chess board – every piece is unique and brings a different skill to the party, and while some pieces are arguably more powerful than others, they all work best in cooperation together, and even the lowliest of pawns can become a queen once it’s reached the end of its journey, before continuing on in the game with a higher level of capability.

Chess is one of the oldest and most dynamic games in history, and every single match that’s played progresses a bit differently than all others – that’s why they call it the black and white jungle.  There’s an interested term in chess: zugzwang – it derives from German, and refers to a situation where one is compelled to make a move, but cannot do so without losing material or damaging one’s current position.

Where the chess player strives to apply strategic creativity to the quest of placing their opponent’s king in the ultimate case of zugzwang, checkmate, at Dancing Rabbit our strategic interest is in educating the public about human-caused global climate disruption and sharing some of the ways that each of us can make a positive impact, before our climactic chess-clock ticks down and zugzwang forces us to forfeit the game.

Games are a peculiar phenomenon, anthropologically – we don’t really need to play them in order meet our most basic needs for survival (unless you get invited to play a round of Ōllamaliztli, the mysterious ancient Mesoamerican ceremonial sport involving kicking a human head through a stone ring mounted on a wall, whereupon the players of the winning team receive the dubious reward of being sacrificed), but we still devote huge amounts of time and energy to the endeavor.

Animals play too – they do it to prepare their bodies and minds for the circumstances they will encounter in their daily struggles, and much like a kitten learning to hunt by batting a beetle around, children can learn a lot about problem solving, successful social interaction, and cooperative behavior by playing all sort of games.

In other words, playing games helps us learn how to meet our needs, as in Maslow’s hierarchy. Researchers Cooke and Gordon discovered that juvenile rats, when placed in cages with adult rats that refused to play with them, developed into adults with smaller brains, higher levels of anxiety throughout their lives, and even died at an earlier age. This has led to the hypothesis that play is crucial to formation of smarticles in the brain.  Granted, equifinality might indicate that the same development can occur through teaching and/or interactive learning exercises, but, come on, playing is more fun.

Let’s back up a bit – what exactly is a game, anyway? One of the founders of video game design, Chris Crawford, breaks it down like this: if it’s fun, interactive, and involves other agents/players who can proactively influence the outcome of a challenge, then you’ve got a bona fide game.  Interactive, goal-oriented, and involves any number of co-influential participants – that sounds a lot like life to me, real life.

Alas, the rules of life aren’t as clear as they are in chess, and the rewards for winning aren’t always what we expect.  I’m sure a global version of Monopoly is a barrel of monkeys for a few folks, but for the vast majority of us, it’s more like E.T., The Extra Terrestrial (which came out on the Atari 2600 back in the 80s – this game was so terrible they buried innumerable copies of it in the desert so no one would ever have to play it again).

Playing a game requires what’s known as a lusory attitude, a mental state on the part of a participant whereby they consent to accept the pre-determined rules of a challenge in order to enjoy the experience of play.  At Dancing Rabbit, our lusory attitude about life is that life is a game everyone should get to win, so we’ve agreed to a slightly modified set of rules: first we agree to abide by six ecological covenants and a handful of corresponding guidelines, we agree to interact with each other in ways that are empathic and non-violent, and we agree to strive to be as inclusive of others as possible.

In the real world, the outcomes of choices are seldom clear – we don’t know if taking a new job will really be better for us, or whether our relationships with others are genuine, or how much of an impact any one of us can have on climate change by swapping out a lightbulb or walking that tenth of a mile to Starbucks instead of driving – but I’m not disheartened because we each get to determine what winning at life means  for us, and as Dancing Rabbit’s newest full-fledged Member, I can say that I feel a flush of victory after striving to make my own life a little more sustainable in the rolling hills of northeast Missouri.

So, let’s all encourage more games in our lives and play them every chance we get – it’s good for us!  I’ll even get you started by suggesting you try out one of our favorite games here at Dancing Rabbit: wait for it… the GREATEST GAME IN THE WORLD!

The Greatest Game in the World (also known as The Best Game Ever) relies solely on the creativity of the participants involved, and all you need to play is a sheet of paper and a writing utensil for each player involved.  It works like this: each player starts a story on their sheet of paper by writing a sentence – it can be anything – and passes it to the person beside them.

The next person to receive the sheet has to silently read the sentence written by the person before them and draw a picture that conveys the same information. The paper is then folded so the prior sentence is concealed, and the sheet is passed to a neighbor once again. The next player reviews the drawing they have received and writes a new sentence conveying the same information as the picture, without knowing the content of what came before. They too fold the paper to conceal the earlier parts of the story and pass the sheet along.

You keep going around like this until everyone has their original sheet of paper back (you can go around twice if you’re working with a smaller group), and then everyone reads the first and last sentence on their paper aloud (though I much prefer to go through the whole thing). I’ve played this many times at DR and it’s ALWAYS been a blast.  Play it on your earliest opportunity and you’ll see what I mean.

For those who want to know what folks did this week: at Tea and Conversation we discussed how different people on farm relate to making ecological choices in the game of life, La Casa de Cultura has become the winter movie theater scene, and the newly re-established Women’s Circle met once again to converse, connect and commiserate.

By the way, if you know your Caro-Kann Defense from your Ruy Lopez, stop by some Thursday and check in with Kurt, the friendly bartender at our very own Milkweed Mercantile, and ask to play a match or two, and enjoy a beer.

Ciao for now – I’ll see you at the winner’s circle!

•                  •                 •

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.

Video, Visits, Learning & More: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Adriana is just one of many of the rabbits who were part of our new introduction video.

Adriana was just one of many Rabbits who were part of the new DR intro video.

Tereza here, starting with just a quick note on the lovely weather. This last week was so much warmer and sunnier than it’s been I just have to mention it. I know I’m not the only one whose mood has improved with the reprieve from the dark and cold. Lots more noise, from wood chopping and power tools and kids playing outside, led to a much more lively feel in the village as well.

Careful readers of last week’s online version of this update may have noticed a late-breaking newsflash at the very bottom. Well, I’m so excited about what it said I’m mentioning the news again, right up here at the beginning, so everyone (especially the less-careful update skimmers) will know about them.

First up, the new Intro to Dancing Rabbit video is out! Please check it out and share it with your friends if you like it as much as we do! Rae and Illly did amazing work on it, and lots of Rabbits and friends participated in the making of it, so you’ll find a lot of friendly faces telling you a little about what we do here. There are also lots of great shots of the Village in the background.

I had a good time filming the little snippet I did, saying “We also do a lot of things very differently here” many times in many ways. (Yes, that was a subtle hint to allow readers to play “spot the Tereza” in the video…) ((If you already know what I look like — yes, I’m talking about you, Mom! — no cheating by fast forwarding ’til you see me in the preview!)) I appreciate how patient Rae and Illly were with my nervousness (and the loud beeping and vroooming trucks that were making deliveries that day).

OK, enough about my one line of soon-to-be-superstardom, there’s other important news to share! Yes, the dates many of you have been waiting for are up on our website! If you want to take part in Dancing Rabbit’s 2015 Visitor Program check out the link and get in touch— this year’s dates are at the bottom of the page. We hope to see many of you here in 2015, and who knows? Perhaps we’ll be welcoming some of you as new Rabbits sometime down the road…

Now, without further ado, on to the week’s happenings…

Tony was here! Since he’s been on sabbatical in California, most of us have only been in touch with him via email, but this week he was here for a visit. He had hangout time with friends, a few meetings (it’s Dancing Rabbit— of course he had meetings!), and hosted a party Friday night at Skyhouse, during which we played an old DR favorite game called “Essence.”

I’d never heard of it before I moved here, so in case you haven’t either, here’s how to play. Get some friends together, and choose one person to leave the room.  The remaining players choose one among them to be the person to be guessed. The room-leaver then returns, and proceeds to ask questions to try to guess who was chosen. The questions are along the lines of: “If this person was an animal, what animal would they be?”  “What garden tool would they be?” and so on.

The trick in answering is that you aren’t going for what the person looks like, or what they themselves like, but what their “essence” is. You can tailor your questions to the person you’re asking if you want (ask Bear about tools, me about science fiction authors, etc.), and if you want you can ask many people the same question to get different perspectives. Of course it’s highly subjective, and can be quite hilarious, and really tough to guess correctly.

The answers (usually) seem obvious if you know who it is, but if you don’t, well, it’s clear folks can have wildly differing opinions of this kind of thing. (You can vary the rules about how many questions can be asked and guesses made, so feel free to base those on your players.) When the person is guessed, they are then the next one to leave the room, if they want to.

Some of my favorite questions during the game that night included: garden vegetable, DR committee, type of cheese, musical instrument, pizza topping, folksinger, profession, and human-powered vehicle. Answers (not to those questions, obviously) included: rat terrier, a yellow carpet with brown spots, Reiki, a black van, soccer, and Louis L’amour. Fun!

In other entertainment news, there were quite a few movies this week. There were showings of At World’s End, The Empire Strikes Back, and Master and Commander. I only made it to the first of those, a quirky British comedy/drama that I won’t even attempt to summarize for you, but I also went to Kirksville with Sara, Nathan, Katherine, and Nik to see Into the Woods. It was fun to go off farm for a bit and watch something on the big screen, though I go so infrequently I’m always surprised by how loud the sound is, and the number of ads!

Last weekend Kurt, Alline, Sara and I went to Judy and Jim Sharp’s wedding reception in Memphis and really enjoyed it. (Sara was particularly happy to have gluten-free cake!) The couple also came to Pizza Night on Thursday, so some of us got to have longer conversations than were possible at a reception. Sending them more congratulations here!

A new women’s circle began this week, and from what I hear went very well. The plan is to meet weekly in the winter while many folks’ lives are slower, and to meet less frequently when things get busier. I hope to make it to this week’s circle to check it out myself…

We’re also learning things at the ecovillage. This week’s tea and conversation focused on the question of how we can stay cutting edge eco-wise, and I heard it was an interesting, and occasionally heated, discussion. Sounds like one of the issues is that a lot of what makes us cutting edge isn’t very compatible with mainstream culture, for example the very high level of sharing most of us do here.

I’m not sure if anyone’s mentioned Italian class in these updates yet. Erica, who visited from Italy last summer and is now at DR on the weekends, is patiently teaching a group of us Italian. So far there have been several classes and we’ve learned a lot! I missed the most recent class, but she gave me a quick catch-up lesson over dinner Sunday night. We learned numbers up to one hundred and some pronunciation rules. I hope I can still remember them next Saturday…

This week also saw the first meeting of a new anti-racism study group. Trish from Sandhill organized it, inviting some friends of hers from St. Louis to the first meeting. They’ve been doing anti-racism work for a while, and I really appreciate their coming to help us get a good start to the group. It promises to be an intense and powerful experience.

Wishing warmth to all of you in the week to come!

•                  •                 •

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.

DR Comes to You: Nationwide Speaking Tour 2015!

If you’ve been following Dancing Rabbit for very long, you probably know our story and our relevancy pretty well: how many places, after all, are achieving such a high quality of life on 10% of the resources the average American uses?

Ma'ikwe Schaub Ludwig

Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig

Well, this year a lot more people will be inspired by what we’re doing, because in 2015 Dancing Rabbit, Inc.’s Executive Director, Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig, is bringing our message to a town near you with a national speaking tour!

If you didn’t catch it in 2013 (or if you just want to refresh your memory), here’s Ma’ikwe’s TEDx talk. The tour will feature an updated and expanded version of this talk, including a new section on climate disruption and how we can best respond to the challenges it poses. She’ll also be available to do workshops and meet with local activists in the places she visits, to help support and encourage concrete, impactful actions all over the country.

After attending this talk at the University of Missouri, one student said she felt “connected, hopeful and determined to act.” That’s what we’re hoping to encourage on campuses and in cities all over the country. Please join us!

Get Involved!

Check out the page for the tour on our website — if you don’t see your town on the tour yet, you can help bring Ma’ikwe to your area by contacting our Tour Coordinator, Mariyam Medovaya, with your willingness to help organize a talk or workshop for the tour. We’re interested in connecting with:

Sustainability Organizations
Churches with Creation Care programs
Intentional Communities
and of course… you!

You can work with Mariyam to help us get our foot in the door with colleges, or organize a workshop or private consulting gig or training session for your group on one of the various topics Ma’ikwe teaches, including: starting an ecovillage, social skills for cultural change-makers, guerilla consensus, and encountering climate change.

And if your town is already on the tour, mark your calendar for your chance to meet Ma’ikwe, hear her speak, and help us get the word out about the event.

You can also make a donation to help support the tour. Turns out a nationwide trip is expensive!

Thanks for all you do, and we hope to see you in 2015!

Deep Thoughts and Down Time: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Looking down Crooked Route in the Grassroots Neighborhood on a chilly afternoon at Dancing Rabbit. Photo by Dennis.

Looking down Crooked Route in the Grassroots Neighborhood on a chilly afternoon at Dancing Rabbit. Photo by Dennis.

Ah, true winter, after the holidays, down time semi-enforced by the frigid weather. The thinking and planning time of year, it seems. So I’m doing lots of thinking about the year to come, as well as deeper topics, and there seems to be an up-swell of similar energy amongst my fellow villagers. Ted here with an update from chilly Dancing Rabbit.

For several years now in the winter we’ve had a weekly gathering called “tea and conversation,” where we get together for an hour each week to warm up with hot tea and take an hour or so to talk on a pre-announced topic. We have been at it for several weeks this winter, on topics such as “What does it mean to be a community of communities?”; “Feminism – are we still a feminist ecovillage?” and “Selectivity or not in the membership process.”

This past week we talked on village economic development, and though I was late in arriving, it was a good conversation. This topic has come up steadily over the years, from a variety of angles.

Some communities collectively make and sell things like hammocks and tofu (Twin Oaks in Virginia), organic seed (Acorn, near Twin Oaks), and nut butters (Missouri’s Eastwind). Our neighbors at Sandhill make and sell sorghum syrup and a variety of condiments, as well as selling fresh produce locally.

The thing these communities have in common is that they are income-sharing, where every member is part of a common economic framework– a single purse. The individual’s work is valued equally, whether he or she is computer programming, accounting, caring for animals, or cleaning the kitchen.

Dancing Rabbit, though its members share many of the same ideals and engage extensively in all manner of cooperation both formal and informal, economic and otherwise, is a village, where each individual/family/established sub-group is responsible for their own finances. It is up to you to figure out how to make ends meet.

The cost of living here is pretty low compared to most other places and ways of living I’ve encountered in this country, and we try our best to keep it that way, but some monetary inputs are unavoidable, and in the end, there is no village financial safety net to catch you if you fall.

Thus far we have lacked any economic ventures that people can readily plug into, without major training, to make ends meet if they don’t arrive with an existing income source or salable skill. In our rural location, the local job market is very limited. Regular commuting by more than one or two people, when we must rely on the vehicle coop, would quickly turn impractical.

Add to that the fact that many Rabbits are driven by their ideals and not super excited by work that does not advance those ideals, and altogether this financial limitation can be significant. Plenty of people who were otherwise happy at Dancing Rabbit have come and gone over the years because they could not make it work in the financial realm.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t work for hire here. Our internal economy has grown significantly in my time (coming up on 12 years), particularly in recent years. DR Inc., the educational nonprofit organization based here, now has around 10 hired positions, and some other organizations (various co-ops, and the Milkweed Mercantile) also support some paid positions. Most of these are part-time, however, and in general not sufficient to be a sole income source. Private work-for-hire opportunities abound, but are similarly limited in scope.

Making it work here requires versatility. And many of us work diligently at doing for ourselves — growing food, building shelter, and making our own entertainment, among many other things — the sorts of things that many people pay to have done for them in the wider culture, in part because many of us are fulfilled by those pursuits, but also as a means of reducing the need for income.

Much of our conversation Friday centered on how to turn our experience and know-how in sustainable living into income streams that will improve our financial sustainability, while allowing us to influence the wider culture toward greater sustainability and stay focused on the research and experimentation side of what we do (all part of our mission).

The idea of a natural building school has been tossed around for years, as there is no comparable institution we know of in the Midwest, and we have nearly 20 years of collective experience in this realm. As well we talked on the geographical limitations of getting our products to market, acknowledging that the significant markets for organic, homemade, values-driven products are the larger regional cities (Fairfield, Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago).

We all seemed to leave the conversation with a buoyant sense of hope, along with an undertone of needing to focus our inspiration and turn it into reality. Somehow this seems to encapsulate the spirit of living here quite well for me.

Despite feelings of despair at times, wondering if we’re changing anything at all, there is no doubt that the public debate has shifted in the past decade. Climate change is now a more-or-less accepted reality, and the next step, figuring out how to reduce our collective impact, is coming ever more regularly into the spotlight. We certainly can’t claim responsibility, but we are working hard to help lead the debate.

We offer one vision of what living more lightly can look like, and people who visit and see our efforts, or read about them, seem to respond, to find some inspiration to make a shift their own lives, reducing their own footprint. That makes it all worth it.

The fact that I also enjoy the constant challenge of figuring out how to further reduce my own impact is just icing on the cake. Being surrounded here by others cooperating in the same efforts normalizes it, reducing the psychological strain of trying to swim upstream that I feel when I travel elsewhere. Things are improving elsewhere too, and that sustains my hope.

Some things just stay the same though; Star Wars is still as enjoyable to watch as ever. Saturday night Alyssa, Bear and Zane hosted a viewing of Star Wars (the first one, from the 70s), and for a bunch of kids in the Casa, it was their first time seeing it. Zane has been itching to see it for quite a while, and his parents felt like he was finally ready for it. Aurelia hadn’t seen it either, and I had curious feelings seeing her watch and respond to it for the first time, since I loved discovering that universe (so to speak) as a kid. Viewings of the other movies in the series are planned for subsequent weekends. Winter is great for this sort of thing.

One of our founders, Tony, who is on sabbatical right now, has just arrived for a visit, and in general people who’ve been on vacation for the holidays have started to return, so the population is feeling more bountiful again. All bring anecdotes about what they’ve seen and done lately, and also make for better attendance at community suppers, game nights, and other winter fun. More people warm up cold spaces faster too!

Hockey season is in full swing (though I have yet to get my skates laced up) and if ice conditions improve, we might even see some broomball games. Meanwhile, if we get just a touch more snow, we can inaugurate the sledding season as well. I’m doing my best to get into it all, despite the bracing conditions outside (loved that “high” temperature of -3 last week!).

I was relieved to get my seed, plant, and garden amendments ordering mostly wrapped up this week, with Alyssa organizing a group order from one of our favorites, Fedco up in Maine. Hard to believe it’ll be time to start some seedlings in a month or so. I sure like the warmth conjured up by the thought of planting a couple dozen raspberries and pear trees in a few months, and harvesting some of the same in high summer.

From Dancing Rabbit, warmth to you as you do your own version of winter down time and deep thoughts. Hope to see you here this coming year!

•                  •                 •

LATE BREAKING NEWSFLASH! Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is proud to announce our brand new “Intro to DR” video! We love it so much it’s right on our homepage… Plus the 2015 Visitor program dates are now up on our website– check ‘em out!

•                  •                 •

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.

An Odd Duck of an Annual Update

by Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig

Frank of Deep Green Machine cuts the door into the shipping grocery store last summer. Photo by Nik.

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.

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.

The eco-audit

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.

Personal growth

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.

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.

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.

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.

In Community,
Ma’ikwe Ludwig
Executive Director
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!

Taking a Bite Outta 2015: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Does Ted see his past, present, or future in the New Year's Ball? Photo by Katherine.

Does Ted see his past, present, or future in the New Year’s Ball? Photo by Katherine.

There’s something about waking up to an unexpected snowstorm—like falling asleep in one world and waking up in another. Some primordial excitement rises up upon opening the curtains in the morning and seeing the whole town covered in a delicate icing of snow; maybe it’s the unshaken childhood excitement of the possibility of a snow day without school, or the promise of sledding and cocoa, or maybe it’s just all that reflected white light flooding our logy morning brains in one big startling blast.

Writing from the eco-snow-covered-village of Dancing Rabbit, this is Nik. I was beginning to think we’d never get snowed-in this winter, so when I opened Aubergine’s bus door early Sunday morning and was blown back by gusts of cold flakes, I had an unconscious smile on my face…before it got really cold…really fast.

Before the storm, New Year’s Eve was the highlight of the week in the Tri-Communities. A collage workshop was in full flurry in the Common House, magazines and photos being clipped and pasted to form intentions and wishes going into the new year.

Then a band of rough-around-the-edges minstrels took up their instruments and paraded: o’er the river and through the wood, to Red Earth Farms they went. Drums and bells sang over the hills until the processional arrived at the Dandelion homestead for games and drinks and merriment, all cozy warm in their greenhouse. How many people get to spend their December 31st gathered in a greenhouse?

Before darkness fell, the band marched back to DR, and some headed even further to neighbors in Rutledge. Ironweed Kitchen was where many folks ended up for the midnight ball drop. Although the Christmas-light-wrapped paper lantern may not have impressed Dick Clark, it made for a festive ringing-in of 2015.

The fact that there were not only so many celebrations to attend, but that they were all in walking distance, calmed so many worries about getting around on that wild night. I can’t help unfortunately remembering New Year’s Eve in the city—the slurred battles over taxis and sardine-can-packed train cars where there is no escape if someone has had too much to drink to hold everything together…

Walking from party to party became a festive part of the evening, as much as anything else. Wassailing might need to come back in style, methinks…

New Year’s wouldn’t quite be complete without a little over-indulgence here and there, and to remedy that Stephen and Erica held a get-together the next day in their relatively-newly-christened strawbale home “Casa Caterpillar.”

We broke Christmas crackers from Tereza’s mom, and wore tissue paper crowns, which some of us looked better in than others. And most wondrous of all, Erica’s mother had sent troves of foreign goodies from her native Italy, so we gingerly dined on tangy and rich salami, shards of sweet Parmesan cheese, amaretti cookies, chewy nut-filled nougats, and the olives…Oh, the olives…

People in a seasonal, local food economy can not get enough of far away grown things like olives. It was all a rare and special treat… but my favorite by far was the hunk of smelly, brilliantly orange-colored, cured Italian fish roe, called bottarga!

Usually served grated over pasta, bottarga is a bit like cilantro, in that people either immediately love it or immediately hate it. It’s not subtle, it tastes like the seashore in August—briny and salty and pungent. It’s the kind of thing Anthony Bourdain would gleefully rub over his body like sunscreen.

I probably left with breath that smelled like fish and candy, but it put the wind back in my sails, so to speak.

Looking at New Years of years’ past, I can’t even describe how my life has changed since before living at Dancing Rabbit. Before, a new year meant indulging in a short list of resolutions that, if achieved, would only reduce the stress in my life by finding a new job, or a new workout regimen, or perhaps consolidating the bills to better pay them off. A new year wasn’t something to be truly hopeful about.

Now, I look at this year ahead, and I am overwhelmed by what lies before me. And none of it is there to reduce stress in my life: building a house, growing a family, expanding businesses… I am actually inviting stress into my life, because that is part of living!

So, I am taking a bite of that intimidating cured-fish-roe called life, and not holding my nose. Take those leaps, work hard to make it happen, but still take time to enjoy every unexpected snow day that comes to derail your day of productivity. It may just be what you need to get through it all.

•                  •                 •

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.

Happy Rabbit Regales Us: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Happy folks at the holiday singalong; Meadoe hosted and accompanied on piano. Photo by Rae.

Happy folks at the holiday singalong; Meadoe hosted and accompanied on piano. Photo by Rae.

Happy Holidays Y’all!  :)

Yep, that’s right, Katherine here as your Happy Rabbit, ready to regale you once again with this week’s village shenanigans.

Before we get to the shenanigans however, I would love to make a shout out to my awesome fan from “sunny Arizona”! Thank you for the video, which I enjoyed very much. I definitely recognize some of those dance moves from my own parties and drum circles.

Speaking of just that, Bagels and illly (yes, these are names of two young men who reside at Dancing Rabbit) hosted a drum circle/jam session in the common house on Saturday night. Boasting of good music, great voices, and the beating of our collective heart, the Rabbits came together in “bass”-ic harmony.

Earlier this week found us celebrating (or not) Christmas in a variety of ways. The Mercantile hosted a movie marathon on the Eve, consisting of such classics as Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Die Hard. Yes, Die Hard.

For those who didn’t realize, this 1988 action thriller starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman is set in downtown LA at a Christmas party, thus dubbing it (at least in Uncle Kurt’s eyes) as a holiday must-see. I don’t know about y’all but there’s somethin’ real special about watching this movie and then going straight off to Midnight Mass at the Catholic church in nearby Edina. Now that’s what I call juxtaposition.

I have not attended a Catholic Mass in many years and I am not quite sure what it was that was so special about this time. I gathered friend and family to accompany me to St. Joseph’s for a beautiful evening. While I was a little rusty with my scripted replies and “Amen”s, it was truly the singing that captured my heart and reminded me of the community outside of my own. Singing songs of olde with a few hundred other folk, I felt that feeling of togetherness that can be so rare in a room of strangers.

I am thankful for this time of year when, no matter what race, creed, class or sex we may happen to belong to, love may transcend all boundaries for those who will allow. (For the other Grinches and Scrooges out there, right on y’all. It takes all sorts and there’s always room at my table for a little diversity.)

One aspect of Dancing Rabbit that I absolutely love is our array of spirituality. Some members enjoy praising the land with moon rituals and solstice celebrations, some attend services at local Mennonite and Baptist churches. Some spin dreidels and kiss under the mistletoe, while feasting with atheists and ordained ministers alike. Rabbits may celebrate anything or nothing with equal opportunity and gladness. We may also exercise our freedom to stay in for the evening with a good book or board game. With a village of roughly 60 people, the opportunity to entertain is never in lack.

On the topic of gatherings and back to village news, Alyssa hosted a “low-impact social time” with a “hand work hangout” at her house, Lobelia. Mica was seen toting over her hand-dandy lightweight loom for rug making with lovely scraps of fabric that will soon grace the halls of Sandhill Farm, three miles down the road from Dancing Rabbit. When it comes to rugs, our people really know how to put their “sole” into it.

While I was not able to attend this little shindig myself, I was proud to complete some of my own knitting projects including a water bottle holder, potholder, and __blank__ for my mom. Since I have been late for everything since the day I was born (a week late), it is no surprise that I still have not sent my parents down in Texas their winter box of goodies. (Hi, dad!)

Maybe I can use the excuse that the winter blast hasn’t hit the midwest yet and thus my timing is a bit off. While I truly appreciate the sun that graced us twice this week, I do enjoy a good snow that sticks around (which we’ve been lacking). In fact, the snow ninjas that I last wrote about have taken off their masks and are about ready to begin gardening again! Maybe it’s not that extreme but I will tell you, the grass is definitely growing again in my yard.

Those couple days of sun were just enough for my tiny solar system to drink its fill and provide me once again with a reading lamp at night. It had also been a hot minute since I was able to charge my computer at my house in order to work late into the night. Working for our non-profit, Dancing Rabbit, Inc., and separately for the Village Council, keeps my brain-wheels turning, from database entry to annual budgets to dog population policy. This week alone my email inbox has seen a bit of each topic, which makes life at the village very not boring.

Dancing Rabbit takes all sorts to figure out these very different numbers, while also getting the gardens weeded and the animals fed. Without each Rabbit, still here and gone away, we just would not be the village that we are. I thank you all for supporting our mission in whatever way you have seen fit. Some of us live in rural Missouri, others have joined our (totally awesome) Board, and still others (some of whom have never even met us) have shown their support with donations of money, goods, or time.

My favorite part of being the Development Assistant for our non-profit is getting to thank our donors with a personalized note. Over the years that I have worked I have seen many donor names come across my desk. As I begin to recognize names of folks that I have never met, I feel happier in my job that is not so nameless as it may be faceless.

Just this week I was introduced to some donors who wanted to put a face with the name. Thank you for that! What I want to yell is, “It is I! *Katherine* Happy Rabbit that appreciates you so! I am here, I am real, and I care!”

•                  •                 •

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.

Season’s Greetings: A Dancing Rabbit Update

To maintain the Common House water system, Thomas minds the gutters in this unseasonal December rain. Photo by Nik.

To maintain the Common House water system, Thomas minds the gutters in this unseasonal December rain. Photo by Nik.

Howdy everybody, and season’s greetings as well. Ben here, bringing you a weekly update from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, where we have just passed the zenith of atmospheric darkness, along with the rest of our particular hemisphere.

Yes, we have entered winter officially, as I understand it. Now, nobody knows when winter ends, as that determination is left to a wise groundhog out east somewheres, but I have been reminded by many of my friends and colleagues that winter did not start until Sunday.

Frankly, I don’t know what to believe, because I’m accustomed to trusting my own experience. Call this time of year what you may, my observation is that winter started at some point in November, when the pond froze, and since then we folks here in Northeast Missouri have essentially relived the same gloomy March day over and over again for a coupla few weeks now. It’s as if these doldrum days of December were designed by some other force to teach those of us who don’t drink what a hangover feels like. Over and over.

There’s some terminology thrown around to describe the effect of these short, overcast days on people. They call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Now I ain’t about to disparage folks who feel SADness. After all, I’m one of them.

And as a person relying on off-grid solar energy, I can tell you that not only humans, but batteries experience symptoms of illness related to the lack of sunshine. I can even report that the goats and donkeys exhibit a certain amount of despair related to the current conditions. (Ducks don’t care near as much.)

But I get stuck on the disorder label. It seems perfectly ordinary and reasonable, at least to me, to be affected by seasons. And I am not only struck with SADness during the despairing gloom of winter. I reckon six months from now that I’ll undoubtedly be overexerting myself, in direct relation to the brightness and duration of sunlight around the summer solstice. I’m pretty much seasonally affected all the time.

My own psychiatric analysis aside, there seem to be plenty of examples, pan-culturally, that the holidays spring up when they do for a reason, and that is to offer folks the opportunity to gather and consume sugar communally, to keep a candle of human connection lit against the banner of descending seasonal darkness. In communities of all types, we have the ability to share in the warmth, light, and friendship throughout the year.

Some Rabbits will undoubtedly venture off to other realms for the holidays to spend time with their families of origin, and others of us will remain to tend to the necessities of building and maintaining a sustainable village. My partner and daughter are this very day preparing to depart to modern, metropolitan Omaha, Nebraska, that hotspot of running water, chain restaurants, and strip malls.

Me, I’ve got livestock duty here, as well as some much desired time for quietness and solitude. Still, I sense I may be only days away from becoming bored and lonely, the proper conditions in which to get some much needed work done.

As for the holidays, we at Dancing Rabbit are similar to everyone else. (Or maybe not, but close enough.) In the past week we’ve had a Hanukkah potluck, a Christmas-carols-and-cookie-munching extravaganza, and a Winter Solstice ritual and vigil. Kyle even decorated a cedar tree out on his warren with lights and handmade ornaments.

It seems that most folks here, despite their individual spiritual tendencies, cannot resist the opportunity to brighten the season with song and treats and togetherness. Not me, necessarily, as I’m more of a religious person than a spiritual one. I’m mostly in it for the latke and fruitcake.

As a parent of a young child, I am required by mass culture to endorse and celebrate the arrival of Saint Nick, the Hanukkah bunny, and Kwanzaa elves, but in our household Santa doesn’t bring anything but a load of kindling and good will for all. Much more practical than the manufactured onslaught of plastic, battery impregnated toys and doodads which sweeten the lives of children across the continent for a few days before leading to a cycle of boredom and materialism.

But it is the holidays, and if I can’t cheer up, I reckon I’ll at least get off the high horse, or trade it in for a miniature donkey and offer some small solutions to the ecological impacts of the holidays. Granted, it may be too late for readers to implement these nifty notions into this year’s festivities, but nonetheless I have for y’all some humble offerings on how to simplify the holidays.

Keep your Christmas tree alive by not cutting it down. If you wanna cut it down, fine, but explore your disposal options. A composted tree can feed the soil carbon bank. An old brush pile out on the back forty provides cover for wildlife. Or you can tether it to a stream bank to slow erosion.

Get the kiddies some stocking stuffers from the dump. Metaphorically. A person needn’t spend green to be green, and it’s amazing how equally eager children are to use half crayons as full crayons.

Or you can be like me, and not get anybody anything, then just apologize. Don’t worry, they already know that you’re the crazy cousin.

My granny used to enforce a careful unwrapping policy, then neatly fold the paper for next year. She was recycling before recycling was called recycling.

Consider your travel alternatives. Trains and buses are a more efficient model for transport than personal motor vehicles, and have the added bonus of forging new friendships between total strangers. I think it’s fun. Besides, it doesn’t matter if gas costs two or twenty dollars a gallon, it emits the same amount of carbon dioxide.

You might consider asking for certain family heirlooms rather than new gifts. The older folks in our family were surprised and delighted to learn that we actually had more need of their canning equipment than whatever they could find on sale at the mega-store.

If you get a good feeling giving things to people, consider donating to a non-profit organization that fits your values, or purchasing from local, ethical crafters or growers.

Go sledding. Unless there’s no snow. Then you can just roll in the mud like I do. Make mud angels.

Admittedly, on an increasingly hot and agitated planet that provides more mud than snow on Christmas, offering mini-donkey sized solutions to Clydesdale problems can feel futile. I can blame that feeling on the pervasive, miserable grayness of the skies, or the fact that I got too many plastic toys as a child, but the truth is I need to merely readjust my perspective.

I recognize that me riding my bike everywhere out of principle doesn’t do much on its own. But when I have the opportunity to connect with others outside our quaint community here, I realize small things can be surprisingly dense. (If you don’t believe me, I suggest you attempt to coax a three-foot-tall donkey into doing something he doesn’t want to do.)

We’re all coming together in the darkness for a reason. Our individual behaviors do have an impact and a consequence. The world we’ve created as a species is big and scary, not to mention muddy. And it probably won’t help to broach political or theological subjects with your grumpy uncle this holiday season.

But even the curmudgeonliest among us cannot refuse an offer of friendship in these dark days. No matter who we vote for or pray to, the same challenges face us all. And who knows, cranky uncle Al might be stubborn enough to hang his clothes on a line, or keep the thermostat at sixty-five, not because of his concerns about fossil fuels, but just because he’s bullheaded enough to be that way. Half the reason I live at Dancing Rabbit is to be stubborn.

Winter is a time of scarcity. Among traditional agrarian people, that meant an opportunity to share what they did have. People needed, and still need, to feel as though they have plenty when heading into the lean times ahead. So they gifted when they had little to give. But those small things are the ones that provide the most motivation, peace, and tranquility in the face of winter’s looming gloom.

I’m not traditional agrarian people. I’m un-traditional agrarian people. I don’t have a tangible gift to share with y’all, and advice is one of the worst gifts to receive. So my gift to you is that I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, and hope that others come here and give it a try sometime. I may be scarce of electricity, or leafy greens, but by golly it’s more fun than the alternative. And as little as I might seem to have to give, I do, at the very least, have my whole life to offer towards solving the big problems.

I’ll stop soon, rather than risk going on, and on and on and on, like the inexorable atmospheric gloom inundating us here. Even though winter has begun, it will end as surely as this newsletter, except there’s no groundhog responsible for ceasing its existence. Just me, another ecological nut scattered in the leaf litter and debris of our healing heartland forests and prairies. But it’s nuts like me that become the progenitors for the majestic oaks that our great-grandchildren will walk in wonder beneath, and I think that’s as good of a gift as I can possibly give.

•                  •                 •

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.