Everything here is a little bit harder.
— a Rabbit
From each community I have visited, something wonderful’s stuck in my mind. In Earthaven, daffodils blooming at every fork in the road and the lovely floor mosaic in the community house. At Possibility Alliance, the clear pond with its happy flock of ducks and geese and cat-tails all around, and funky cob outdoor kitchen. At Dancing Rabbit, the enormity and clarity of the night sky, and the endless buckets of humanure that travel from the community house to the composting ground (a good good thing! :-)).
I spent two weeks last month at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, which finds itself on a large old farm far from just about anywhere, in the area known as NEMO (North Eastern Missouri). The land itself is mostly rolling pasture, with some trees and woods along the creeks and washes. Walking the land is easy on the paths mown in the tall grass and weeds. Next door is the Red Earth Farms, an offshoot of DR. And three miles down the road is another small, older community, Sandhill.
The Rabbits run a very well organized visitors program. The six of us newbies would meet every day for a check-in, and to attend some workshop or work party. The group itself was multifarious: an LA man working in the film industry, retooling himself as an alternative builder, wanting out. A woman touring U.S. communities, freshly come from a large Hare Krishna ashram/cow sanctuary in West Virginia where she had been learning farming. A Canadian with Old Colony (very old fashioned) Mennonite background who knitted her way through our DR days. A musician from North Carolina who used to run a nightclub, realized that he had thrown out one drunk too many in his life, and time had come for a radical turnaround. And an intrepid man from Boston looking to start an ecovillage in New England came to explore both DR and Possibility Alliance.
Our workshops covered the history of DR and took us on several tours of the land, the main community kitchen and its rules, and the houses. We learned about consensus, permaculture, land use planning for DR’s future expansion, a bit about how DR gets things done, the various coops, and about the alternative building and energy at DR. DR builders are moving somewhat away from natural building and into green building which goes up faster and doesn’t grow mold. They use propane and county water, are on the grid for electricity, and produce enough from wind turbines and solar panels to sell back to the grid. One rather notable workshop dealt with “inner sustainability” and learning to navigate relationships and conflict at DR. We discussed various techniques for inner work, from Coherence Counseling to Naka Ima/Heart of Now and Zegg Forums, and co-counseling was demonstrated.
One night we were treated to a Q & A session where many Rabbits came to offer answers to our questions; they all stress that each person’s answer is partial and particular, and we were always encouraged to gather a number of points of view. We participated in the WIP (“week in preview”) session on Sunday where announcements are made for the coming week, people schedule car trips, and in general everyone coordinates their activities as needed. We also hauled dirt to someone’s future green roof, learned to make joinery pegs the old fashioned way on a shaving horse, planted garlic, and some people helped with a new round house going up made of pallets, clay-straw, cob, and natural plasters. We were also treated to delightful tours of the neighbor eco-communities.
A particularly interesting workshop was on DR’s internal currency. It’s called ELMs, is entirely computerized, practical, and unique, and run by two volunteers. Converting into dollars 1:1, it is widely used, and the community pays those who work on its behalf in ELMs. About $40,000 worth changes hands every month, increasing fast. How do people make a living in DR? Well, there are those who live off their trust funds or pensions, a few run computer businesses, and others go off-farm for seasonal jobs (for example, a cruise ship job, sheep farm job, soil testing for area farmers, and the like). The community does provide some limited flow of money to those who live there and decide to provide child care or building and maintenance services. DR itself offers several part-time accounting and high-level coordination jobs.
The car coop serves this community of 70+ with three biodiesel cars. On one hand, this is part of the glue that helps the community stick together. It is however fairly expensive to pay per mile into the coop, and some people hang onto their own cars so they can work off-farm or visit relatives. This is creating considerable tension at the moment, and will be the subject of a large (and contentious) community meeting this month. I am expecting that the strict standard will be somewhat relaxed, but at the same time, it presents a difficult issue to the Rabbits because the commitment to shared biodiesel cars is one of the founding principles of DR. The tiny town of Rutledge is 3 miles away and people do bicycle or walk there, and to the organic dairy nearby.
One of the amazing things about DR is the richness of the cultural life there. I often wondered… how come the typical small town in America feels so dead, with very little going on, esp. for young people, whereas DR is just brimming with events and gatherings? Every night, there was something of interest: potlucks, a concert, support groups, self-growth workshops, men’s and women’s groups, singing and healing circles, yoga, parties, movie nights… or simply informal gatherings in the community house to share stories or to make music. A true cultural oasis.
The food, on the other hand, was often dreadful. We circulated among the various community kitchens which are run as coops into which people pay a monthly fee, and share the chores of cooking and keeping the place stocked and modestly clean. Veganism seems to be the prevalent ethos even though most of the people there are not vegan. I guess it’s cheap to feed people that way. To give you the flavor of it, one day for lunch we got some tasteless split peas with carrots, millet, and popcorn. Ugh. There were meals that were tasty, but they were more of an exception to the rule, and when Thursdays came, many of us converged on the Mercantile to wolf down handmade pizza. (The Mercantile is a straw-bale B&B inn and a shop/bar.) The community kitchens range from modern kitchens all the way to outdoor open sheds where cooking is done on hand-crafted rocket stoves.
Most of the current settlers at DR are quite young, and the turnover is considerable. Many people go for the experience, not to settle there. This may shift as DR keeps on growing. The community is really one big laboratory for building methods, community design, relationships, co-governance, and now, finally, gearing up for restorative agriculture. I attended the ag committee meeting, and it turns out that most of the early settlers came here for the natural building opportunity (no zoning laws). The ag lands have lain fallow for 15 years, harvesting a government subsidy that helped DR pay off its land mortgage. Now 19 acres have been removed from that program, and the ag committee is busy setting up some basic guidelines for farming. The land itself is very degraded: I was told that much of the topsoil blew away in the 30s, followed by bad farming practices, and now there is only about an inch of topsoil overlying clay. People who garden have had to resort to importing soil from elsewhere for their raised beds. Given the vegan ethos of the community, regeneration of soil via rotational grazing is regarded with suspicion, but a go-ahead has been given for a small herd of goats and sheep, beginning next year.
Well. I am just bursting with more stories from the stay, and the post is getting lengthy. I think I will tell you two more things, and then tuck in. I have enough memories and reflections for another post or two! The thing that completely caught me off guard and unprepared was this: DR is inhabited mainly by extroverts who have taken over. It was hard for me to bear, all the compulsive socializing, the fast talking without pauses, the loudness and ruckus attending gatherings, the obligatory hand-holding circles, the many meetings, and the lack of sociable silence. The extroverts are aware their ways are hard for introverts to live with — that is, intellectually, they are aware. Behavior-wise, they seem oblivious. The extrovert culture has at its roots an assumption — a sense of entitlement, even — that introverts adapt and assimilate. In the sense that the outside culture is driven by extrovert values and needs, the Rabbits have brought Babylon in with them (says this much put-upon grumpy introvert).
I did not camp out as my mateys did, but rented one of the more notable structures at DR; a tiny cob house named Gobcobatron, built as a spiral and very lovely and enjoyable for a brief stay (see its pic below). High on charm, it is also mostly unlivable, having no insulation in the walls or the roof. One afternoon when I dozed off without covering myself, I woke up chilled to the bone even though it was warmish outside: the massive earthen walls just suck the heat out of the living body. Evenings, I put a little stove to good use. The house was a quiet and calming retreat for me from all the bustle of the community. Its owners have learned some important lessons and are now living in a partially finished straw-bale house built on stilts to insulate it from the damp ground.
I am very grateful for everything these brave pioneers so whole-heartedly and generously shared with us visitors. All hail the hard-working, merry Dancing Rabbits!