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Community - The Good Stuff
By Alline AndersonAs I write this a chainsaw chorus drones in the background, reminder of another swarm at Dancing Rabbit. Not a swarm of bees or wasps, but of Rabbits, the human variety. This time the focus is the huge elm tree that sits smack-dab in the middle of our little village. Suffering from Dutch Elm disease, some of its limbs have died and become a danger to those walking beneath. So under the guidance of our tree team, this week’s swarm descended upon the elm. Just about everyone was there – Tom and Ted joyously wielding chainsaws, Kurt and Juan minding the brushfire, Alyssa, Suzanne, Thomas, Panda, Rory hauling the newly-sawn firewood to a pile behind the common house. It was pretty darned impressive.
This spirit of togetherness, of helping one another, is what brought Kurt and me back to Dancing Rabbit. After selling my parents’ home in California, we have, for the first time in our lives, a little tiny nest egg. We considered staying in the Bay Area and also toyed with moving to Portland. But for us, DR has been a place where dreams come true, and so here we are.
We are investing in Dancing Rabbit, both financially and emotionally. In a few weeks we will break ground on what will be called the Milkweed Mercantile (years ago, tiring of saying “Alline Anderson and Kurt Kessner,” Rachel named us “The Milkweeds,” because we are “tall, strong and fuzzy inside.”). Housed in a straw-bale building, there will be a four-room B&B, a commercial kitchen and café, and a store, all surrounded by a screened-in porch. The kitchen will be approved for food production, enabling the talented cooks here at DR to produce jam, baked goods and other products for sale. The store will be a showcase for crafts and other hand-made items.
We are excited to have a project where we get to work with many of the Rabbits. Skyhouse is designing our website, and Amy has signed on as manager of the B&B. Tom, Bob, Tony B., Suzanne and Michelle will be helping with construction, as will Mark and Chad from Red Earth Farms. In addition, we’re bringing in a bunch of work exchangers (“wexers”). Ranging in age from 19-35, they are a talented, energetic group. One of the highlights of our first summer here at DR in 1999 was the bustling internship program. We’ve missed the opportunity to directly contribute to DR’s educational mission, and so are using the Mercantile as a hands-on building demonstration project. Kurt loves to teach, and the wexers will have the chance to participate in the construction of a strawbale solar-and-wind-powered building from start to finish in one season (fingers crossed!). We always remember that some of our favorite members, both past and present, first came to DR as interns and wexers – Tom, Tamar, Ted, Sara, Bob, Tony B., Penn and Laura. Perhaps some of this year’s wexers will make DR home, too.
Another exciting educational aspect of the building will be our new ability to host seminars. We envision workshops on natural building, yoga, quilting, birding, gardening, compost, permaculture, midwifery, whole foods cookery, bread baking, renewable energy and more. Participants will stay comfortably in the B&B and be fed in the café. It will be a wonderful way for the community to shine, as a whole and as individuals.
One of the biggest challenges so far has been getting the infrastructure approved. What we do here on our own is one thing; what happens when we invite the public becomes a whole different ball of wax. We’re working closely with the local and state health departments, trying to find a way to bridge the gap between our environmental ideals and accepted (but crazy to us) norms of rural sewage lagoons. The composting toilet system we’re looking at has been approved (check it out at http://www.compostingtoilet.com/) but our proposed gray water system was flat out denied. Our research continues.
When Kurt and I get frustrated, or scared, or any of the roller coaster emotions we’re experiencing on a daily basis, we stop, take a deep breath and look around. Our neighbors are our friends, and we know that we can count on them to support and help us every step of the way. We feel incredibly fortunate to have found DR and made it our home. We are thrilled with the opportunity to have a little café serving local food, produced by these same friends and neighbors. The chance to provide a way for Rabbits (and ourselves!) to earn a living doing what we love (knitting, felting, quilting, making rugs, carving wood, teaching…) is an undeniable treat. And to have social gathering place where we can, say, watch a movie while eating pizza (served piping hot from the wood-fired bread oven) and drinking local and/or organic beer and wine – well, it doesn’t get much better than that. Most of all, we look forward to Milkweed Mercantile as a place where Rabbits can share our lives and community with others, and demonstrate that living environmentally can be fun, satisfying, fulfilling and just plain great.
NOTE: As their nest egg has proven a wee bit small, Kurt and Alline are actively seeking investors for the Mercantile. If you are interested, please contact them by e-mail.