The very beginning, or: How and Where It All Began

This history is now available on SOUNDCLOUND via an interview with Tony Sirna by Dan Antonioli at Laytonville Ecovillage. Have a listen or just read on! 

groupThe year: 1993. The place: Synergy, a student co-op at Stanford University in California. The people: three students, inspired by books such as How to Grow More Vegetables and Earthships. The name: That’s a whole ‘nother story. The idea: move beyond protesting ecological destruction towards finding a positive alternative for ecological living.

What they came up with was an idea for an “eco town” of 1000 people focused on sustainable living. As they fleshed out their vision, they soon connected with the intentional communities movement and the nascent ecovillage movement, and eventually came to the idea of creating an ecovillage comprised of both individuals and small sub-communities.

The early stages, Part 1, or: Email lists and Moving to Berkeley!

Between 1993 and 1995 Dancing Rabbit mainly existed as an email discussion list and monthly potluck. The group attracted new energy from around the San Francisco Bay Area and around the country, discussing what it would take to make this dream a reality. Some core members went on learning expeditions, visiting other eco-projects and communities, gaining first hand experience. Others did research or saved money for an eventual land purchase.

In 1995, the core group decided to gather together in Berkeley, CA, to try out living and working together, and to have more time to plan the community’s future. They moved into a house called Skyhouse, which was part of a multi-house community called GreenPLAN. DR went from meeting once a month to meeting 3 or 4 times a week, and things definitely kicked into high gear.

The early stages, Part 2, or: California Doesn’t Cut It

It soon became apparent that creating the ecovillage of their dreams in California would be a major uphill battle, due to zoning restrictions and land prices. After much deliberation, the group decided to explore locations in the Midwest and East in hopes of finding a more compatible place for their vision to come to reality.

They came up with land search criteria: no zoning, no building codes, affordable land where food could be grown without unsustainable irrigation, ideally near an existing intentional community and a progressive college town. Scouting trips were made to Burlington, VT; Athens, OH; Charlottesville, VA; upstate New York; and western Massachusetts, and other areas of the country were researched extensively as well. Eventually they narrowed it down to three potential locations, Northeast Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Eastern Tennessee.

As the time drew near to leave, many in the group questioned their personal readiness to leave California, or to move to a rural area and be an eco-pioneer. In August 1996 six from the original group, with all their possessions in tow, left California in search of a new home. After an adventure-filled month of travel and exploration, they settled in Northeast Missouri, to be near Sandhill Farm.

A little background, or: “Someday We’ll Find It, the Sandhill Connection…”

Rabbits had first visited Sandhill in 1994 and connected very strongly with the well-established community. Except for the lack of a progressive college town, Scotland County matched their search criteria well. Sandhill was very encouraging of DR settling in their area, making space for the Rabbits and even offering some of their land to build on. The Rabbits’ first few months in Missouri were spent at Sandhill, helping out with the ’96 sorghum harvest.

The pioneer days, part 1, or: Finding and Living on the Land

The search for land and a temporary place to live was on, and Rabbits approached every land owner within 3 miles of Sandhill (considered a reasonable biking distance). Eventually they found a double-wide trailer to rent and 280 acres of land with a few farm buildings to buy. A non-profit land trust was quickly set up, and money was borrowed from members, family, and friends to purchase the land for $190,000 (slightly above market rates at the time). On October 1, 1997 the papers were signed and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage at long last had land!

The early years were both exciting and challenging. It was a small group with the monumental task of creating a new village, and even a new society, from scratch. They worked long days in the gardens, on construction sites, and planting trees, and often spent evenings canning food, doing computer work, and answering visitor email. There was a lot to figure out, which meant lots of meetings, but luckily the group had pretty good consensus skills. Inevitably conflicts arose, on topics from dirty dishes to land use planning. People realized that the idea of living in community was pretty different from the reality, and some decided to leave.

The pioneer days, part 2, or: Ups and Downs and Uncertainties

By 1998 DR was down to only four members, and it wasn’t clear if the project would survive. But visitors and interns brought an influx of new energy and by 1999 DR was on the path to steady growth that continues to this day. Membership grew slowly at first, with a lack of housing the most limiting factor. There were lots of experiments with eco technologies, often with amazing success, but also some definite failures.

By 2004 DR was up to 20 members and had moved into a new Common House on the land, finally getting out of the rented double-wide trailer across the road. By 2007, the 10th anniversary of the land purchase, DR had 40 members and there were 16 new buildings on the land; today those numbers just keep on growing.

What was the secret to Dancing Rabbit’s succeeding where so many forming communities fail? It’s hard to know for sure, but the passionate commitment to a clear vision and determination to do the hard work held by the founders and pioneers played a huge role in making this dream a reality. Go, Dancing Rabbit!