What would happen if you took two people from New York City and with no warning whisked them off to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage? How would they fare with the shift to rural ecological living? And how crazy would it be to film the whole thing for TV?
In May of 2005 documentarian Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) sent two people from the New York City area to spend 30 days at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage to see what life was like off the grid. An hour long TV show aired on the FX network as part of their series entitled 30 Days.
Vito Summa and Johari Jenkins arrived at Dancing Rabbit unprepared but ready for an adventure. We had the Grain Bin Apartments set up for them but there was currently no solar electric system so it was candles and lanterns for our city friends. Within a few days we had solar panels installed and had attained a more luxurious off-grid living arrangement.
Their next adventure was making biodiesel and doing a heated-tank conversion on our 1999 VW Jetta so that it can run on biodiesel in the winter and straight veggie oil in the summer. Penn led them on a tour to every greasy spoon to gather veggie oil and used a biodiesel processing kit (shipped here on loan by the TV production house). I’m sure the TV audience will be impressed when they see them pour in the homemade fuel and drive away.
Next it was down to the Ironweed gardens where V and J planted their own little garden bed and helped with the harvesting of salad greens. I don’t think we made farmers of them but we did get them to haul a little manure and chase a few chickens around.
For the whole month our new folks ate in Skyhouse with the Bobolink food co-op. Johari seemed pretty happy with the food and cooked a great meal with Amy. Vito was happy to eat almost anything but was missing his normal omnivorous diet. For good or bad this became a central theme in the 30 Days plot – where could Vito (soon nicknamed Meato) get some meat. See, the thing was that Morgan Spurlock told them they had to eat only unpackaged, organic food so Vito couldn’t just go to the local store and buy some steaks. Instead we had him hunting rabbits, buying some local chickens, getting venison from Sandhill and some other neighbors, and finally finding an organic beef producer in the area. We hope we aren’t portrayed as anti-meat fascists but also hope the point is made that eating less meat is generally more ecological given current agricultural systems.
Next it was time to get muddy. Our subjects (thats what the TV people called them!) soon got a chance to build a strawbale wall down at the Ironweed Kitchen, and then came to Skyhouse for a lesson in earthen plastering. Tony gave them the lowdown and got them in the pit stomping plaster with the rest of Skyhouse and then taught them the art of doing a fine finish plaster. With the cameras rolling for 3 days they finished all the plaster in the Skyhouse great room, including adding stained glass mosaics and two cob shelves for plants or knick-knacks. They finished the room by adding the finish layer of earthen floor, about two tons of plaster when the floor was finally done.
Back home Vito and Johari work in the nightlife scene in New York–Vito as a bartender and bouncer and Johari as a DJ. So of course they wanted to throw us a going away party. Johari handled the sound (though was limited in her choices by what the network could get the rights to) while Vito served up his signature drink, a key-lime-pie martini. Thanks to Cecil, the key-lime-pie martini (KLPM) became the running joke for the month. Cecil never missed a chance to interject an ad for Vito’s KLPM available at the Beach Cafe at 70th and 2nd – Tuesdays and Thursdays with Thursday’s night ladies night. At this point probably every rabbit can recite that info by heart usually amidst the groans of anyone within earshot.
The real scene stealer at the party was a skit by Cecil and Nicole. Nicole had spent a week or two making puppets of Vito and Johari that were remarkable in their likeness. It was hilarious seeing V and J acting out the days events with their puppets, and even better when they took on each other’s personas. But at the party Cecil and Nicole stole the show, lampooning the crew and reenacting the infamous humanure shift with a guest appearance from Morgan Spurlock spending thirty days living in the bins.
We really had a great time with Vito and Johari. They had really great attitudes about the whole process. They really took everything in stride. And it was really sweet when they said the thing they would miss most was all their new Rabbit friends. In some ways, they were sent to DR because of our ecological lifestyle, but I think what touched them most was our sense of community.
After the show aired, we got a lot of questions and felt the need to clear up some misconceptions people had after viewing the episode. You can read those clarifications here.