Our conception of sustainable living requires both lifestyle and technological choices quite different from those which have become typical for Americans. We cannot predict those choices exactly; what follows is a general description of life at DR, and examples of only some of the practices and structures that will most likely be found there.
What little we can assert at this point is that local production and local employment are essential. Long-distance transport in the centralized US economy accounts for the bulk of energy use, huge material waste and accompanying pollution. Therefore, systems of food production, soil fertility management, home energy, sanitation, etc., will be integrated in a manner such that materials and energy are reused efficiently without depleting the local resource base or fouling surrounding natural systems. Every subsystem above, and the manner in which they are integrated, will be designed for the local climate, soils, etc.
Food, in particular, will be produced locally, providing the basis for economic independence. Organic growing practices that rely principally upon human labor and biological processes will similarly replace machinery and material inputs. Conventional high-input food production can seriously degrade both the long-term productivity of agricultural soils and surrounding (“downstream”) systems. One technique with which we have had success in our own gardens is the biointensive model, which allows high yields from a very small area. However, we expect a wide range of sustainable farming systems to be tried.
Living “off-the-grid” will automatically improve the sustainability of our home and municipal energy use. First, we will minimize our consumption through efficient design and pursuit of alternative routes to any goal, as even renewable sources have environmental cost; we will generate power only for cases where a goal cannot be served without it.. Second, we will use no power that we cannot generate sustainably, meaning that we use only renewables, and design our windmills, small hydroelectric generators, etc., to minimize their impact.
Typical North American homes are prohibitively expensive for many Americans, yet waste huge quantities of energy for temperature control, lighting and food storage. Simple, common-sense design changes, such as superinsulating, window placement for passive solar heating, and addition of thermal mass, can make homes dramatically more energy efficient as their temperature is controlled by the sun and earth. Some of the most efficient alternative home-building techniques and materials allow homes to be built cheaply by human labor. Earth berming and straw bale construction, for example, are ancient, proven methods.
Energy independence will be a simple task compared to economic independence, possibly our greatest challenge. To reinforce the sense of self-sufficiency of the largely internal economy of DR, we will encourage residents to eschew the use of US dollars within the town. Instead, barter or a similar internal exchange system will enable us to exchange goods and services. Although we plan for economic independence long-term, Dancing Rabbit as an entity will always need some money, as will individual members. Early on we expect major expenses will be for setup of our infrastructure. As much as possible of the necessary labor will be done by Dancing Rabbit members, and most raw materials will be obtained onsite or scavenged from the waste of mainstream society. Any goods or services we absolutely need to buy, we will make every attempt to purchase locally, giving back to our neighbors and our bioregion. As a community we will apply our standards of sustainability when choosing such suppliers, and hope that all DR residents will do the same with individual purchases. When necessary, Dancing Rabbit may provide cooperatively for medicine and food products not grown in the town. As DR becomes more established and each household or community within Dancing Rabbit (see below) more able to provide for itself, our reliance on unsustainably produced, nonbioregional goods will be continually diminishing. Because our high quality of life will stem from local sources, our cash needs per capita will be quite small.
Dancing Rabbit intends to create an environment and overall social structure which encourages sustainability. One reason for the desire to have Dancing Rabbit reach a population of 1000 (much larger than many intentional communities) is to enable us to provide for many of our own needs, social as well as economic. We can never be truly sustainable unless our members are happy. We believe that a sense of community is essential to human fulfillment, but that diversity is equally essential. Furthermore, if people’s social networks, as well as their livelihoods, are largely local, they save the huge energy costs of mechanized travel and gain the opportunity to be in touch with their homes. As it is unrealistic to expect close friendship between every possible pair of members, the “small town” size of 1000 seems ideal to permit enough face-to-face familiarity but also enough variety of personalities that every member can create a network of friends.
Dancing Rabbit will strive to be culturally diverse enough to provide a home for people from many backgrounds and with many different desires. We therefore encourage people of varying education, ethnicity, ability or socioeconomic status to join, and welcome any lifestyle compatible with the constraints of sustainability. Cooperation is important, but we also see the need for individual responsibility and freedom. Therefore, DR will allow for varying community structures within its greater society. We call this the Society of Communities model.
Dancing Rabbit will be established as a land trust, where the land is held in common and leased long term to its residents. The bylaws of the DR land trust will include provisions defining the bounds of sustainable living. These will most likely include rules regarding the use of non-sustainable materials and practices, such as petroleum products, pesticides, and inorganic fertilizers. Dancing Rabbit will also have a land management plan, setting aside land for ecosystem preservation, farming, wood lots, housing, and community use.
Various types of living groups, from large communities to single-family households, will settle upon the land. Dancing Rabbit will not legislate or direct the internal workings of these communities or households, beyond the guidelines for ecological sustainability. (As a lease implies an exchange, there will most likely be expectations for leaseholders to “give back” to Dancing Rabbit in some fashion.) We will encourage people to make their settlements around a central gathering point, creating a town-like atmosphere which allows people to share resources and promotes community interaction.
Dancing Rabbit will also provide services to its residents in the form of infrastructure, knowledge and labor exchange, and moral support. For example, DR may set up a farming cooperative to grow staple foods for its members, may help them design and build their homes, and will in general encourage sustainability and cooperation.
In short, the Dancing Rabbit Project hopes to provide the land, knowledge and community so that people can come and live with the freedom to define their lifestyle within the new sustainable structure.
People at Dancing Rabbit share the belief that modern society needs to change. We have agreed that to create that change we will start with ourselves and try to make our impact on the larger society by example and education. We hope to be a working model of one way people can live sustainably and happily, so that when more people choose (or find it necessary) to live sustainably they can benefit from our knowledge, experience, and guidance.
Dancing Rabbit will have many avenues for contact. With minimal efforts at publicity, we will most likely have a constant flux of visitors, prospective residents, and tourists. We expect that residents will participate in local politics as well as political and social action. As is necessary for our supplies and livelihood we will buy, sell, and trade goods, maintaining social as well as economic contacts. We’d like to participate significantly in the larger intentional communities movement. Raising children at DR will be a positive force for change; in addition, we hope that the schools we establish for our own children will be attended by some students from outside DR as well. Until we have our own schools established, several current DR members intend to seek teaching positions offsite. We will offer internships, possibly even for college credit, in fields from agriculture to sociology. Finally, as a laboratory for sustainable living, we will be conducting research into technical and social aspects of our own lives and designs, and publishing our findings for both popular and academic audiences.
In all of these ways and in many others Dancing Rabbit and its members will make a positive impact on North American society. We are actively looking for other like-minded individuals to join us in working toward making this dream a reality.