New resident Liz here, writing to you after living at Dancing Rabbit for four months. I’ve had a great first summer in Missouri after moving here from Berkeley, California. When I told people that I was moving to Missouri, the first thing both people from Berkeley and midwesterners alike said was, “you know it gets really hot and humid there in the summer?” And yet here I am.
Two things surprise me this summer: how much cooking and processing of food I’m doing and how much the warm humid air amplifies the senses: the feel of warm steamy air on my slick sweaty skin; the smell of wet grass and soil drifting in through my screen doors in the morning; the procession of different-colored stains on my fingernails from chopping mounds of turnips, plums, greens, zucchini, onions, peppers, avocados, limes, lemons, carrots, shucking corn, blanching tomatoes, sorting and packaging pounds of blueberries, you name it.
The humid heat carries scents into my cottage, swept in by the ceiling fan that I’m sitting under, seeking refuge from the heat. The straw bale walls of my house exude cool air when it’s hot outside, and any heat but the most extreme can be kept at bay without an air conditioner and the judicious opening or closing of my front and back doors. Yesterday I was trying to keep still in the heat and the heady, mouth-watering scent of warm-in-the-sun tomatoes filled my nostrils, coming from the tomato plants in my vegetable garden. For breakfast I slice airy sourdough or pungent rye bread, made weekly by Alyson and Matt, and spread creamy tangy herb goat cheese from Fox Hollow farm on it. I top it with oily sundried tomatoes from a jar and a pinch of sea salt. This is definitely not roughing it!
In these summer weeks I’ve been immersed in so much community cooking, that when I close my eyes to sleep after long cooking days I see a mental movie of my hands chopping, stirring, slicing, lifting, rinsing, serving, cleaning. My days are enveloped in summer scents: herbal tomatoes, acrid basil, sharp garlic, acidic lemon and lime, the piercing onion scent that mellows to sweetness in the pan. I am newly inspired to cook what is growing in my own garden and others’, what is offered at DR’s on-site grocery store, or riding my bike with my trailer to Zimmerman’s general store a mile away.
The abundance of summer eats makes my recent transition from California to the midwest much gentler. And as I rinse or peel or chop mounds of blueberries, corn, zucchini, turnips, greens, and mushrooms for freezing, canning, or dehydrating under Cob’s patient supervision, I imagine how well our co-op kitchen members will eat in the winter, and some of my angst eases about living in a place that has a cold winter. And the self-congratulatory sense that Californians have about food that I brought with me to Missouri gives way to a humble appreciation of the sublime quality of fresh food and enjoying it fully it while it lasts.
Cooking whatever might appeal to the fellow members of my co-op kitchen, or to visitors eating at our kitchen, or to people dropping in for a weekend at the Milkweed Mercantile for workshops, I am in constant training, learning the ways of different kitchens, learning to cook for ever larger groups, creating menus that intersect what is in the garden, what is already in the refrigerator, what recipe easily scales up to feed large groups, and pair those requirements with what is delicious.
No matter how much heartache is in my life, I feel content and joyful when I cook for others. My fellow Rabbits have a contagious certainty that there is an abundance of food, that of course we cook for each other through the co-op kitchens, that each of the six visitor groups of 15 people that stay with us for 2-3 weeks at a time will be fed in turn by the co-op kitchens and the Mercantile. But because I am new, I am touched by these acts of generosity and kindness and it amazes me that there is plenty of fresh healthy food for all of us and enough Rabbits to cook it. When in my former urban life did I have the time and the willingness to cook for this many people?
Back in California I ran my own cooking business, doing everything exactly the way I wanted to, which is very much the California way: developing potential for the benefit of the self. And after 17 years I finally got my fill of independence, realizing the limitations and loneliness of doing everything myself, with only my own ideas to follow, with only the time I had available to work on things. And now I’m living at DR, putting my shoulder to the wheel of Dancing Rabbit’s mission and developing the skills of interdependence.
I’ve never lived in a place that was pin-drop quiet at night, where I’m greeted with a smile by everyone, where my body can relax deeply because I am physically safe and because I know everyone around me. And I am observing what cooperative/collaborating groups can accomplish, which is exponential compared with my solo experience. I feel momentum in my life and a growing warmth toward my fellow humans that I yearned for when I lived in the city.
This last week the weather has settled into more reasonable warm days and cool nights. I say my wistful goodbyes to visitors who are leaving, and we welcome new residents Angela and Debbie to Thistledown kitchen. The summer begins to wane and suddenly I notice that it is light but the sun is not up at 5:45 am when I rise to cook breakfast for the writer’s workshop at the Mercantile. And again here at the Mercantile kitchen, cooking is a community effort, with eggs from the Critters, pears from Dan’s tree, onion chives and greens from Loren’s garden, zucchini and basil from my own garden, sweet corn from Memphis, and dry goods and yogurt from the DR grocery store.
The writer’s group is larger and even more rowdy than the Mercantile’s preserving workshop in July. Boisterous laughter comes from upstairs punctuated by the quiet of 10 people concentrating while they write. In just a few days this group has gone from individual strangers to a cohesive whole and I observe the deepening of their interactions each morning as I make breakfast for them. We learn a bit about each other’s life stories as I sit down with them to share the breakfast I’ve made, and the warm connection that is created through people sitting around a table eating together.
And in the spirit of the readings given at the writer’s workshop, I want to offer a quote from an article I read this morning, which describes some of how I feel about cooking for others in a community setting and some of the reasons I moved to Dancing Rabbit.
“Having a just, kind, caring society is not inevitable. It requires work, action and solidarity. We all have a stake in the future of the planet, and therefore we should all have an interest in the wellbeing of those around us, regardless of our background, upbringing and identity. Liberation is not just for a chosen few. It’s an opportunity no one should be denied. We owe it to ourselves to take care of each other.” (Article by Kaitlyn Hatch, Lion’s Roar magazine.)
Don’t forget! There are only two visitor sessions remaining in 2017, so if you want to check DR out in person, apply now! The September session is our second annual women-only visitor session, and the October session is for everyone. And if you live nearby, mark your calendars for our annual Open House, happening Saturday, Sept 9th from 1-4 pm. We hope to see you here soon!
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us (dancingrabbiticorg) .