Living Sustainably at DR-In Detail: Sustainable Building

You may wonder what it’s like to live at DR, and in what ways we are living differently from the rest of America. This series of posts is intended to let you in on some of the practices and technologies we use here to reduce our impact on the planet.  This is my personal story, and although there are people here that live simpler lives than I do, and some that live with more amenities, this should give you some idea of an average person’s lifestyle here.  Most of the ways of living I explain you could practice where you live as well if you had the desire.  It is a lot easier to do it at DR because we’ve set up our infrastructure around living more sustainably. But then, in many ways living closer to an urban area you may have more opportunities for cooperation and sharing of resources.  You also may not have to travel as far as we do to get what you need to implement some of these systems.

Since shelter is a fundamental need for humans, and since my house is where I spend most of my time, I’ll start there with this week’s post. In future posts, I’ll explore how I meet other basic necessities such as food and water, and some not so basic necessities, such as power and transportation, in a more sustainable way.

My house was constructed of a combination of materials, some reclaimed and reused, most local, most natural, and some new and neither natural nor local.  Most of the house is constructed of natural materials like clay, sand, lime, and wood, and natural fibers such as straw and cattail fluff.  The major components that are not natural and were  bought new are the roofing tin, the stovepipe, the cistern (which is plastic), cement in the foundation, and the power system.  These make up a relatively small amount of the bulk of the house.  My house features a living space, kitchen with running water, bathroom, and closet, but doesn’t have a shower.

Starting with the foundation, I used a gravel bed to take the drainage down below frost level.  This took a load of gravel from the local quarry.  The limestone gravel is broken up using fossil fuel powered machines but has far less embodied energy than cement, which could have been used instead (and usually is in conventional construction).  On top of the gravel I built up a short wall of urbanite (a name for reclaimed concrete) I’d salvaged from the removal of a runway at the local airport.  It was already cut into pieces and I just took the ones that fit my project.  I used a lime mortar to bind the concrete pieces and finished the wall with a concrete bond beam reinforced with rebar.  The south foundation wall was made of reclaimed cement block from a local house demolition, and the spaces in the block were filled with concrete. The whole point of using the reclaimed materials and the gravel was to reduce the amount of cement in the project. Cement has incredibly high embodied energy, and alone is responsible for 5% of the greenhouse gases emitted every year.


DR Out and About

Education is central to Dancing Rabbit’s mission and we are always working to inspire people towards sustainable living and give them the information and tools to really do it.

In the next few weeks some rabbits will be giving public presentations while they are out and about. Please come join us if we are in your area and please help us promote these events.

And if you are interested in hosting such an event in your area contact our outreach team at outreachatdancingrabbitdotorg .

Upcoming Dancing Rabbit speaking events:

November 2-4, 2012 – Ann Arbor, Michigan

NASCO Institute – Many DR members, including Tony Sirna, Mandy Creighton, and Ma’ikwe Ludwig-Schaub, will be presenting and giving workshops.

November 5, 2012 – 4-5:30pm – Detroit, Michigan

Tony Sirna will be speaking about Dancing Rabbit at WARM Training Center 4835 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI.

November 5, 2012 – 7-8:30 pm – Royal Oak, Michigan

Speaking to a Renewable Energy class at Oakland Community College, Royal Oak Campus 739 S. Washington — Room A 206. This is part of an ongoing class, Introduction to Renewable Energy, which is open to the public for this special event.

November 7, 2012 – 5-7 pm – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tony Sirna, cofounder of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, will speak on the successes and challenges of one of the world’s foremost experiments in real-world sustainability. More info on the U of M site. Or see this event on Facebook.

November 27, 2012 – Brecht Forum, New York, NY – 7:30pm

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage: Making Sustainability a Reality – Our society is wrestling with questions of sustainability and climate change, with many groups working towards a sustainable future. At Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage that sustainable future is here now. More info.

December 5, 2012 – Home Eco Store, St Louis, MO – 7:00pm

On Wednesday, December 5th, Dancing Rabbit co-founder Tony Sirna will give a talk at Home Eco, about his community, sustainable living options, and what the future holds.If you want to see what sustainability looks like, come join us for a slideshow at 7:00 pm followed by discussion. Reservations are encouraged, so that seating may be arranged. Please RSVP to More info.

December 13, 2012 – Nomad Cohousing, Boulder, CO – 7:30pm

Sustainability Now – Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage Makes Sustainable Living – Alyssa Martin and Anthony “Bear” Barrett will present a slideshow and discussion in the Nomad Cohousing great room. All Are welcome to attend. Nomad is at 15th and Quince, in Boulder. More Info.

Thanks for helping us get the word out and we hope to see you there.

Grazing sheep

Keeping livestock for a more sustainable food system

Grazing sheep

Eco-friendly lawn mowers in the DR orchard

Dancing Rabbit recently took 19 acres of our land out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a government program that pays us to maintain potential agricultural land as wildlife habitat.  Though this program has helped us pay the mortgage on our land, most of the land we could potentially use for ag projects has been under CRP contract and has not been available for use by members without the payment of a significant penalty.  The recent opening up of land has spurred interest in new agricultural projects and has begun a community process of forming new agricultural policies around how we use the land.  We’d like to use our agricultural land to produce more of our own food and income for our members, but we also want to be sure we are practicing a kind of agriculture that will be sustainable over the long term.  Most agriculture done in this country is based on the use of fossil fuel, and because of its destructive nature will not be sustainable for thousands of years like the agriculture of our ancestors.  To help with forming our policies, members were asked to write up their visions for the future of agriculture at DR.  I plan to compile some excerpts from what people wrote soon and post them here on the blog.

In the meantime, I offer an essay I recently wrote for my blog about the use of animals in sustainable agriculture.   Although modern methods of animal agriculture are neither sustainable nor humane, including livestock in a sustainable agriculture system has great potential for reducing our dependence on fossil fuel, restoring fertility to farmland, and making food production more sustainable.  This article is posted on my blog and linked here because it is my opinion and not necessarily one shared by everyone at DR.  I do think many of the issues discussed in the essay are relevant to creating a model for sustainable agriculture here.


Vineyard with Chicken Tractor

A Sustainable Vineyard and Winery At DR

Vineyard with Chicken Tractor

Vineyard with Chicken Tractor

Modern winemaking has brought many apparent improvements to wine. In the past, while developing a reputation, California tried to emulate French winemaking, which was based largely on time-honored winemaking traditions. But California became a frontier for modern winemaking techniques, and at some point ventured out on its own. Now many wineries worldwide, French wineries included, are adopting modern methods to produce wines different from those of the past, with a taste that many consumers have now come to view as superior. Wine preferences are influenced by many things, and many still debate whether modern wines are superior or whether the popularity of the modern taste is just another wine trend. But one thing is certain—modern winemaking techniques as well as grape growing practices have increased the ecological footprint of a glass of wine.

The Vineyard

Four years ago, I planted an experimental vineyard at Dancing Rabbit with the idea of having a small winery that would make sustainably grown organic wine. I knew it would be a long road to the time when I was able to produce wine for sale. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve learned a lot since then about what I’m up against in trying to grow grapes organically at DR, and in trying to make wine given the limitations placed on our ways of doing things in an ecovillage. It’s good to live in a place with these limitations though, because I would like to make every stage of grape growing and winemaking have as little impact as possible on the environment. Wine was made and enjoyed for thousands of years without the use of fossil fuel. Granted, not all the chemistry of winemaking or of agriculture was understood for the majority of that history, but modern techniques were developed with the crutch of the abundant energy of fossil fuel, and this abundance is not going to be available much longer. By using our understanding of science and technology both past and present, we can develop ways of making wine that are both superior and have less impact on the planet.

This Year’s Workshops at DR: Natural Building, Ecovillages, Dance, Food Preservation

As our village grows there are more opportunities for all of you out there to learn from us and at the same time find out more about our ecovillage.  Attend workshops on natural building, dance, food preservation, and sustainable culture leadership, and see first hand how we are creating a model for a more sustainable world. Our workshops are organized by different people at DR, so you’ll have to contact the organizers to find out more about registration,  accommodations, and details about the workshops themselves. See the links below for each workshop category. Hope to see you at Dancing Rabbit this season!

Natural Building

Timber Frame Workshop  June 10-25, 2012

Students will spend 2 full weeks at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage learning the historic craft of timber frame construction using mortise and tenon joinery, as well as experiencing and learning some of the fundamental connections between building structure, design, and sustainable lifestyle alternatives.

Straw Bale Workshops  July 22-August 2, 2012

Students will spend 10 days at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage learning the fundamental craft of straw bale construction, as well as plastering techniques with clay and lime, creating artistic embellishments, and more.

Ecovillage Design

Ecovillage Education US:Sustainable Culture Leadership Training  June 29-August 5, 2012

Ecovillage Education is a 5-week trans-disciplinary, experiential program set within one of the US’ leading ecovillages. Develop your capacity for creating or enhancing communities and projects using social, economic and ecological sustainability lessons learned in the worlds’ most sustainable communities.


The recently opened Casa de Cultura at Dancing Rabbit is hosting two dance weekend workshops this year.  The first Off-Grid Blues Weekend held last fall was a great way to break in the dance floor at the Casa de Cultura, and it was a blast for participants.  This year there are two dance weekends planned.  Check out the links below for more information on the workshops.

Contra Culture  April 27-29, 2012

“Contra Culture” will be a unique blend of Ecovillage and Contra Dance community cultures.

Off-Grid Blues   September 21-23, 2012

Off Grid Blues is a community-focused dance event. Some of the best dance instructors in the nation will be there to share their knowledge and love of dance with you.

Food Preservation

Putting Up the Harvest – Canning Fruit and Vegetables
Three sessions: July 7th, August 4th, September 15th, 2012

Join us for a food preservation workshop where you’ll get hands-on experience in an atmosphere where questions are encouraged and confidence gained. With a focus on both safety and flavor, we’ll go step by step from beginning to delicious end. Includes six hours of hands-on instruction, lunch, canning tools, recipes and samples to take home and share.

Ways We Live More Sustainably: The Milkweeds

I’ve been wanting to do an article about the many different lifestyle and infrastructure changes we as individuals have made at DR to reduce our impact on the planet.   Fortunately, the Milkweeds wrote just such an article for their blog, Ecovillage Musings.  Like they say in their post, outside of the 6 covenants we live by here at DR,  everyone chooses how far they will go to shrink their footprint.  This is their story, and if I can convince some others to talk about their lives, I will post more stories here.  If you want to find out a little about how Thomas lives, or lived a few years back, check out this video.

Link to the article