I Love the Way I Live Here

Howdy, readers!

My name is Kale and I was once just like you: a person interested in living more sustainably and following Dancing Rabbit (DR) as a means to get that inspiration for my own life.

That was 2-5 years ago. Now I’m writing this blog post as a person who returned to Dancing Rabbit, after an immersive internship and more than a year back home in Canada.

After years of reading about Dancing Rabbit, the lives of the folks who live here, and the amazing ways they contribute to the betterment of our world, I decided it was time to experience their way of life firsthand. In the summer of 2015 my partner and I partook in a 3-month internship (aka work exchange) here at DR with Ironweed, a homestead and food co-op.

Kale (on the right) and their sister in Canada, with a cider press they made from trees on their parents’ land. Photo courtesy Kale Withey.

During the internship I ate every meal with my Ironweed family, I worked every day with Ted on a huge variety of projects (including building a shed addition, earthen plastering, gardening, weeding, harvesting, watering, food preservation, berm building, cheese making… the list goes on and on!), played Ultimate frisbee with the community, worked with other community members during work parties, milked goats every day, and swam in the pond almost every day!

I regrouped with my intentions to live a life closer to the natural world, or what I like to consider the “real world”, not the fabricated places we humans have created from concrete. When there was no sun or wind, we ate by candlelight. I could feel the pride in knowing I was taking responsibility for my own waste, instead of flushing it with gallons of clean water down a mysterious pipe to who-knows-where!

I was doing so much more to minimize my impact on the planet. I experienced community on a deeper level than I ever had, and felt my resolve grow, that a place like DR was where I ultimately would make my home.

When it came time to leave that fall Ted dropped us off at the train station and waved to us from the platform as the train pulled away. My partner and I sat on that train wracked with sobs because we couldn’t believe we were leaving this human we loved so much, this human who had come to share our lives with us in a myriad of meaningful ways. Yup, community is a powerful thing!

So we went home to Newfoundland. I worked my horrible gas station job for 8 months. After feeling satisfied with the amount of money I had earned, I quit my job to volunteer on a local farm and in a yoga studio during the summer months. After that we spent time in Ontario, on land my parents own that I will one day inherit. I built them composting bins and cold frames and an apple press for making cider from the trees on our land.

And then I decided to make the long and daunting trip back to middle-of-nowhere northeast Missouri to come back to Dancing Rabbit.

I love being at DR. I love the way I live here, and learning so much that one day I will apply to my own land and how I live on it.

I try my best when I’m out there in the world to live as sustainably as I can. I think about the things I buy. I buy secondhand whenever possible, and I try to avoid plastic (and other) packaging, especially in the grocery store. We eat mostly produce (local when possible) and bulk beans and rice. I compost.

Unfortunately some things are out of my grasp. I can’t have solar and wind power when I’m renting an apartment. I can’t compost my own waste in the city. These are things that are game changers about DR.

When I’m at DR I’m aware of how much easier it is to live in line with my beliefs. The systems are in place and everyone has that mind frame. We’re all working together to make solutions. Everyone here has ideas to share about how we can make a better world and share that with others.

If sustainability is a passion for you, then DR might just be your home. And even though sustainability is a huge motivating factor to why I love being at DR, the number one reason I came back was undeniably the people. My Ironweed family. The meals with the entire community. The dancing and singing events that happen often. Community games like Ultimate and hockey. The weekly meetings when we all plan our lives around one another.

There is a sense of being with others here that I haven’t found in any conventional culture. For me, coming back to DR was coming home, and that feeling is more valuable, more precious than anything else I’ve ever known. Whether or not I ever choose to live at DR in a permanent way, I know I will keep coming back to be with my friends and family, and to feel that warm fuzzy feeling of being home.

P.S. Come see if Dancing Rabbit feels like home to you! Apply for a visitor session or work exchange position!

Kale Withey is a work exchanger extraordinaire and a Jack and/or Jill of many trades. They have a burning desire to live outside the oppressive patriarchal mainstream culture and have found themselves at times calling Dancing Rabbit home. They live primarily in Newfoundland, Canada with their awesome partner, Amy, where they volunteer on local farms and build furniture out of scavenged dumpster wood for fun. They dream of living off the land and making meaningful contributions to a better world.


A Different Way of Living: Visiting Dancing Rabbit

by Liz Hackney

Why did I decide to come to a visitor session at DR? To step off the merry-go-round of my life, to think about what was important to me, to try on a different way of living. And I longed to meet others who were living in community and living sustainably.

I came to DR with a heavy heart. I was leaving my partner of 34 years and my adult children were not thriving. Nothing was certain. I didn’t know where I was going to live and what my life going forward would look like.

My instinct was to seek a natural place with meaning and purpose, where I could somehow peel off the layers of stress and isolation that had accumulated over the years. It appealed to me as a newly single person to seek out the support of an intentional community and to take my place in the world as someone willing to be of service to it. I had a feeling of urgency about getting on with my new life and that the larger world needed my efforts. It was time to leave the familiar comforts of home and see what else was out in the wider world.

What was I looking for? Deep conversations about doing service work, getting my hands dirty building a straw bale house, walking on the prairie, eating healthy food in good company. I wanted to meet people who were actually walking their talk. I wanted to not be disappointed by something that looked good but didn’t deliver.

Within days of arriving, Dancing Rabbit began to work its magic. Even a wary urbanite like me found my heart opening. There are so many things at DR that are so fundamental to us as humans: the fellowship of eating together, opportunities to check in with one another, the inspiration of a common mission with others, being among people living their convictions. There is a quote from a Rabbit on the DR website about why people feel better after they’ve been at DR for a while. It’s about being seen for who you really are and how that brings out your best self.

And within those first few days of the visitor session some unwinding takes place. With time to talk, visitors start to find common threads in what they’re excited about at DR, why they want to come to DR, what they’re hoping to change about their lives for the better. I observed that people came to the visitor session saying they were sure they didn’t want to move to DR, that they were just there out of curiosity, and within days they were wistfully discussing how they could make the move. Body language relaxes, people smile at each other, topics of conversation deepen.

Each morning we came together for a check-in. Each day there were workshops on some aspect of life at DR, like land management, green building, sustainable energy usage, and car sharing, as well as going out into the community to observe or experience something in the village, like a tour of the green energy houses.

Visitors seem to settle in quickly at DR. I think this has to do with the welcoming people living here and the many social interactions built into everyday life (co-op kitchen eating, social hour 4-6 at the Mercantile every day, pizza night, and community potluck every Friday, to name a few) and that social relationships are a priority here. I also think the small scale of the place, of life here, helps visitors quickly find their place in it.


Liz Hackney is an acupuncturist and therapeutic chef from Berkeley, California, and soon to be Dancing Rabbit’s newest resident.


State of the Village 2016

by sambucus holleraway*

[Editor’s Note: Most years the Village’s Oversight Team offers an in-person State of the Village report to Rabbits, and this year they presented it at the annual on-farm meeting of our Board of Directors. They very kindly agreed to write up the following to share the info with you, our readers, as well…]

Dancing Rabbit’s human population is around 36 adults and nine children. These numbers are down from previous years, but that’s just how this roller-coaster rolls.We are so glad for the many new folks who arrived in 2016 to help us build our dream! In February, a great cry was heard from up on Critterhill and we all marveled at the arrival of Arthur Osage, who is a real charmer and already walking with his feet.

Alas, it was also a heart-breaking year for goodbyes, as our dear friend Dennis pedaled away into the hereafter. We will miss his wisdom, gentle and skillful ways, and of course his humor. We wheelie wheelie do. (Anyone spending time in Atlanta, where Dennis was a bike advocate for many years, should check out the bike lane on Peachtree named after him.)

There are seven adults and four children queued up to start residency here in the next six months. With a few homes on the market and numerous rooms for let, plenty of housing is available for newcomers, or bobcats and badgers, if the door is left open.

It was a very mild spring, followed by a dry June and average summer weather. Then came a protracted, warm and dry Fall, which all added up to a solid growing season. Perhaps you’ve heard about all the turnips? Also, the garden in front of the Outdoor Kitchen (née “The Herb Garden”) hasn’t looked so delicious in ages… many thanks to the green thumbs who have reinvigorated this fertile ground!

It was a good year for apples and small fruits: the berries were most excellent. The pear trees about the village have been struggling with a plague of fireblight and we’ve had to remove a number of them, replanting with other species and more blight-resistant varieties. And finally we are getting some persimmons up in here. They are heavenly and perhaps in 20 more years we’ll have such a bounty as to pucker the world.

Two long-time dog friends, Isis and Judy, passed away in 2016. May they compost in peace. Shout out to Sir Henry Royce von Dinkleton, who was getting way too agro at certain people and so now lives peaceably somewheres in Wisconsin.

The cadre of kids held multiple anti-Trump rallies and also wrote powerful letters to the editor in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline and in defense of clean water. They then received a response signed cryptically “DT” that read, “Wrong!”. But we actually know that the kids are all right.

2016 found us sorting through a heap of village-governance challenges. Topics have included: a guest policy, gender balance, absentee landlords, membership revocation, covenant compliance, and finding adequate staffing and energy for tasks and committees. We’ve faced some wrenchingly difficult decisions and can see yet more pacing restlessly at the agenda door. Hopefully this winter will bring some much-needed chill… like what’s a little hot mess when the whole world is burning?
A walk along the path reveals numerous changes to the built environment: a beauty of a new round house by Hassan has swirled up in the Crooked Root neighborhood; Oliver got some chops on a resourceful “dwelling shed” in preparation for building his eco-dream home; Thomas finally got on with it and raised a workshop building that appropriately dwarfs his house; and porches, sheds, coops and other outbuildings too various to mention have sprung up like so many of the chanterelles our neighbor kindly brought by this summer.

Chinese zodiac says 2016 was year of the monkey, but around here it felt more like year of the pig. Esmerelda the magnificent has farrowed two litters of piglets down in the Critter barn. Reportedly they are all quite personable, and for those who appreciate such things, also very tasty.

The Milkweed Mercantile crew put in long hours to chart its way and set sail as a member- and worker-owned cooperative! Pick up the microphone NEMO, because the word around the scuttlebutt is that some serious karaoke is almost here!

In other co-op news: there’s a fun and educational homeschool co-op in the tri-communities; a bunch of folks are now sharing in the goats with chores and milk etc., producing something like 200+ pounds of cheese in the season; ambitious gardeners formed a “grow-op” for the mutually beneficial production of mass quantities of vegetables; our local currency system, ELMS, did just under 1 million dollars in annual transaction volume; and the vehicle co-op got a new truck whose engine has created a bit of a pickle by saying “hell no” to our customary bio-diesel fuel.

Hopefully that gives you a decent sense of where we’ve been in 2016. In the upcoming year, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage will be 20 years old!!! Does that mean a transition to adulthood for the project? Please stay tuned, take care, and keep in touch as the story continues…

*(aka Thomas)

Veterans Day: A Rabbit’s Personal Perspective

Dear Readers,

My name is Lucas. I am a veteran, and the newest member (after a two-year residency) here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

I am writing today in remembrance of Veterans Day, and as a personal act of service to my community and my country. It is my hope that you’ll read this, and pass it along to others to read as well.

I’ve often found that listing some of my personal experience tends to open ears that would otherwise stay closed, so first, a quick introduction:

Lucas in Fallujah, November 2004. Photo courtesy Lucas Berard.

Lucas in Fallujah, November 2004. Photo courtesy Lucas Berard.

I served four years in the Marine Corps as a Military Policeman, the bulk of my enlistment assigned to MSSG-31, 31st MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit (SOC)), based out of Okinawa, Japan—the only MEU that is always forward-deployed. Though our primary area of responsibility was the Asia-Pacific region, we received orders to Iraq in 2004, in support of Operation Phantom Fury, the Second Battle of Fallujah, and the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War. I also served three years in the Army with 212th MP Co. based in Germany, and deployed again to Iraq (Kirkuk) for 14 months.

My first deployment consisted of escorting convoys in and around the Fallujah area, resupply missions to infantry units, escorting and protecting EOD (Explosive Ordinance Division) units to enemy weapons cache sites and suspected IED locations, and prisoner transfer. My second deployment consisted mainly of training Iraqi Police (IPs), advising local leadership on IP station construction, and conducting regular security patrols around the area.

One thing many don’t realize about Military Police is that we’re always fighting, and we must constantly maintain a defensive posture. Even when we aren’t deployed, we are law enforcement and security for the base, often dealing with fellow Marines and Soldiers, occasionally in tragic and/or hostile circumstances.Our duties required us to always be observant of the people around us.

As the years went by, I observed a lot of faces, in a lot of places. I made friends and enemies in 13 countries, and saw the same joy, sorrow, hate, love, confusion, and determination in their eyes. I’ve seen far more death than I care to, and have felt the deep sting of the loss of friends to both the war without, and the war within, which many of us are left with once we return. I came very close to self destruction myself on a few occasions, during my early struggles with PTSD. It was the death of a friend that made me realize I needed to change something, or I also wouldn’t survive.

War truly is hell— or at least our most practiced attempt at it. It’s hell for the troops, and it’s a deeper, hotter, more encompassing hell for the local people caught in and around it, who can’t get away from the war, nor its collateral damage. The scars it leaves on those who survive it are deep and difficult (if not impossible) to heal. It is the worst tool and strategy mankind has ever devised.

Including the 9/11 attacks, we’ve lost approximately 10,000 of our own, and the death toll for Iraqi citizens alone is in the many hundreds of thousands. That’s at least 50 deaths for every one we’ve lost— and those are the low estimates, from spotty poll samples. Our military only counts our own deaths; we will likely never know how many have actually died.

Every single one a loss of life to war, something we so collectively despised after WWI that we christened November 11th Armistice Day, to “[commemorate] with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations…”

After WWII, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day, and the desire for peace ingrained in the holiday has been swept out of focus.

My experiences have allowed me to see the relentless cycle of fear, anger, attack, and retaliation, and I do everything I can now to throw a wrench into the machine that is profiting from so much human suffering. A machine fueled by hateful and demeaning rhetoric, that thrives in societies that lack empathy for other peoples and cultures.

I wish I could say that doesn’t resemble MY country, but I’m not so sure anymore. I love my country enough to warn it when I see it making self-destructive decisions. I see it as my sworn duty, a mindset I share with the many members of both Veterans For Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Years into this self-imposed mission, I’m still surprised to see so many folks turn their nose up when I mention the concept of pursuing peace— like it’s a dirty word or something. Peace is noble, peace is strength, peace is the central message of many religious figures, including Jesus Christ. Read the red words*. Never once did he glorify war and fighting, but spoke against it numerous times. He preached love above all else, especially when it’s difficult or even downright risky.

Like Armistice Day, we’ve lost a part of what we once were. We’ve been drifting toward larger and longer conflicts ever since, and we’re losing our empathy, a critical part in any respectable and sustainable people or country. I believe that if we can reclaim that empathy, we will reclaim a part of what it is to be an American, and in doing so find solid, peaceful footing again.

Peace is possible— but it takes a real, determined desire to create and sustain it. If we truly wish to honor our veterans, both here and gone, as well as our own country, we must remember the true costs of war; they are far steeper than most of us realize.

Lucas Berard

Member, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
Post 9/11 Member, Veterans For PeaceIVAW
Founder, Operation Peaceful Paths
BOD, The Milkweed Mercantile at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (transitioning to a worker-owner cooperative)

Lucas’s personal blog


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.

Introducing the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture—formerly known as DR Inc!

One of our favorite quotes from the “Rhythm of Rutledge” film.

‘Tis the time of year for self-reflection and resolutions, and as usual, we’ve been ahead of the curve.

Self-reflection is something we’ve built into our culture at Dancing Rabbit, both within the Ecovillage as well as within our nonprofit. And 2015 held an especially exciting and intense version of self-reflection, as we’ve finally taken the plunge and renamed our nonprofit. As it’s Executive Director, may I be the first to introduce you to the brand new Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage!

We love how the new name reflects the most important things we’ve been doing for years: pioneering a cooperative, sustainable culture that can meet the world’s needs as we move toward a low-carbon reality. Expect more of the same from us in years to come!

Deciding how to present ourselves raised a lot of thorny and fun questions: Who are we? What are we really good at? What makes our nonprofit unique among the many, many organizations out there doing great work on sustainability?

In the conversations we had with Rabbits, friends, supporters, and our Board, time and again three concepts emerged as our areas of excellence: culture, research and hope. I love what these words say about us, and from my perspective, 2015 was a banner year for all of them.

#1: Culture, specifically cooperative culture. Most of the names with the most excitement around them included the word culture. One of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage’s biggest strengths as a model of sustainability is that we are really, really good at cooperating and sharing, so each individual household can own less, work less, and consume less, and still have a great life.

This tremendously powerful (and frequently overlooked) tool for achieving sustainable living is in constant use throughout the village, and provides a unique voice to our educational nonprofit, one that emphasizes the immense potency of cooperation as the mother of all sustainability skills. When people come to Dancing Rabbit, they step into a real-life version of an alternate reality, built on fundamentally different assumptions about how we can live big lives on a finite planet.

It not only looks and feels different, the results are notably different, as documented by our nonprofit’s research branch. With a second year of data collected, we are still at or close to the 10% mark on resource consumption (compared to the average American) in a number of key areas. And that means we are cooperating our way to a livable world.

#2: Research. While this area of our work isn’t as mature as our cultural systems are, we stand out as the ecovillage in the US most dedicated to realistic research about what we are doing and how it can be applied outside of the intentional community context. In the intentional communities scene it is a commonly-held idea that our cooperation and sharing lead to real reductions in our ecological footprints, but most groups are content to have that as a general, feel-good sense.

We’ve made a unique commitment through our nonprofit to document this: to use a data-based approach to look closely at what we are actually doing and where we could be doing better. In 2015 our work was recognized in the formation of one of our more important partnerships, with the Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution. In July we hosted our first ever Researchers Summit at Dancing Rabbit, bringing together researchers from multiple institutions and fields to ask how we can foster and promote solid research on intentional communities as an answer to climate change and other challenges.

I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. The fact that this kind of research is happening, and with enough rigor that we can confidently say that we are doing something real, is huge. As climate change becomes increasingly impactful in all of our lives, it becomes ever more vital that truly credible options exist, and that their visibility increases.

Every organization working on climate change was watching the Paris talks, hoping for something significant. The post-Paris world may be marginally better for us, but we still have a long way to go.

As George Monbiot (Guardian columnist and author of the 2006 book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning) said, “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

One of the best rebuttals came from Michael Brune (executive director of the Sierra Club and author of Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal), who said, “…embracing an optimistic vision isn’t an armchair exercise.”

I appreciate Monbiot’s realism. Even more, I appreciate Brune’s “get off your duff and do something” attitude. Together, they describe pretty well the basic working model of our nonprofit: get real, get hopeful and get active. If any one of those pieces is missing, our attempts to address climate change are pretty much doomed to fail.

And that brings me to the third concept that makes Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage such an important experiment (and which came up repeatedly during the name change process):

#3: Hope. I had the honor of traveling the country this past year on a national speaking tour to talk about Dancing Rabbit, cooperative culture, and climate change. Everywhere I went, people were hungry for hope that we can actually create a viable low-carbon world.

We also expanded our educational programming this year to include webinars and our first ever Permaculture Design Course. We believe hope springs from knowledge, companionship with like-minded people, and being able to clearly see realistic alternatives to the increasingly-destructive wider culture.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2016, I expect these themes to continue. We will be providing more educational opportunities than ever (at home, away and online and making research an even bigger focus. We are able to do this in part because we received our first grants this year (four of them in fact!), as well as multiple large donations targeted to these areas, not to mention the support of many other friends, donors and followers. You are truly showing up, and helping us do this work.

In the spirit of cooperative culture that is truly the cornerstone of everything we do, I am deeply grateful for your companionship.

Here’s to another great year!
Ma’ikwe Ludwig,
Executive Director
The Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture
at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage