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Harvest Time: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Happy summer, friends! Ted here to bring you the news from Dancing Rabbit in this week of longest days and shortest nights. Not to mention a good bit more rain and some hyper-local lightning storms here in northeast Missouri.

Andrea and Javi working on the first stage of cheese making.

We’re in the thick of the early berry harvest, plucking raspberries nearly every day, with black raspberries coming into their first flush and the later variety of raspberries coming on shortly. Prompt harvest is absolutely required in steady wet weather; those little sugar pops are as good fodder for mold as for eating when conditions are warm and steadily moist. June-bearing strawberries are tapering off but still producing, sending out copious shoots that we carefully direct toward optimal locations for next year’s bounteous crop. Elderberries are in their most extravagant bloom, each cluster looking like the best serving of whipped cream one could imagine, portending another harvest in a month or so.

I’m especially happy to have such a robust black raspberry harvest coming on, which I attribute to the mild, extremely wet weather pattern we’ve seen so far this spring and early summer. I first planted them in the garden maybe five years ago, with additions along the way. Each of the past three years or so they’ve succumbed to June dry-outs, when the weather has turned hot and dry, and the wee berries, after early promise, shriveled into hard bumps on the canes as the plants save themselves for the future instead of trying to ripen berries at the expense of their enduring health. Nature always seems to save some for later. Some hotter dry weather is starting to appear in the forecast, but for this year, later has finally come!

Soft-neck garlic is also ready to start pulling this week. We’re just a week off of the normal harvest date of July 1, but as the wet weather continues, I worry that the enveloping skins of the garlic head will keep deteriorating to where the individual cloves are exposed and they won’t keep for long. We’re still consuming the last of 2018’s garlic crop, with gleaned, peeled cloves persisting in jars in the fridge. It is hard to ignore the value of a foodstuff that one can eat, from a home-grown supply, from one year to the next without much of a break. Maintaining that supply means getting most of the garlic crop harvested and cured for the future despite the weather. The garlic harvest is a lengthy process, from harvest to pulling the best heads for seed (saved, sorted, and planted in fall), bundling, drying, sometimes braiding, and otherwise curing the garlic for long storage, steady use, and renewing the crop. I approach it eagerly each year; an anchor of our local agriculture, perennially renewed and refined in the annual passage of seasons.

It is also hard to ignore the impact of this year’s wet weather on farmers in our region. Returning home a week past with various Rabbits from Village Fire, a singing event up in Decorah, Iowa that we’d gone to, I watched the fields go by on the road and observed the effects of farming style, soil type, weather, and geographical chance on the plants growing all around us. Those lucky enough to have gotten their seed in the ground in the rare patches of favorably weather this spring have beautiful crops where they weren’t washed out of the field, but there is clearly a lot of low ground that didn’t get planted in the normal period and in some cases appears not yet to have been planted at all, perhaps a lost cause for the year. As I work, I’m finding myself thinking about crop insurance, climate change, and our government’s offers of relief to various sectors of the farm economy. It is a complex business, this global economy.

The rain washed out Land Day for our friends at Red Earth Farms on Friday, midsummer’s eve. It is the first time I can remember such an occurrence, but these things will come sooner or later in the life of a community. At the moment I hear there’s a rain date of Tuesday upcoming to engage in that celebration. I’m excited to join in, and planning to take a swim in each of the Red Earth ponds along the tour. Meanwhile, the firefly manifestation in the woods that separate our two land trusts, so epic last year, is growing evening by evening.

Cheesemaking continues down at Ironweed. With three of us on the task this year (Avi and Prairie are sharing cheese-making duties), it feels a little less burdensome to me. Amidst all the electrical storms this year, one of my primary worries is making sure the GFI outlet at my mother’s house in Rutledge, where we age most of our hard cheeses, has not tripped and stopped power to the refrigerator. In warmer weather the whey cultures that we rely on to carry the right mix of bacteria from one batch of cheese to the next can go off a bit and require re-starting from frozen culture. I’m grateful to have those resources, and I am also keen to learn, over time, what culture is native to this place, and what kind of cheese comes only from here; a life-long quest, no doubt.

Swim Team began last week in Memphis, Missouri, occupying each morning for our local swimmers. A rotation of their various parents signed up to ferry them to the pool in Memphis each weekday morning for coach Trinity Davis’s steady guidance. Under-10s had their first meet this past Saturday, and everybody else has a first this coming Wednesday. More than one morning was impacted by active rain or threatening lightning this first week, and I don’t envy the kids jumping in the cool pool in early mornings. As we plan attendance at practices and meets through the next couple months, I’m again glad to live amongst conscientious ride-share practitioners.  

My daughter Aurelia turns 13 in a week; she was born and raised here in northeast Missouri. That’s longer than I’d lived anywhere before I moved here in 2003, and I’m still very glad of our choices. Sara’s parents came for an early visit this past weekend, managing to host both a lunch-and-movie day for Aurelia and friend Zane, as well as a pontoon boat afternoon for Aurelia and friend Emma on the one good, sunny afternoon at Thousand Hills State Park, outside Kirksville, Missouri. Next week her paternal grandmother, and possibly one or more cousins and an aunt, will arrive to visit for a couple weeks. I can only say that I have deeply appreciated the support and visits of our various family members over the years, and enjoyed watching the way family and friends visiting other members (and sometimes electing to take up residence in the neighborhood) has ended up contributing to all of our lives.

In the other direction, I want to send an appreciation to our fellow communitarian, Danielle, who left on short notice last weekend to lend practical and emotional support to a family medical situation out east. She has kept us informed of the progress where she is, and also stayed present in our lives here with texts and updates. She’ll be back later this week to welcome a visit from her own mom, and the cycles continue. We’re also looking forward to a visit soon from former Rabbits and Ironweeders Stephen and Erica, with their newborn child Julian, whom we’re all impatient to meet!

Cheers to all you readers out there as you ease into summer, thunderstorms, fireflies, and whatever else the warm season may bring you. Hope to see you here at Dancing Rabbit before the summer’s end!

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Community folks getting ready to have fun and help the environment by cleaning up a local stretch of highway. Photo credit: Rena Drechsler.

Spring Is Underway: A Dancing Rabbit Update

It has been 16 years since Sara and I took up residence at Dancing Rabbit, and every year I learn again that there is nuance and change within long-term patterns. Certain features of my life, like weekly potlucks with friends and neighbors, groups of interested strangers coming to visit our village for weeks at a time, naming our houses, and cooperative labor, remain the same, but the specific shape those things take does change over time: for instance, redbud and plum are about to burst into bloom as they do each year, but do they always coincide so closely, or was their bloom time influenced by the persistent cold of later winter and early spring?

Community folks getting ready to have fun and help the environment by cleaning up a local stretch of highway. Photo credit: Rena Drechsler.

Ted here to bring you this week’s update from our fair village. One of my favorite daily rituals lately has been to peek at the tawny, spotted rock dove nesting in the far end of the gutter on Tereza’s House, The Haven, which is just a few dozen strides from our front door along a public path running through the area. This is the first time I have witnessed a bird doing this. The thing is, she (the dove) isn’t alone: immediately adjacent to her position, down in the piping of the downspout, there is a pair of starlings scrabbling constantly against the metal, coming and going with nesting materials. We haven’t had any strong precipitation in a week or so… How do I tell them the folly of their plans? I cannot help picturing the inevitable deluge to come in the next hard rain, when a season’s effort might be flushed down the spout in a few minutes of downpour. Or, just possibly, they might hatch out their young during a time with no major rainfall. One way or the other, that dove peeking over the edge of the gutter all day is a member of our neighborhood, and I find myself saying hello each day while wondering at her seemingly imperturbable calm as the starlings come and go right under her nose.

That brings me to water catchment: Sara and I have committed to setting up a new irrigation scheme for our garden this year. For years now on our homestead we have collected rainwater in above-ground tanks as well as in-ground cisterns; by pumping batches of water into elevated tanks, we’ve been able to meet our year-round needs for a low-pressure supply to our buildings and garden with about 4000 gallons of storage capacity. We are installing drip emitters that are meant to work with a low-pressure, gravity-fed water supply (as opposed to a pressurized supply) such as our rain barrels and cubes provide. It feels really wonderful to be able to rely on this year after year, and to have the passive filtration system for drinking water that supplies all our needs. The water just tastes better here than anyplace else, and I appreciate the connection to how things were formerly done. There are still cisterns and root cellars attached to old barns and homesteads here in northeast Missouri, though not so much in use anymore. I think these are resources whose time has come around again.

Bob recently led our first public tour of the year, which benefited from last weekend’s spring land clean and the first signs of green life in the village clearly in evidence. (I hope you’re planning a visit to our village this year!) We’ll have another public tour on Saturday the 27th, starting at 1pm. You might even catch a glimpse of the village’s first cow in the not-too-distant future, if all goes well.

Saturday was the fullest of my recent days. For many years our friends at Sandhill Farm have been the adopt-a-highway sponsors for the several miles of route M that thread between Rutledge and the road crossing to our west toward Memphis. That morning a truck-full of Rabbits, and a couple bicyclists, joined their crew at the start of the route. We peeled off in teams to walk each side of the road collecting trash and items to recycle.

Helping to tidy the highway is usually satisfying enough, but this year we had an end goal of lunch at the Rutledge Fire Department BBQ chicken fundraiser, where village hero and fire chief Javi was making the rounds with other department members and their families. We’re glad to support our local fire department, and excited to hear about their newly acquired vehicles. Though ice cream cones and other desserts featured at the fundraiser, upon our return to the village we had to face a whole new round of ice cream for Javi’s son Max’s ninth birthday.

With energy to spare, the kids drifted off to the trampoline in the Grassroots neighborhood, which seems to be the designated kid hangout lately, while ultimate frisbee players met at our field for a game in the late afternoon. If you are an Ultimate enthusiast living in the area please get in touch! We’d love to find more local players.

New village residents, Avi and Anya, have been making many trips throughout the week back and forth from a far-away pile of mature manure to a garden where they are planting potatoes this season. Their paths crossed mine repeatedly, and I called out encouragement while steeling myself for the same effort soon to come for me. (If they can plant 30 pounds of potatoes, so can I, right?)

Meanwhile, Sara has been spotting out our little seedlings, while I’ve been preparing garden beds. With warm weather coming on soon, more and more wee plants will be headed out into the garden. We’re sprouting sweet potato slips off of the last of 2018’s crop, and I’ve just seen that one of the lemon seeds I brought home from Italy last year is putting on new growth, determined to survive after making it through the winter with a single leaf.

Thankfully I am looking forward to some extra hands in the garden soon. Our first visitor session of the year began on Sunday, and will last for a couple weeks during which time we will introduce these 10 visitors to our village, how we live, and what we’re trying to accomplish. Along with informational sessions about everything from conflict resolution and land use planning to natural building and alternative energy, we also mix in work parties where visitors can join us in garden work, learn hands-on building techniques, and other cooperative tasks that keep the village running.

Soon I will have the chance to spend a couple hours in Ironweed garden introducing our visitors to permaculture-oriented thinking about the gardens and orchards we tend, then get into digging and planting. Hopefully we’ll get lots of our seed potatoes in the ground during the work party, with an eye toward the biggest harvest of locally-grown calories we produce in a year. In the meantime, we’ve been eating the first shiitake mushrooms off of our logs, and I’m slowly relaxing into the warm season despite the rapidly growing to-do list.

Best wishes of spring to all our readers, from your friends here at Dancing Rabbit.

Craving a deep dive into community and sustainability, but can’t take off work for our two-week visitor program? Join us for one of our Ecovillage Experience Weekends, where you can get some firsthand experience of a planet friendly lifestyle. Come be part of the magic of creating a sustainable future.

One of Dancing Rabbit's newest inhabitants, delighted by the end of a baaaad winter.

Mud, Muskrats and Merrymaking: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Wow, a lot happened this week, and I think I’m experiencing a bit of whiplash, though that could be from one of the many slips I have taken in the copious mud created by the recent thaw. Ted here, to share the week’s update from Dancing Rabbit as we run up to the spring equinox.

One of Dancing Rabbit’s newest inhabitants, delighted by the end of a baaaad winter.

The nightmare of a cold winter, determined to thoroughly outstay its welcome, turned on a dime to the inevitability of spring. The spring birds all showed up at once. Unlike the past several years, when woodcocks started their “peent!” calls at dusk around my birthday in late February, this year I heard them on nearly the same day that killdeer and robins arrived. Meanwhile, the trio of bald eagles that have graced our local skies all winter are turning their grand circles on decidedly warmer updrafts. Our domesticated birds produced their first baker’s dozen of eggs this week as well — the daily count creeps steadily upward.

I don’t love the extreme mud of the first thaw, especially when combined with heavy rains such as we have had lately. Among other inconveniences, this can mean that some sections of our road, which is nominally graveled, can turn into the most perilous pit of despair for all but our four-wheel-drive truck. I was called to rescue one of our cars, which got stuck in deeply rutted mud on an uphill section of Smith Road while attempting to reach blacktop. Some of our cars don’t have a good point to hitch a tow strap, even if you can get at the undercarriage, and in this case the vehicle was up to its axles, so the only way forward was to nudge it directly from behind, bumper to bumper. I doubted that even the truck could move forward, uphill in the mud against that impediment, but we succeeded in the end.

Ben and Kim have been shuffling buckets full of maple sap back and forth on the path over the past few days. Ever since Alyson gave me a quart as a present during our first winter here in 2003-4, it has been a cherished birthday tradition of mine to drink some maple sap, but that too has been delayed as this has been one of the later years for the sap run. Ben was kind enough to let me steal a glass from one of his buckets (I’m not on the maple team this year), and it was the best thing I have ever tasted, all over again.

Firewood stocking is now fully underway in the village. Kyle led some wood foraging forays to restock supplies for the boiler in the common building, and I pitched in a bit to help with the splitting and stacking efforts, though I am trying to figure out resupply for our home and kitchen as well — we just squeaked by on what I put up last year, along with some older stores. The knot in my neck after that first splitting effort reminded me that I have to work up to the splitting labor, even though I’m tempted to swing for hours right off the bat, it being one of the homesteading tasks I really enjoy.

Troy had a tree service out to bring down a large elm that had long been a fixture over by the Timberframe (so named when it was the first and only such home on farm, in the previous millennium). The tree had been trimmed once before, but was growing ever larger, as trees are wont to do, and blocking solar access for the building as well as reaching a long arm out over Bella Ciao and its solar panels. I was sad to see it go, though it is gratifying to look around and see how much more woodsy the village has become, compared to when I first arrived in 2001. Elm doesn’t split easily, but it is decent firewood, so the more pliant parts of the tree will be put to good use, and Javi took on a lot of the brush for building hügelkultur beds out by the Gil family’s new garden area on Skunk Ridge. Hügelkultur beds, also known as hügelbeets, are raised, untilled planting beds made by burying wood in soil. The wood provides nutrients over time as it breaks down, while also becoming spongy and holding water for many summers to come, for the benefit of cultivated plants.

Thomas has been steadily pruning all the fruit trees around his warren, and also spent some time in the common orchard with Freddi, one of the new recruits to the tree team, which looks after trees in public spaces. That lit a fire under my feet… I have managed to prune my biggest apple tree, but still have to get to the others this coming week. I did at last manage to get our first two trays of seeds planted in the greenhouse, and soon enough we’ll be digging in the garden; it is about time to put in onion starts even though the ground was hard frozen just a week ago.

Dorothy departed midweek for some family time and knee surgery, so I’m coordinating forward progress on her house during her absence. I have also been at work full time building out the porch and starting on the finish floor upstairs, with electrical installations soon to follow. Good’s Construction of Rutledge began in earnest, busily installing the windows, doors and soffits, as well as the fiber cement siding and trim. Ryan, who earlier helped with framing and roofing, also pitched in on the flooring, and Prairie is lined up to help soon.

St. Patrick’s Day, locally known as Bob’s birthday, brought lots of familiar faces to the Mercantile for a tasty supper of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes, followed by Alline’s extremely decadent chocolate-covered cheesecake. With Guinness and Killian’s in the house, I wasn’t missing anything, and we even managed to get Sara to our sit-down between two all-night midwifery jobs. Thankfully she is now sleeping at home. The Mercantile is one of our favorite places to spend time and enjoy a treat, and if you live within a reasonable distance, you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to come visit us because pizza is served every Thursday from 4PM to 8PM. The desserts alone are worth the drive — last Thursday was March 14th, pi day, so we celebrated π with a variety of pies, including lemon meringue, blueberry custard, chocolate cream and classic pecan.

Curly Sue rounded out the last of this year’s additions to the goat herd with two cute doelings, and Mae pulled the final names out of the hat to complete the baby goat-naming raffle. Sparky christened the blue roan Plevna (which will be accompanied by a number of other honorifics, including Chadwick, in honor of our late Red Earth neighbor Chad’s birthday; we lost Chad this past year). Tereza, down in sunny Texas with Nathan, consulted with Aurelia and came up with Dapple for the thoroughly-spotted babe — that too came with some alternate names, including Jelly-leg in acknowledgement of its woozy first attempts to stand.

Some of the wee goats have not been completely welcomed by their moms, so we have started a rotation of daily visits to the barn to bring some of the moms with surplus milk to the stand to let those little ones get in some nursing time. Aurelia has joined in the effort in my stead. Amazingly, when you rear a child for 12 years, she starts to give back, very capably! She has been doing more and more the past couple years and I’m grateful for her contributions to our family chores.

Frisbee finally appeared on the schedule this week, though the field is recently thawed and will probably be too wet for full play. I can’t remember when I last threw a disc, and I know my legs are out of shape after dusting off my bike to ride over to Sandhill for a pruning session the other day. But I’m extremely excited at the prospect of regular Ultimate games returning to our lives in the near future.

There are a few things (very few) I’m sad to say goodbye to at the end of winter, and the clearest is that with the thaw of the cattail pond, our neighborhood muskrat will likely move out of its temporary home in the culvert under the road in front of my house. It seems to have reached a detente with the cats, as I have seen Wallace and Gromit very near the spot where the muskrat slipped out of sight, entirely unperturbed, as though they had just been playing cards.

I hope the arrival of spring brings you out of winter’s doldrums and into the warm sun, that your seeds germinate and grow happily in the coming weeks, and that the mud doesn’t stick to your feet — unless you like that sort of thing.

The first session in our 2019 visitor program is coming up on April 14th, and you still have a chance to join in. You’ll learn lots of interesting information about our village, how we adjust our lives in many ways to live more sustainably, as well as how we govern our community. There will also be tons of fun, projects to participate in, delicious organic food, opportunities for personal growth and possibilities for new connections with wonderful people. Don’t wait too long to sign up, because slots can fill up fast, and you don’t want to miss out.

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Tracks in the Snow

A new baby boy was born to Burl and Troy during the recent full moon eclipse at Dancing Rabbit, before the moon had reemerged from Earth’s shadow. I struggle to credit that it was just a week past. Perhaps it is the innumerable snowflakes that have fallen since (seemingly every day) blurring my recall, but a week past seems a very long time ago.

Folks from the tri-communities of Dancing Rabbit, Sand Hill and Red Earth Farms gathered to celebrate Alyson’s 50th birthday and dance the night away.

Ted here with an update from our fair ecovillage in northeast Missouri, which lies under a steady blanket of white. I’ve been playing one of my favorite games: observing the flow of people-traffic around my home. After each dawn that comes with a new coating of snow, our paths are reestablished by the repeated passage of booted feet over the course of the day. Heavily used paths are well trod by midday, while the lesser-used ones might just have one set of deep footprints peeling off toward a personal shed or a wood pile, only to get dusted over again and left unused for days. I like to get out first thing in the morning in my standard uniform of insulated jacket, bibs, and boots, to shuffle my feet along, clearing and compacting the new accumulation around my homestead to make every subsequent trip easier. (Shoveling just doesn’t seem worthwhile, most of the time.) After breakfast, it’s time to climb my ladder with my long-poled brush and clear our solar panels in this snowiest winter in recent memory.

Wind power has been a wonderful asset through some of the grey days of late, but we got a boost in solar power as well this week, because I finally completed the reset protocol on one of our charge controllers, (a device that limits the rate at which electricity is added to or drawn from our battery bank). I imagined that I had zapped its logic board during the installation of our new battery bank, as it had been nonfunctional since then, but when I completed the process it came back online. The sun came out as well and all of a sudden we were running a space heater for hours at a go, and pulling out our electronic kitchen devices to make use of the surplus juice. Knowing that we can get along adequately for two months without the bigger half of our usual array confirmed my hunch that with all of it producing, and the wind power thrown in, we would be net-positive on an ongoing basis, and have a fair amount of power to sell. The next step is to settle on a new inverter (a component that changes DC current to AC) and bury the wire connecting our system to the local power grid, so we can start exporting the surplus. Meanwhile, electric space heating is a nice perk, as well as a discount on the firewood, carbon cost, and fire-tending labor we otherwise deal with.

Our friend Alyson — former Rabbit, founder and member of Red Earth Farms, village baker, facilitator, and fellow parent, among other roles — turned 50 this past weekend, and we got to celebrate here in the neighborhood. She asked for a dance party, as well as lounging and massage, with some times in which kids could be present and some not.

Andrea rose to the challenge and made her debut as a DJ. She put together a playlist days ahead of time, set up Casa for the event, and gathered volunteers to help in various ways (I provided popcorn flavored with just butter and salt, the way Alyson likes it). Andrea even imported some fabulous and flamboyant clothes from a thrift shop in Edina, where she works as a paramedic, so there were shimmery fabrics and untold numbers of sequins flashing all night in time to the music. Javi put on a movie for the kids, so the adult portion of the evening was surprisingly uninterrupted. It went off beautifully, all the planned elements coming together for one of the better dance parties in recent memory. Happy birthday, neighbor!

That was not all that happened on Saturday. Earlier in the day somebody missed the edge of the road under the drifted snow, while driving our truck to the nearby town of Rutledge, and lodged the right side wheels in the ditch. Insulated by the thick snow, the mud at the base of the ditch was surprisingly pliant and slick, despite several previous frigid nights. Javi, Nathan, Loren, and my daughter Aurelia and I went at it for a couple hours with shovels, gravel, the tractor and a tow strap. We made slow progress, until a kindly neighbor happened by and offered to help. He managed to extract our truck in under five minutes, using the greater weight and traction of his vehicle. That left just enough time for Aurelia and I to hop in a car and join in the tailend of games being played at Stan and Gigi’s place in Memphis. Full day!

The snow fort Prairie and I helped build still stands, though it looks a little more like a ruined castle after a rainy day earlier in the week brought its loftiest heights tumbling down. Refreezing has left the respectable remainder iced over and quite resilient, and I’ve enjoyed going out to observe the muskrat tracks that gambol all around it between the edge of the pond and the snow-mounded hummocks of weeds where they take shelter.

And the barn! I must say I had my doubts, despite Mae’s determination that we would get the goats in there for the winter, but the weather cooperated just enough through early January that we managed to get the roof on and the big doors closed up. Mae built a new feeder for it while I put in the stairs. I’m a little at loose ends now without steady work to focus on, so I go out there some days to test the stairs. I like to rest in the (satisfactorily) dry and sheltered loft, smell the drifting sweetness of hay and goats, and stand on the upstairs deck to enjoy a commanding view of the sunset over our western slope.

One of the things I appreciate about the life I’ve built here is the connection between my participation in devising and constructing a building, water system or power system, and direct feedback on the success of my work when the extremes of weather visit us through the seasons. Certainly there are lessons learned along the way and incorporated into the next project. Perhaps that is the nature of wisdom: layered on like snow through the experience of each year we continue to have the privileges of breath and life.

I look forward to many a warmer evening in spring and watching many a sunset from that barn deck, and I hope that you might come for a visit, so that I can share them with you. Stay warm out there, my friends!

Are your tracks leading you to Dancing Rabbit? If so, now is a great time to sign up for our visitor program, while the opportunity lasts. While you’re here, you might get a chance to meet Ted, Mae and some of the goats they’ve been working so hard to get under shelter. You’ll also get to sit in on a variety of interesting workshops about topics related to sustainability, including renewable energy sources such as the solar panels and wind turbines that Ted mentioned. There will be plenty of excellent homemade food, drowsy sunsets, and perhaps some layering of wisdom.

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Happy Sun Return: A Dancing Rabbit Update

As long as we have kept chickens — which our oldest Speckled Sussex hen, Rose, tells me is something like nine years now — I have noticed that within a few days of the winter solstice, egg production starts to rebound. Laying is influenced by light exposure, and it only takes a few minutes shift in day length for the hens to respond. Ted here to bring you the final column of 2018 from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, as our days have started to grow longer again.

The smiling faces of some who gathered to greet the returning sun on the morning after winter solstice, from left to right: Danielle, Alyssa, Sara, Alyson and Ted. 

I recently returned from three weeks away in Virginia with family, and could not help noticing a familiar sense of relief; mostly it comes in the form of knowing a lot more about the food I’m eating, and being able to adhere to different, more familiar social standards. (Dark secret: I am a plate-licker, because it makes the washing easier; and if the food was good, why waste any of it?). Home is here as I work on my 16th year in Northeast Missouri.

My return also landed in the few days running up to the winter solstice, which some of us, my family included, tend to celebrate instead of Christmas. Solstice morning we opened presents together. My natal family learned years ago that that is our way, and sent presents home with me. They also know I’m a foodie, so among other gifts I had some tasty snacks to keep me going on the road as well as a new slate cheese board, complete with slate cheese signs to label in chalk, to stick in different cheeses when I offer them at a potlucks or other gatherings. Thanks for your generosity, friends!

Among other events this week, Danielle offered a day-long workshop on breathwork during the shortest day of the year, with more than a dozen in attendance. All of the participants I saw afterward certainly seemed bright and well-oxygenated. Some shared the artwork inspired by their experience.

On the evening of the solstice there was a gathering in la Casa, one of our shared village spaces used for business meetings and social events, where lots of us came together for rhythm, art, lounging, laughter, singing, and a sleepover. My partner Sara opened things with a reading of a book called The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch, describing the history of solstice celebrations in various cultures around the world, which we read each year to our daughter Aurelia when she was a wee child, and which still helps to broaden understanding for those who didn’t grow up knowing the significance of the winter solstice.

Jason, one of our newer residents, brought his drum kit — complete with a 50s-era hard suitcase to use as a bass drum. Baigz from Sandhill, one of our neighboring intentional communities, rounded up all the available hand drums from our common building and brought them over as well. Jason built up a sweat while he kept up a steady, ever-shifting rhythm without cease for two hours or more as various folks dropped in and out along the way with other percussion. Some danced along, and toward the end a group of folks added some amazing vocal improvisation. The silence after that sound meditation was stunning! Sleeping bags were brought out and wrapped around those staying for the sleepover, while the rest of us bundled up and trickled out toward home under a lovely, haloed full moon.

Next morning a handful of us gathered again at dawn out near the playing field, which is the highest point of land in the village area, to witness and welcome the sun’s return above the horizon after the longest night of the year. Hoar frost had coated every possible surface in the night, and the sun lit up a sparkling galaxy of living light as it arose over our gentle eastern slope. Rosy, smiling cheeks and some brief singing and ululation ensued before we each wandered off to our respective days, now lengthening again.

None of this is to suggest I’m closed to Christmas or other holiday celebrations — who can pass up Thistledown’s annual Christmas Eve cookies-and-cider soiree, or the Christmas morning potluck brunch at the Mercantile? Kyle also announced a Boxing Day bash at his home, the Gnestle, along with dancing at the Casa for the night after Christmas. We even have more presents to open at our house thanks to Sara’s parents, who visited to share their joy of the holiday with us before heading off to celebrate with other family members elsewhere. The more holidays, the better, I say!

Most of the spare time in these short but comparatively mild days since my return has gone into work on the goat barn, where Mae had been doggedly toiling at putting up siding and adding some windows in my absence. We worked together for a few days as I got back on the task of attaching purlins to the rafters, moving closer and closer to adding the roofing itself, which had arrived shortly after I departed for my trip. If the weather holds up, and we get enough low-wind days to allow it, we ought to have the goats under better shelter within a week or two.

Now from the many-hands-make-light-work department: despite having called a work party for Monday morning to get new plastic sheeting on his newly-erected hoop house down in the lower barn yard, Ben ended up getting it done Sunday evening, and so cancelled for the following morning. But those seeking a group work event won’t be disappointed — I’m shortly heading out to the latest wall-raising event out at Dorothy’s house on Skunk Ridge, where Bear is leading a late-season charge to frame up Dancing Rabbit’s newest home. Update: the latest wall was successfully raised. The space takes shape… It has been fun to hear two crews at construction work not far from each other, while at the barn lately.

One of 2018’s new residents, who goes by T in order to avoid being confused with the other Troy in our village, noted the value of a good rideshare, and how we conserve fuel and other resources here. (T is a regular contributor to our weekly column, and you can read lots of his hilarious work at his blog.) He rode with Kurt for the weekly Rutledge-and-Memphis trip he has done like clockwork, with rare exception, for many years now. He is always open to doing errands, drop-offs, and pickups for others while he’s out there, and this week T recorded that the trip included 21 discrete errands performed at 13 discrete stops in a little over three hours. Wow! Thanks for being one of the village anchors, Uncle Kurt.

Though it is several weeks past now, I want to share the result of a talk I gave out in Virginia in late November to the Fredericksburg Torch Club, which gathers monthly to sup together and hear a talk on one subject or another. I titled the talk “Climate Change and the Power of Community”, and covered a brief survey of the ecological state of things in the world as detailed by the latest UN and US climate reports, as well as what we’re doing here at Dancing Rabbit, and my belief that joining in various forms of community is one of the most powerful tools we have to face the challenge of climate change. The event went well, with an engaged audience that included some local high school students and questions that filled all the available time.

I had only barely made it to the talk in time, my train trip having been extended by an early-season Midwest blizzard. Unseasonal events do happen, but they are happening with ever greater frequency and intensity, impacting more and more people and places with each passing year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the hottest years on record have all happened in the past 20 years, with all but two in the past 10. I believe we must alter our collective behavior and learn how to live happily (and bountifully!) with less, especially here in the US where the average citizen has as much as 30 times the impact of someone living in the developing world. The future appears more dim the longer we wait to reduce our impacts.

Dancing Rabbit’s work in the world is to demonstrate one sustainable alternative to the current norm. As we head into the new year, we hope you’ll keep in touch and start thinking about visiting us in 2019 — now is a great time to apply for our Sustainable Living Visitor Program, before all of the available slots have been taken. You can check out the schedule and send in your application at our website. It’s also not too late to make a charitable donation to our educational nonprofit for 2018, if you feel moved by the holiday spirit to help support our efforts toward a more sustainable and cooperative culture.

Happy Sun Return to all our friends out there! And may all your celebrations be warm and in good company.

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The Frost Has Come: A Dancing Rabbit Update

All good things come to an end, I hear, and in my 15-plus years at Dancing Rabbit, it has so far held true that every warm season is sooner or later met with a first frost. I did see the forecast—patchy frost here the other morning—and I’ve seen the marginal impact on beans and sweet potatoes in the garden. The first definitive frost is expected tomorrow night. I anticipate climate change may shift our seasonal expectations over time and we may end up in zone 6a instead of 5b, but for this year we’re seeing frost just a hair later than average.

Ted here, to share with you Dancing Rabbit’s news for the week. One thing that has shifted somewhat over the years is the extent to which Sara and I will go to keep tender garden plants alive through the first round of cold weather. I have gradually found more acceptance of this inevitable end to the growing season as well as a willingness to engage in final pre-frost harvests without hedging my bets we might nurse frost-sensitive plants a little longer.

Our last visitors of the year (photo by Brian)

The truth is, once the first cold weather rolls through, the tender plants might survive but don’t usually do much further setting or ripening of fruit, so any benefit is marginal. Still, we have the benefit of everything that did make it this far; our kitchen overflows right now with ripe and ripening tomatoes, peppers, and other summer fruits, and we’re stowing potatoes in the root cellar. All the rain also brought out the first shiitakes on one of the mushroom logs I inoculated last April: two dinnerplate-sized beauties on a log from an oak tree that formerly grew in Ironweed courtyard.

I’m pleased to look out the window and still see the rich green hues of the warmer season made still more vivid by the persistently wet conditions. A renewed downpour has just begun as I write, on top of 7-10 inches logged in my week’s absence as well as some since. All I can say is, “thanks!” but it feels like too much, too late to undo the drought’s effect on the growing year and the wet, together with the onset of cold temps, has me diving under the bed for my long underwear.

At least I can count on autumn to bring on more wind power. With all the gray days recently, our off-grid power system with its failing battery bank would be quite sunk were it not for the surge in steady winds that typically arrive this time of year to complement the solar power we rely on. Sara has finished assembling a record of our current power needs and uses so we can determine the appropriate size and scale of a replacement battery bank. Now, finally, we are ready to place the battery order, along with a few other people adding to or replacing their respective battery banks. Just in time for winter . . . phew!

I was away to the East Coast last week and into the beginning of this one, so despite missing a lot of the rain as it fell, I have certainly grown accustomed to the muddy, wet soil and path conditions since my return. This has affected the experience of visitors in our final visitor session of 2018, some of whom are camping in this transitional weather. As one of their liaisons meeting with them each morning, I’m on the front-line to hear of their experiences (of cold and wet, at the moment) and help them get their needs met on behalf of the community. Despite living here for a long time, I’ve somehow managed to miss performing this task until now. There is always a new experience to be had here and volunteers needed to do what needs doing.

As an example, just when I was struggling with the mud and trying to add mulching paths to my heavy to-do list, new resident Colwyn showed up Saturday and again on Sunday with a wheelbarrow, shovel, and rake to mulch some of the hardest-hit paths in my neighborhood. For this type of work, he earns an hourly rate from the village commons, but seeing the need and voluntarily committing to scheduling the time and doing the task is invaluable. Thanks, neighbor.

Speaking of new residents, our newest, Jason, arrived from Colorado in my absence and started setting up his household in advance of his partner arriving later in the month. It was a heck of a week to attempt this, trying to protect all the important things he brought with him from the elements, but when I saw him last he was still in good spirits. I’m extra excited because they will be joining us in Ironweed eating cooperative later in the month. Welcome to the village, Jason.

There was also another tractor training during my absence. Tractor exposure isn’t unusual for kids growing up in this part of the country (as Aurelia is continually reminding me), but many of us come from elsewhere and don’t get that growing up. I never drove a tractor until I first worked on a farm in Maine as an adult. Training is held once or twice a year and allows everyone in the village who wants to experience the joys of mowing and moving heavy stuff around the chance to do so.

As mentioned above, I traveled eastward last week with my daughter Aurelia for a family event. The travel logistics part of traveling is often skipped over in the telling, but the trip out was more notable than usual in that we had a five-way rideshare, fully occupying a sedan carrying the five of us from Dancing Rabbit to three different events in three eastern states during roughly the same time frame. Over the years, we’ve concluded (backed by research) that our efforts to coordinate travel and maximize the utility of every trip we make is one of the most effective ways we at Dancing Rabbit have reduced our transportation-related footprints.

Sunday marked several birthdays among our friends and family. So, after our weekly scheduling meeting, Tereza called her mother Joyce (and someone else recorded for former member Kassandra) while the room full of Rabbits sang the Dancing Rabbit birthday song. In recent times, I have used a similar strategy for my mom’s birthday. It’s always nice to have an instant choir for special events!

Hesitant as I am to let go of balmy, warmer weather, it isn’t all bad. Once I’ve accepted the arrival of colder temperatures, I am free to appreciate the warmth of the first fires of the season. Despite the lingering warmth of our buildings earlier in the week, we had our first fire at home and our first wood-cooking fires in the kitchen. That is a welcome development because the solar oven has limitations in this weather and I’m ready for some warming casseroles and breads.

Dancing Rabbit’s final public tour of 2018 is at 1 pm on Saturday, October 27, so be sure to schedule it in if you’ve been meaning to come see us and haven’t made it yet. Pizza on Thursday nights at the Mercantile doesn’t stop though! We hope to see you soon.

I wish all our readers a smooth transition into autumn and all that it brings this year. Here’s hoping you have abundant food, shelter, and firewood or other fuel stored up and plenty of company to keep you warm.


Looking for Dancing Rabbit swag for yourself or a special someone? Check out our new store where you can get all the best Dancing Rabbit gear!

Plump Piglets

Seven Plump Piglets and Bioluminescent Fungi: A Dancing Rabbit Update

September rolled in quietly last week while my attention was elsewhere. Now I find myself halfway through the remaining few weeks of summer, finally enjoying as many tomatoes and dropping peaches as I care to eat. I’m appreciating these cooler days and nights, as well, even though they portend the waning of the season when such delights will eventually come to an end for the year. Ted here, to bring you the latest from here.

This week at Dancing Rabbit bridged one big event and another; from the Singing Rabbit event we hosted here on Labor Day weekend to our annual Open House this past weekend. It was an entire week of weather that either threatened or produced significant amounts of rain, certainly in comparison to our extremely parched summer.

4 out of the 7 Plump Piglets. Photo by Javi.

4 out of the 7 Plump Piglets. Photo by Javi.

With the return of moisture to the land, the fungi have awoken here in NEMO. My friend Alyson reported (and delivered a specimen of) two different bioluminescent fungi observed growing along the path in the woods she traverses regularly between Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and the adjoining Red Earth Farms. Some internet research turned up no mention whatsoever of any such beings living in our area. New sighting? They are certainly fun to look at in the dark!

DR work exchanger Charlotte came in from a walk Saturday morning before Open House with a beautiful array of a dozen or so species of fungi she’d seen while walking on the land here. Some edible, some not; all beautiful. I haven’t had time to go out searching at length myself, but there have been plenty to see all around the homestead on my daily rounds.

Homeschool began again last week (after Labor Day, which was the norm when I was a kid). I’ve taken on teaching geography with a sideline in current events this year to Aurelia and Emma. I’m just getting into the swing of it and having fun, so far, with climate patterns, biomes, nutrient cycles, and all sorts of other interesting things.

Christina, last week, mentioned the songs running in her head as a result of the singing event we hosted and I can definitely attest to a similar impact. For days, I’ve had songs steadily burbling up in my mind while at work on other things. Whole songs in languages I don’t speak (including two out of three of those Georgian and Balkan tunes Christina mentioned last week) took over my brain space for hours at a time, assembling into some reasonably coherent, mental recordings. One afternoon, I heard Darien on his accordion picking out the tune and chord changes of a song that was also stuck on intermittent repeat in my head. It was fun to realize I was not alone with the background music.

If each of us who attended can bring at least one new melody into our regular song circle, our expanded repertoire will grow even richer. I don’t love repetition, so that suits me well.

The mid-week rain ran in torrents through our neck of the woods, the underlying soil so long dried out that it couldn’t absorb much at first. Tuesday afternoon, there was a steady stream flowing down to and through the door of our shed. I tried hastily to reestablish and encourage some of the drainage features we’ve installed previously. The hydraulic engineering work of tunneling moles also made itself known, where a rivulet would disappear into one hole and re-emerge as a fountain from another 15 feet downhill.

With the approach of Open House and no break in the weather expected, I began to fret that our paths would be impassable for tours come the weekend, but our path maintenance manager Kyle managed to conjure a couple good piles of chip-mulch mid-week to cover and repair some of the essential village paths, despite the wet weather, and a handful of us helped disperse it just in time.

Saturday’s weather turned up grey but merely damp, fair enough that a stream of 50-plus folks came to tour the village in the afternoon. Receiving tours at Ironweed kitchen to talk about alternative energy for a few minutes, I marveled as I do each year at the variety of wonderful people and interests we meet and learn about at this event. Thanks to all who came out to visit! And, well met.

Speaking of well met; Friday morning, as we were finishing breakfast, Althea came charging up to the screen door to share that “Lexie had seven plump piglets!” Aurelia disappeared with her to go meet the new critters and didn’t turn up again for a couple hours. I went down to meet them the other day, and they are indeed, extremely cute, little bundles of soft fur with scrunched snouts. Sadie is due soon, too, so the barn will soon be o’er run with wee four-leggeds.

Sunday, at our Village Council meeting, we discussed the findings of the ad-hoc, alternative-fuels, research group for our vehicle co-op. One of our six covenants specifies that we will not use fossil fuels for transportation, and for many years, we have bought diesel vehicles and run them on biodiesel for as much of the year as we could. Winter-cold makes biodiesel gel, however, and so we have regularly had to blend in petrodiesel for the cold months. Changes in diesel engines also mean that to run 100% biodiesel requires vehicles produced before 2007, and vehicles do wear out.

Newer vehicle tech, especially hybrid electrics, have lower lifetime and operational emissions than conventional cars, especially when they can be charged on green power such as we produce for ourselves at Dancing Rabbit. We do not change our ecological covenants lightly but are now considering what the most potent fuel covenant could be, while still matching the reality of our experience. Our research has shown that our vehicle-sharing and ride-sharing efforts have the biggest impact in reducing our individual and collective carbon footprints. Humans’ reliance on fossil fuels is one of most central issues of our times, so we want to get this right, and continue to ratchet down our impact.

Even if you decided not to come out for our Open House in the wet weather, it isn’t too late to stop by for a public tour this year. We are still offering public tours at 1pm on second and fourth Saturdays through October, so please do come out and enjoy the onset of autumn here in the village.

Here’s hoping your upcoming harvests are bountiful, with sun and rain each in good measure. Thanks for keeping up with the news from our village and we hope to see you here again soon!

 


Want to see what living cooperatively is really like? Come visit us this year to get a glimpse into how we live and how you can incorporate these practices into your own life. There is only one Sustainable Living Visitor Program session left happening in October. Come join us!

 

2018 show me ultimate

Buzzing Through a Busy Summer Week: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Summertime, and the livin’ is … hmm, not usually easy, only sometimes hard, but definitely full. Surprising, too, despite the ongoing droughty weather, the recent cool spell and nip of rain were enough to trigger the first, real flush of shiitakes on my mushroom logs this year, though I had to water them for a few days to bring them to full size. Some weeks are more stuffed than others, and the list of things to mention this week gives me plenty to tell you about. Ted here to offer the condensed version of our very, full week at Dancing Rabbit.

Sunday began with an away game and a homecoming. All the Ultimate Frisbee players who went to the Show Me State Games tournament played one final game in the rain, then trickled home from Columbia, after playing our hearts out as the Red Hill Rabbits against some of Missouri’s finest teams. We didn’t win any games, but we competed beautifully, fielding undoubtedly the most gender- and age-diverse team present, and players from four local communities. My daughter Aurelia was our youngest on Saturday, at age 12, eclipsed only by Sandhill’s Emory, who joined us Sunday, age 10. Red Earth’s Mark was our senior member at 53, and we were fortunate to include friends Mike and John from La Plata.

Red Hill Rabbits team photo from the tournament. Photo by Ted.

Maybe the most inspired part for me was that we all played consistently and as able/willing as we got more and more tired (we had four games Saturday), without preference for skill or outcome. No matter how hard-played a point, we had enough to send out fresh energy to the next line. Plenty of ice cream and some Thai and Indian food featured as well, helping fuel (or re-fuel) our play, and we were grateful to camp as a group again in Terra Nova community’s lovely back yard. My sore muscles and gamey legs only lasted three days. For some reason, almost nobody showed up to play for our regular Tuesday morning game.

Whilst we were all away, Alline hosted a canning class at the Mercantile that I heard was super fun. The preservation season is certainly upon us. Our elderberries are heavy with sprays of dark purple berries, coming in ripening waves every few days. I have learned to see this underappreciated resource as a gift of nature, and to say, “Thanks, yes, please!” Especially in a dry year like this when their ability to bulk up with juice seems miraculous.

Tereza and Aurelia and I all put in a lot of time early in the week stripping berries from the stem bits that impart a bad flavor. Aurelia’s (well-scrubbed) feet stomped up the half bucket-full of berries with sugar and I set them to an initial fermentation without added yeast, letting them go on the ample wild yeasts they carry on them, and mixing the mash a couple times over a few days. Toward the end of the week, I got the juice filtered into a carboy with an airlock to start secondary fermentation, filling the root cellar with a nice fresh aroma as it bubbles away happily once every second or so.

Elderberry wine is said to take two years to mature to drinkability, so it is an investment in the future. But, if I make it every year, then I ought always to have a bit available. I do, in fact, have two carboys-full from each of the past two years just waiting to be bottled, already well-matured. Several of us have loosely talked about a bottling club to help each other get such tasks done. I, for one, seem to put it off unless I’m desperate to empty a vessel so I can refill it with incoming fruit. I have wine grapes nearly ready, and sweetening aronia berries alongside the still-accumulating elderberries, so the next batch will be a mixed-fruit edition and will need that space. My spare-time tasks for the week are already in place.

Kyle turned project manager on revamping our circle drive area out toward Woehrle Road recently, and this week he was the conductor of an orchestra of big yellow machines as they thoroughly re-worked, graded, drained, and graveled our entry area. Numerous large, dump trucks of gravel and other fill showed up continually to lay new sheets of driveway and parking spots. Our mailboxes had to be uprooted from their long-time location for a few days and were seen lying along Woehrle where our mail carrier still kindly serviced them.

I seemed to catch Kyle up there at various in-between moments, standing looking at one part or another in contemplation of progress and next steps. This project to widen entries for larger vehicles, smooth the curves, and add some additional parking has been in planning for many years, and now the gratification of change on the ground is finally at hand.

The final, busy week of swim team ran its course this past week, beginning with the swim-a-thon Monday and progressing on through a triathlon, pool party, and awards ceremony, then a few more practices (including one episode of fully-clothed drills, for building endurance), and ending Saturday with the regional championships, an all-day affair in Quincy. I have not heard complete results but I gathered that Aurelia was part of the winning freestyle relay in the 11-12s. My budding teenager was very nonchalant about it. Big thanks go to Trinity Davis and the coaching team for their gifts of time and spirit to all those kids. Go team!

While Sara and Aurelia were away at the meet, I stayed home for a goat barn work-party, where we finally made some onward progress on the structure after accumulating lumber for several weeks. We put up half the floor joists for the hay loft and we planned another work-party this coming week to put up the other half and start decking work. Seeing the bones of new structures take shape around here never ceases to please my sense of progress.

Our fourth visitor program session rolled to a close, and as usual it was an excellent bunch of people, all smiles and attentiveness as they attended their various workshops and other activities. Evenings and other down times seemed to sprout spontaneous drumming and other music, and at least two visitors are staying on for a couple weeks in the village to experience some more.

In other tidbits, Christina returned with Emma and Max from the East, which was lovely not only for those people themselves, but also for the Ultimate Frisbee roster, milking rotation, and kid play-scene. It did remind us that we were missing Javi, however, who is out in Washington State on a fire crew trying to stay hydrated in the heat and occasionally posting missives online about his time and efforts there. Despite the recent news of big fire in northern California, he reports he is staying put where he is, keeping smaller fires down. Stay safe, Javi!

Colwyn hosted an evening of light fireworks down at the pond early in the week and followed it up several nights later with a showing of Black Panther, which I’d missed when it was in theaters and was glad to finally see.

Our newest resident, Cat, began offering massage therapy sessions late in the week to the relief of a lucky few (Tereza scored the first appointment). It has been several years since we last had a practicing masseuse living in the village, and this is the season when we can certainly use those skills, as some of the above may suggest.

I’m sad to report, though the eventual result will be wonderful, that we’ll be letting Thomas go at the end of the weekend. He’s off to spend most of the rest of the year as a journeyman timber-framer with an outfit over in Illinois. He’ll undoubtedly return enriched with new expertise and old tools to share for future village building efforts, but it’ll be a bit of a trial to get by without him and all the quiet, essential ways he helps keep this place going. Thankfully, the proximity means we may still catch the odd glimpse of him during his absence.

Wrapping up the week, our second plenary meeting for Village Council selection produced an agreed slate for the coming year (starting September), when Alyx, Troy, and Vick will join Christina and Ted in service to the community’s decision-making work. Thanks go to all those who were willing to step up and offer themselves to the cause and the deliberation that allowed us all to reach that consensus.

Later Sunday evening, out at Starlight Fire Circle near the swimming pond, the tri-communities’ mens group hosted a ceremony to celebrate Nathan’s choice not to have his own kids, but to support instead those already here, and generally work in all the ways he does to make the world a more just, compassionate, and livable one for all of us. We wrapped up the gathering with a little irreverence in the form of an adapted Monty Python tune from The Meaning of Life and sat around the fire together afterward in the fading light with quiet voices and bright Mars rising in the southeast.

I leave you this week with notice of our upcoming annual Open House, one month out on September 8, from 1-4 pm. Every year we enjoy the chance to welcome the public into our village (now with improved traffic flow and parking!) with tours, talks, local products, and a festive atmosphere. We hope you’ll put it on your calendar and come join us once again to see what our growing village and nonprofit are up to. Hope to see you there.

Until next week, thanks for reading, friends!


Want to see what living cooperatively is really like? Come visit us this year to get a glimpse into how we live and how you can incorporate these practices into your own life. There is only one Sustainable Living Visitor Program sessions left and several more workshops happening between now and October, how will you choose to get involved?