Hello friends and neighbors! As I write this column, we are waiting for a cool front to roll in and give us relief from this hot, humid July weather. We live simple lives here at Dancing Rabbit and most folks do not have air conditioning. There are, however, three gathering places with air conditioning, so folks can avoid distress by visiting our Common House if needed.
Parmejean here, (Farmer John Demaree), to talk about our lifestyles in the summer months of northeast Missouri.
A lot of the work here is outdoors, especially gardening and construction. Our gardeners work mainly in the early morning hours, which is good for the people and the best time to harvest vegetables as well. Fortunately, the heavier garden work is done in the spring when the weather is more hospitable. Now there is harvesting of greens, cucumbers, squash, and even tomatoes are coming on. I moved into my home here, Robinia, in mid-May and this is my excuse for not having anything but cilantro to harvest now. Fortunately, my neighbors Avi and Anya let me pick swisschard and kale from their bounty!
It is construction season here at Dancing Rabbit, like everyone in this climate knows. The freezing weather is long past, but will be back, come October, so it is time to get it done. Our present hot weather is a deterrent, but a few simple strategies can keep it going; I like to wear a big straw hat, (my dermatologist agrees), as well as a wet scarf around my neck, which I often wring out, (the scarf not my neck).
I helped Kyle with the beginning of a new home last week. We dug trenches, laid drainage tile, and put down gravel for a foundation. We like to keep things simple, and some folks will do most of their building without power tools, but we rented an excavator and a skid loader to make this job go much faster. Kyle and I are both farm boys, and we got the hang of the equipment fairly quickly, as you can tell by the picture. (It is so nice to work with light-hearted folks!) Kyle will next set forms and have aircrete poured for the foundation. Aircrete is a formula of concrete that uses aluminum powder to introduce small air bubbles into the mix, making the finished product lighter in weight, while improving its insulative properties. This will be followed by strawbale walls and stuccoing with a clay mix.
Liz and Graham recently helped host a natural building workshop, taught by Hassan and Julia. The workshop attendees, 13 of them, got to learn how to set straw bales in a timber frame structure and how to mix plaster from native materials such as clay, sand, and straw. This structure, dubbed SubHub, will be a learning hub for the community as well as housing. (We have another natural building workshop coming up on September 12 – 15, if you’re interested in joining in the fun, and learning some new skills.)
Work on Dorothy’s home, (Dorothy from Kansas), is ongoing and she hopes to be moved in before winter. The structure has been dried in, and Dorothy worked hard putting in a tremendous amount of insulation. Kyle got a bit of practice with the excavator by digging a trench for the power line that will supply electricity from a solar grid to her home.
Hassan continues to work on a beautiful round home, named the Tea Cozy because of its shape. Hassan is a very knowledgeable craftsman, and his work shows an artistic flair. He is in demand for his knowledge around the village, so his Tea Cozy project goes slowly with his time divided by several projects. It is a labor of love, for Hassan. (It will be available for sale one day.)
My next project is to put a layer of finish plaster on my home, Robinia. I did some plastering of this type last year, but will rely on others for mixing the plaster, as there are several recipes to choose from. I have 12 buckets of clay soaking, two buckets of cattails to harvest fiber from, and I’m going to get some sand to add as well. Mixing is quite a sport, since you put all the materials on a tarp and mix it with your feet. Having music and dancing makes this a fun part of the job; it does take a lot of time, but when you are living the simple life you might as well dance!
Ya’ll have a great summer, stay cool, and enjoy the simple things in life!
If you’d like to get a firsthand look at the many unique buildings of Dancing Rabbit, and meet some of the folks who built them, consider coming to our visitor program. You’ll spend one or two weeks with some like-minded people, learning about our village, our way of life, and our mission. There will also be tons of good food, fun, and a chance to make some new friends.
Christina here, writing about the joys and frustrations of living in a place where I receive so much, and also sometimes feel like I give a lot. Sunday is a very Dancing Rabbit-ish day for me, and this week is no different. It’s one of the fullest days of the week, and definitely the one when I spend the most time giving back to my community.
As I am writing this, I just got finished with a clean team shift (we all take turns doing community service to maintain our common spaces), and between now and dinner, I still have the Week in Preview meeting (aka the WIP) where we get together to schedule village events, and one of my final five or six Village Council meetings before I am off of my two-year term. Add to that some informal duties as a liaison for the current visitor session, and at the end of the day I might feel a little spent.
Last night was the visitor Q and A, an event when our visitors can ask us questions on anything, from our favorite part of living here to what our families think about our choice to move to a rural intentional community in northeast Missouri. It truly is my favorite event of the visitor session because it gets me to reflect on my own life, and why I chose to leave behind a house, family, and a steady job to move here.
One of the questions that has been rolling around in my mind since then was about how many hours we spend on work, versus how many hours we spend on “things that are fun for us”.
This is always an interesting question for me, since I tend to distinguish between work that pays, and work that doesn’t, which I guess most people would call hobbies. (My final answer was that I spend an average of about 15 hours per week on income work, though I have learned that I am much much happier when I don’t track those hours.) But really, it isn’t so easy to make that distinction.
I get paid for being on the Village Council, though if I were to average out all the hours that I spend on council work in a given week, I might be making as little as five dollars per hour. I get paid for being in the dairy co-op in cheese and milk, but at a few pounds of cheese per week, that’s not a great pay rate either. Add to that the work that I do homeschooling my two kids, working in the garden, and working on other committees in the village, and it feels like a lot of time working — in fact, it adds up to way more than 40 hours a week.
One thing that I love about it all is that I get to choose. I decide where I want to plug in and where I hope that someone else will take up the slack.(If the village ever asks me to handle the accounting or car repairs, we’ll all be in trouble.) I contribute where I think I have some skills, or maybe where I’d like to develop some new ones.
I also get to decide how I spend my days. Temperatures are going to be in the 90s for the next few days, so I will likely spend a lot more time indoors enjoying the AC and working on the computer. Or maybe I’ll decide to just get sweaty and finish weeding that garden bed that has been bothering me for days. Or maybe I’ll just get a beer at the Mercantile, or hit the pond with the kids.
The weekly Sunday clean team works similarly. I might decide to spend an hour organizing the books in the kids room, while someone else decides to thoroughly scrub the showers. Everyone contributes in the best way that they can, and no one questions what others are doing. I can tell you (as I sit in the newly clean common house, enjoying the smell of Citra Solv and the cool community computer room) that the common house looks great right now. Even though it is used by upwards of thirty people a day, it is probably cleaner than many parts of my own house, which is only used by four people.
As I look forward to the rest of this week, I am anticipating giving to my community in some other ways that will likely be much more challenging than dusting shelves in the library. I have agreed to facilitate what might be a tough meeting, and I don’t have much experience in that role. But I love that I feel encouraged here to give back in ways that might be a stretch for me; and of course the receiving of that contribution is a gift to me as well.
Sometimes there are so many different pieces to remember that I drop a ball or two. For instance, this column was due about an hour ago, but I completely forgot that it was my turn to write it. And I might be about seven months behind on one of my Village Council tasks. And sometimes it doesn’t feel like much fun. (I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I was reminded, while working through the grime in a corner, that I was late in turning in the column.) And I don’t always love wading through waist-high poison ivy while I chase after an escaped goat.
But the rewards that I get back for what I give — living in an incredible place that supports me in so many ways; connections to people, the land, (and those goats!), that I could never find working a 40-hour week; freedom to schedule my day how I want; learning experiences that have pushed and challenged me like nothing I have experienced before I moved here — are so worth everything that I give back.
Have you been thinking about attending our two-week visitor program, but you need to have a few questions answered before you take the plunge? Send us an email. (If you received this newsletter in your inbox, you can just reply to this.) Don’t be shy, our friendly non-profit Correspondent will be happy to help.
Howdy y’all. Ben here, writing to you on a cool morning from the mosquito-veiled hedgerows and hillsides of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, when I should be weeding and mulching. With the consistent occurrence of oppressive heat, I would normally use this time to accomplish something tangible, like raking mulch, moving animal paddocks, or beaming nice thoughts at my kale, but instead I’m regurgitating my thoughts for the week through this newsletter to be consumed by you, dear reader.
This past week has been fairly hot, though not the hottest we’ve seen or will see. After some fairly frequent rains, things have begun to dry off a bit. Out and about in the wider community, the hayfields have all been clipped, tedded, raked, and baled. For the first time in six years of raising dairy animals, we actually have hay up in a loft well before we need it. This more closely resembles my definition of insurance, rather than the form of legalized gambling that an actual insurance plan offers. That said, I’ve been having a hard time proving that I’m self-employed, for purposes of paying off an emergency room visit from April. If I could only get one state employee out here to see what it is I do all day, it might be clearer that I do, in fact, work for a living. But they’d have to catch me between the hours of 5:30 AM and 9:30 AM, because after that is my six-hour, unpaid coffee break.
If I weren’t doing this, I’d be just about caught up on my pasture management goals for last week. Oh well. What’s the point of a goal I can actually achieve anyways? After years of observation, consideration, mistakes, and reading expensive books, I’m working on some exciting (to me, at least) strategies for maximizing small spaces for animal nutrition and fertility dispersal, which require minimal fossil fuel use. This year, we’re shifting pigs, chickens, goats, and a cow on paddocks like a giant chess game. We follow up one critter with another to complete the graze, while letting the fowl act like little manure spreaders, and scything down and overseeding any unpalatable grasses and forbs. It’s not like many of these ideas haven’t been kicked around by others for decades, but like so many things that involve being married to a piece of land, implementing tools and strategies such as chicken tractors, and intensive rotational grazing, are awfully site specific. The unobservant farmer can take a wagonload of a hundred chickens and make nothing but a mess if all they have done is read some books.
Unlike factory farming, pasture-based animal agriculture requires that the steward/farmer be fully engaged with all variables in their project, everyday. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for other types of fun, but having fun seems overrated in light of the possibility of being held in a detention center, or running out of water (along with 4 million of your close neighbors), or having essential medical services stripped away — all things which are happening now.
Yes, it is very hot, and I have a baseline distrust of folks who say they don’t mind the heat. Where are all these people at 3 o’clock in the afternoon? A little warmth is nice, and some excruciating heat at the right time can do a lot to ripen some of my favorite vegetables. (I’ve been having a recurring dream about eating okra.) But when someone says they’ve spent a season in Costa Rica, and they feel cold when the temperature dips below 60 ( I meet these people every year), that someone ought to spend a day loading and unloading wagon of hay in the Midwest. Especially if they consume beef or dairy. For vegans, I also recommend picking green beans some August afternoon.
Some well-designed irrigation infrastructure has helped me in my food growing endeavors, but so often it seems like my ability to work easefully outdoors all boils down to my choice in clothing. Firstly, and this is merely my fashion opinion, you got to wear shoes and a hat. Got to. With sturdy enough shoes and a big sombrero, most other clothes would be considered superfluous, were it not for our totally sensible and reasonable social norms. I observe that sometimes people show up at the ecovillage, see all the barefoot kids, and feel like they’ve been lied to their whole lives; like it’s just Big Shoe trying to earn a buck off the soles of us rubes who own and wear shoes regularly. Children are lighter than us. They exert less pressure on their feet. This place, like many rural areas, is speckled with dropped thorns, old fence wire, the occasional rusty nail, and excreta. Just don’t do it, folks. Both my children have lost a toenail, and both have stepped on honey locust thorns. I’ve performed minor home surgery on the older one, when her toe had a difficult meeting with a piece of hardware cloth.
This doesn’t mean one has to buy fancy shoes. Chaco, (and yes, I own two pairs of Chacos), charges twice as much money for essentially half of a shoe. I got a pair because you can send them in for repair, but after a couple of weeks without them, I ordered a spare secondhand pair, because it was going to be another month ’til the first pair got back. They were super nice on the phone. (I am not expecting an endorsement from the fine people at Chaco.) If I were to promote any line of footwear for homesteaders, it’d have to be Crocs, because they can be easily duct taped back together, they float, they clean up easy, they’re well-ventilated, and nobody ever looks good in them. The best feature is that weird little strap you can use to shift between Action Mode and Lounge Mode. The only drawback is that they can literally fill up with manure — not great for working in the chicken wagon. (I am expecting an endorsement from the fine people at Crocs.)
As far as plastic clothing goes, shoes are about all I can handle. Nowadays, people are selling “technical garments”, but truth in marketing would describe these as “plastic pants”. If you technically sweat, I technically wouldn’t ensconce myself in a well-tailored ziploc bag.It’s like being marinated in one’s own bodily fluids. Go for cotton and linen. As a fair-skinned person, who is constantly up in some fine debris like hay or dried chicken manure, a long-sleeve, light-colored cotton shirt, a size or two too big, is my go-to for any type of field work. I like to complete the ensemble with a pair of underwear, which when not underneath a pair of pants is just some shorts without a pocket. Pockets are overrated. Just like zippers. When I have pockets, I put stuff in them, and I lose some of it. Then my pants get heavy, start falling down, and when I’m in town trying to find exact change for my ice cream, hunting for a dime, nickel, and two pennies, I shed little flecks of lint, hay, and dry manure. (Not to mention pieces of old corn and other weird stuff.) Better to just eliminate pockets altogether, I say. That way, nobody is constantly checking their phone to find out the weather, when it’s clearly hot and gonna stay that way for the next two and a half months.
I top the whole thing off with a wide brimmed straw hat, complete with chin cord, that I scored at the flea market for a buck. The chin cord is essential to keep the hat on my head when its breezy, because I gotta work in the wind, too. I’m also a fan of sunglasses. Really dark ones help me not only look cool, but actually feel cooler when its 99 degrees out. I met somebody once who swore they could strengthen their eyes just by squinting into the sun. Don’t ever do that.
My kids are something of fashion icons themselves. My daughter will wear almost anything, provided its impractical, gauzy, dirty, and falling apart. She’ll stick to an outfit for about two weeks or more, until she comes across something equally inappropriate for all conditions, like a hairnet fashioned out of an onion bag, knee-high fur boots, and my nasty old basketball jersey, all tied together with a poorly stitched satchel and some nylon baling twine. If you’re looking for an outfit that says: “homeschooled at the ecovillage; my best friends are grubs and caterpillars”, then this one’s for you. Arthur on the other hand, donned a sporty ensemble to the pond yesterday evening consisting of some scratched-up swimming goggles and a comically long stick. When he got into the pond, after walking a few hundred yards, he removed the goggles so he could “swim better”, but kept the stick. This playful little number just screams, “I’m going to gulp some pond water and chew cattail fluff, while my dad updates his project list from the dock”. Ooh la la.
Now of course, there’re always a few people who secretly (or openly) have no desire for clothing whatsoever. Arthur is like this, with the exception of tight pajama pants. (The tighter the better.) Sometimes Dancing Rabbit will get confused with the local nudist RV camp just outside of Memphis, but I assure you, we are not the same folks. If you’d like to leave yourself completely exposed to biting insects, solar radiation, and the fixed gaze of your clothesless comrades, I suggest looking them up. At Dancing Rabbit, I’d at least recommend a thick protective layer of dirt, if nothing else. I learned this technique from the pigs. I’m beginning to suspect it’s perfectly natural to cover up with whatever you got, and ignore the fashion judgements of others. I still smell like a herd of pigs just the same, but that doesn’t matter to anybody anyhow, and that’s something I really appreciate about my wider community.
If you’d like a chance to learn a thing or two about rotational grazing, gardening, and being an observant steward of the land, along with all the other cool things happening at Dancing Rabbit (including cutting edge fashion innovation), come visit us for a couple of weeks. You’ll meet lots of interesting people, enjoy some delicious homemade food, and get to swim in our natural pond.
June was a big month for birthdays and celebrations at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, as well as our neighbor communities: Red Earth Farms and Sandhill Farm. Avi here, still digesting all the homebrewed beer, freshly baked cake, grilled meat, and scrumptious potluck dishes.
In the last week alone, I helped host a birthday party for my wife Anna; attended the Red Earth Farms Land Day celebration (the anniversary of the day they bought their land, and thus established the community); another birthday party; and a going-away party for Javi, a beloved community member who is heading out to eastern Washington state to fight wildfires for a couple months. Sandwiched between these happenings was a party thrown by Pet Committee to reward the community for civic participation: filling out a lengthy survey to help inform the details of some new pet policies.
One of the huge benefits of living in an ecovillage, despite its accompanying challenges, is the amount of people that are in my life on an everyday basis. There are over 50 people, conservatively, who I see on a near daily basis in passing and multiple times each week in some kind of social setting. As a result, we’re more invested in each other’s lives than folks in the wider culture might be.
When someone has a birthday, or a going-away party, it’s an opportunity to show up and express appreciation for the ways that person contributes directly to my life. Living in a city or suburban environment, it seems to me that social connections are more often rooted in whether or not I “like” that person’s personality and whether we share common interests. At DR, common interests are also a part of the equation, a source of connection and the reason why we’re all here in the first place, but there’s another very prominent foundation for social connection: appreciating what a person does for the community and the ways in which we’re interdependent. Living at DR, we all witness the sacrifices each of us make to contribute to the whole and reap the benefits of each other’s work and efforts in a very direct manner.
I have a deep appreciation for Bob, who is currently diligently climate controlling the common house, tending the curtains and AC units to provide a respite from the sweltering summer heat. There’s Mae, Christina, Andrea, Ted, Prairie, Arune and Anna, who move the fencing for the goats and cow, do the milking, and help me make cheese so I can have delicious, healthy dairy products. There’s Nathan, who has been a tremendous source of marketing and sales advice for my personal business and for the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture (DR’s education and outreach organization), which I also work for. There’s Dee, Carolyn, Matt, Alannah, Benji, and Vick, my co-workers at CSCC. There’s Hassan, who built the house I live in. There’s Taylor, Freddi, Ange, and Kim who garden with me a few times a week. And Ben, who procured straw bales from a local farmer that are getting used to mulch our plants in the garden. I could go on and on, literally naming everyone in the community and things they contribute directly to my quality of life.
Celebrating feels easier and more natural here, on many levels. For one, we all live within walking distance of each other, making it easy to drop by for a party or gathering without a lot of advance notice or blocking out a significant amount of time in the day’s schedule. Without a culture of going out on the town to celebrate, our gatherings are almost always much more affordable D.I.Y. affairs — the food, drinks and fun are often homemade, which is another opportunity to appreciate the contributions of others.
The folks who come to visit us often form connections much like Avi described, and even our weekly routines, like potluck dinners, Song Circle and more, can have a party-like atmosphere. If you can’t take a week or two to come for a visitor session, consider our condensed ecovillage weekend experience; a recent group of 20, which visited us for a few days in May, had a total blast. Don’t miss out on the fun. Sign up today!
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.
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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If I had the attention of hundreds of people, what would I say? What am I passionate about? What do I think is worth speaking? My friend Danielle recently prompted me with these questions, after hearing about my straggling uncertainties and insecurities about writing for Dancing Rabbit. Prairie here, concluding the end of the week with an honest look at my own values, and the world around me.
Dancing Rabbit grows lush as planted projects flourish and new ones pop into existence: garlic hardens, strawberries ripen, Asian pears form in plentiful swathes with the sun’s lingering touch, and birds continue to nest. The Ironweed gardens have become more concise and accessible after weeks of weeding the sprawling jungle it once was. Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers have since found their way into the ground, along with the last of our brassica starts and zinnia seeds. Our bed of baby kale, lettuce, tatsoi, mustard greens and the like has been producing steadily. Look at me, talking the garden talk! At this time last year, I would not have been able to identify half the plants around Ironweed.
With the garden well underway, rebuilding the south wall of Osage (Ted and Sara’s earthen home) is next on the list. This is the project I have been looking forward to most since agreeing to work-exchange for them. I hope to learn as much about natural building as I have learned about gardening.
I milked goats for the first time! Some mental notes I took on the experiences were: electric fences are more pleasant to handle when they are off, Alice is significantly easier to milk than Mocha, Curly Sue has quite the personality when she doesn’t want to go back behind the fence, and it’s wonderful to have another person around to hold the goats’ feet, so they don’t step in the milk pan. I have since garnered deeper respect and admiration for the rest of the Goat Co-op members for the hours of care they have taken in the process of bringing local dairy and meat to the community, as well as humbling gratitude for the goats themselves. It’s incredible how these beings can produce such rich and versatile food, and at one to two gallons a day! I feel excited to work to honor a strong value I have about humane animal treatment and locally sourced food.
This week I have felt moved to take in the world around me more fully. I have tried to embody a Permaculture principle I learned after I moved here: observe; a simple action with profound results. I also remembered another Permaculture saying: nature does not create expendables. Every leaf on every tree has a purpose. Every blade of grass grows for the whole. I kept looking. Nature values diversity. How many plants can one find in any given place at any given time? What shapes, colors, properties do they have? Our world is infinitely abundant in flora flavor, and equally so in fauna; the same is true with humans. No two people are precisely the same, and no one is expendable. We all have our individual potentials and purposes. We are unique from each other while we also dance to the same rhythm as this planet.
Our world is powerful: it can split the ground open, it can pour water from the sky for days, volcanoes erupt and rain fire; it is a force to be reckoned with, it gives life and death. While many natural disasters are caused by human impacts, I want to remember that even with our destructive influence, Earth holds profound wisdom and energy to be acknowledged.
How much would we learn, not only about the world around us and how to thrive harmoniously within it, but about ourselves? Maybe I am being unrealistically optimistic in saying that humans belong here too. Perhaps we can fit into this complex equation of existence just as steadily as beans weave around corn and blueberry bushes, not only to contribute to the soil and underground ecosystems, but to give fruit for animals and people alike.
Would you like to spend two weeks experiencing the lushness Prairie described? Join us from July 7 – 21 for tons of fun, good food, and a chance to learn about all dimensions of sustainability and community-living with tons of like-minded people. Don’t let the fruits of summer pass you by.
I grew up on a farm 110 miles east of Memphis, Missouri outside the town of Rushville, Illinois, but I spent most of my adult life in central Texas hoping to get back to the Midwest. Parmejean here, a.k.a. Farmer John Demaree, to tell you how happy I am to be back in the Midwest and living as a resident at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. (Now, Texas was a good run, but I got tired of the heat, drought and the unpredictability of the weather. I planted a nice patch of sweetcorn one year there in mid-February and by the end of March it was knee high; then on April 1st we had a freeze that destroyed my crop.)
I made it back to Illinois in the late 1990’s to farm my dad’s 90 acres in Rushville, with my wife and three sons. My organic tofu soybeans did very well my first year farming the family place, and I got $19 a bushel for nearly a thousand bushels. The only problem with having such a good first year is that I thought I knew what I was doing.
The next two years were lean and in the year 2000 we decided to visit Rutledge, Missouri and two intentional communities in the area: Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit. Though we did not spend much time at either place that November, I got on Dancing Rabbit’s email list, and so got to see the community progress over the years. In 2002, we moved back to Texas and I went back to work at a desk job in a cubicle — not ideal for a farmer.
Fast forward to 2018: my sons are grown, and my wife and I had split the sheets ten years earlier. So that February I quit my desk job, packed my car and headed north to Illinois to see family and friends. I have two sisters, a brother and many cousins in the Midwest, and I made the rounds for about a month. Deciding after the travel that I needed something more permanent for a home, I thought of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, which I had teased friends about, and so I gave it a try. What a great choice!
I arrived on April 8, 2018 during a 5-inch snow. Folks were waiting to help me settle in for a week-long visitor session. Visitor sessions run up to two weeks and are important for those people interested in joining this community. The snow melted and it warmed up that week, making tent living easier. I got to hear many community members present information on the operation of their Ecovillage, from decision making to the covenants that Dancing Rabbit keeps to lower our impact on nature and the world. I love the values that are held by this community; burning little to no fossil fuels is very important to stabilize our climate.
After my week visit I decided to spend more time at DR and was sponsored by the Critter Farm as a wexer. A wexer is someone who fills a work exchange position where you work for someone in the community, while they feed you and cover your common house costs. So I got to work on a farm and had a very wonderful group of people to share meals with at the Critter Kitchen. I lived in a tent my first two weeks and then was offered a room in Skyhouse, an onsite boarding house. (It was an easy decision to leave the tent.) Within a month the manager at the time moved to Iowa City and I took over as manager and my rent went to $0; I also made a little money keeping up the property and firing our furnace to heat water for bathing. Hot running water is a very nice thing!
At the Critter Farm I was kept very busy building a tall chicken fence, moving a large greenhouse, and best of all, I got hands-on instruction timber-framing a barn. The barn was a group effort with two instructors and about 10 students who converged on the Critter Farm to learn timber framing. It was a great experience, and they were great people to bond with. (Editor’s note: this year we have two natural building workshops for those interested in learning about straw bale construction and earthen plaster, one of which is coming up on July 4th. What a great way to spend Independence Day!)
In October last year I decided to return to Texas to make more money and pay off some bills. My car had broken down twice, and I had used up my cushion; plus I missed my sons who were still living there. I had a good time in Texas, (didn’t make much money), but I did get really tired of the traffic around Austin and the time spent in a car to get anywhere, and so I was glad to head back to DR where I would not need to drive very often.
I returned to DR in late April this year to very cool weather and so avoided the tent and rented a refurbished grain bin that was very cozy, but just a sleeping room. (Though living in a grain bin seemed appropriate for a retired farmer.) Mid May I moved into Robinia, a lovely timber frame home. It is simple, yet elegant: five round beams of black locust, (genus Robinia), are supported by three posts each, braced with more black locust wood. This home also has many windows on the south side, and an earthen berm nearly to the roof on the north. The roof has a pond liner for it’s base and then lots of soil for gardening. I plan to plant tomato starts on the roof later today. There is also a fenced garden I have already planted into, but those seeds need rain!? We had such a wet spring slowed my gardening and now I want rain…
I traveled through Illinois and Missouri the last week of May, and there was water in the fields from here to Springfield, Illinois and south to St. Louis. I was detoured several times on this trip because of it. Sadly very little had been planted along the entire route — every now and then I would see corn sprouting, but more often there were stunning fields blanketed in goldenrod’s brilliance. Mainly though, there was corn or bean stubble awaiting dry conditions for tillage. So this is an unusual year for rain (and tornadoes) and I cannot help but think the increased global temperature is adding to this. The weather is variable as always, but the simple physics are that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped. This should be motivation for everyone to cut back on fossil fuel use as much as possible.
I have not left DR in the last week and have an active social life: 8 a.m. coffee group in the morning at the Milkweed Mercantile, then Happy Hour there from 4 – 6, and a great Karaoke evening last Friday. I have bread, cheese, eggs, and milk produced on site, and there is a simple grocery here providing fresh organic vegetables, which also has bins offering beans, rice, granola, nuts, and some chocolate coated cranberries.
So I am settled now in the Midwest, and loving my time here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. The climate is what I am used to, and though I may duck out to Texas to see friends and my sons during some of the winter, I do enjoy the snow and walking through the woods when it is icy cold. My home, Robinia, is well insulated so I should be comfortable there year round. It seems my cycle of life has brought me back to the Midwest and the places imprinted on me from my youth. Please come visit sometime!
If you’d like a chance to meet Farmer John and lots of other like-minded folks who are passionate about environmentalism and community, but you can’t take a whole two weeks out of your routine to come, join us for our condensed Ecovillage Weekend Experience from 09/26 – 09/29. You’ll get a chance to partake in workshops similar to what John mentioned, get a firsthand look at one of the highest concentrations of tiny houses and natural buildings in any village in the country, and enjoy lots of good food and good fun along the way.
When I tell people I live in an ecovillage, I often hear, “Like a commune?” as a response. “Commune” is often times the only concept people have to place it on their mental map, and that term frequently connotes free love, drug usage, artsyness, and a general shirking of responsibility.
Avi here, attempting to shed some light on the ways in which discipline, structure, and responsibility are essential components in the life of a thriving community member at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. As the calendar turns to June, and the soil finally dries up after a couple merciful days of respite from the biblical series of storms that flooded many of the surrounding roads, the permaculture principle “make hay while the sun shines” guides me through my days.
Spring is a busy time in the garden cycle. The soil gets amended and worked, seeds are sowed, and seedlings get transplanted out into the field, where they brave the elements in an effort to grow bigger and stronger. In the last week, many of my plants outgrew the confines of their soil receptacles in the greenhouse, but my desire to move them to the field was drowned out, deluge after deluge, adding to my sense of dread at being behind. That anxiety has subsided a bit, as the last two rain-free days were spent weeding, seeding, transplanting, and mulching. My greenhouse is now home to a much smaller — in number and in size — plant community.
Keeping up with the cycle of animal agriculture is also demanding. Milk production is in full swing, and thus cheese-making to preserve our surplus. Batches of soft goat cheeses are being made one after another, and the more labor-intensive hard cheeses are being pressed and waxed with increasing frequency, before being set aside to age and provide a lingering taste of spring in the coming winter.
It’s worth mentioning that my passion for local, organic food production and food security is a non-income producing area of my life. In addition to all of the spring agriculture work (a robust part-time job in its own right) I make a living doing 7-10 hours of administrative work each week for our non-profit education and outreach organization: the Center for Sustainability and Cooperative Culture, teaching English as a second language online, editing translated articles, and helping out sporadically on a building project in the village.
A strict morning routine is the foundation for my ability to avoid burnout. I wake up early, before 6 a.m. most days, and get in a run or a yoga session before praying and starting my day. Squeezed into the gaps in the schedule are the numerous off-grid lifestyle household chores: scything, hauling water, and composting waste, just to name a few. Then there’s participating in community governance, helping neighbors, and reading up on subjects that interest me and help me manage my life. I also like to make time for playing games, of both the athletic and board varieties, with friends and supporting the people I’m close to by listening to what’s going on in their lives and encouraging them to find a way forward.
As you can imagine, sometimes it feels like I don’t get a break from problem solving and crossing things off my to-do list until my head hits the pillow around 9:45 pm. Without a doubt, my biggest challenges at DR this spring are time, energy, and resource management. I even started using a task-management software to help me integrate my various analogue records and lists.
Until this spring, my wife Anna and I lived together in Moscow, Russia. During the winter, my days were full of existential languishing in our snowed-in one-bedroom apartment. There was seemingly so little worth doing to occupy my time and contribute to my immediate surroundings. I consumed entertainment on Youtube a couple hours a day, plowed through classic Russian literature, and was almost always available to chat with far-away friends or family in my ample free time.
I’m finding that being a reliable and contributing ecovillager is demanding a level of organization, discipline, and endurance I’ve never known before.The reward for all of this focused and sustained effort is a deep and profound sense of purpose and meaning. Existential crisis barely has space to creep in. There are far more things worth doing in my environment than I have the time and energy to do. Like the newly germinated seedlings in my garden, the objects of my focus need to be thinned and given enough space in my life to grow into their full nourishing potential.
Some people see moving to an ecovillage, or a “commune,” as a way of dropping out of society, shirking civic and familial duty, and running away to a carefree existence. (There is an element of turning away from mainstream society that is undoubtedly true.) However, we Rabbits are also choosing to actively build and manage an entirely different way of life, along with all the physical and social infrastructure that supports it. We are engaged in the process of becoming the change we wish to see in the world; turns out that’s a demanding, and sometimes exhausting, process. It’s hard for me to imagine taking on more civic responsibility than that.
If you’re like Avi, and you want to become the change you wish to see in the world, sign up to spend two weeks with us through our visitor program. You’ll have a chance to meet lots of like-minded people, learn some new skills in areas ranging from gardening to non-violent communication, and have lots of fun along the way.