Living and Dying: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Hi friends. Alline here, with news from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. This past weekend Dancing Rabbit hosted 20 people in an intensive seminar we call an Ecovillage Weekend Experience. Along with the usual sessions on the things we feel are of interest to our guests — communication, decision-making, self-care, natural building, and alternative energy — I asked to give a presentation on home funerals and natural burial. While it might not be considered a happy, upbeat topic, I found that something quite profound happens when we are given the opportunity to care for those we loved, to bury them in a way that is personal and meaningful, and that feels like a true labor of love. This is something I learned here at DR.

Tamar, showing off some of her mosaic work.

I am new to this opinion. I grew up in the suburbs of California, on land that had been farms, but which were being covered over with tract housing to meet the needs of GIs returning from WWII and those seeking a rosier life somewhere with better weather. This included my parents, (my father was from Utah, my mom from Boston), and they wanted something better for their kids than their parents had been able to eke out for them during the depression and second World War. My parents taught me many things: a love of reading, a responsibility to vote, a commitment to help those less fortunate, and, among other things, a mistrust of the funeral industry. This translated into a stipulation that upon their deaths they were both to be cremated. They located a non-profit (i.e.: inexpensive) organization that did just that, and made the arrangements for when the time came. They had seen too many grief-stricken friends and relatives go deep into debt because of “wanting to do the right thing”. (Please know that this is not a blanket dismissal of everyone involved in the funeral industry.)

Fast forward to my life here at Dancing Rabbit, where my husband Kurt Kessner and I have made our home for 20 years. We arrived when we were 42 and 48 years old. We blithely and naively assumed, since we were about two decades older than most of the Rabbits here at the time, that we would be the first to die, and that we would be buried somewhere on the Land Trust that we own with the rest of the members of Dancing Rabbit.

In the saddest way possible we were disabused of that notion when our friend Tamar, then age 32, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We were devastated. She returned to her home in Massachusetts to seek treatment and to be with her family. While she was there she let us know that when the time came she wanted to be buried at Dancing Rabbit. Her family, in one of the first of many extremely gracious and loving gestures, agreed with her decision, and committed to help make it happen.

As is often the case here, we all went to work, doing what we could, to learn the intricacies to legally bury someone on our land. We found an excellent book, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Lisa Carlson and Joshua Slocum, from an organization called Funeral Consumer Alliance. (Note: Ms. Carlson is now the Executive Director of the Funeral Ethics Organization.) The goal of Funeral Consumers Alliance is to ensure consumers are fully prepared and protected when planning a funeral for themselves or their loved ones.They do this by offering objective facts about funeral planning so families can plan a meaningful goodbye that fits their needs and their budget. (Additional recommended resources: Grave Matters: A Journey through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley.)

Armed with this book and a lot of gumption, we began planning. Tamar told us where she wanted to be buried, and Tony went to the county courthouse and learned what many farmers have known for generations: that because we owned the land, we could indeed bury our friend here. The requirements (here in Missouri) were that the burial ground could not exceed one acre, that we would need to deed it in trust to the county commission, and file a deed with the county clerk within 60 days. Done. When she died, we knew what we needed to do.

Being able to make the plans for the funeral and to carry these plans out ourselves changed many of our lives. Tamar did not want to be buried in a casket, so I volunteered to sew a shroud. I had no knowledge of shrouds, and there was very little on the internet at the time. When the news of her death arrived I began cutting and sewing some simple yet beautiful vintage linen fabric into a vessel for our friend. I cried as I worked. I was so angry, and so, so sad. I realized later that by being able to do something physical I was able to begin working through my grief with every stitch; it was cathartic. I began to get a glimpse into why home funerals are valuable in ways far beyond economic savings. Thomas crafted a bier out of local wood, woven together with grape vines. We dug the hole ourselves. It was difficult; not only do we have hard, clay soil, but we dug with sad hearts and tears streaming down our faces.

We found that once we had a death certificate that it was quite straightforward to acquire a transit permit to drive Tamar’s body from Massachusetts to Northeast Missouri. We worked with a kind and compassionate funeral director in Massachusetts who located a low-impact casket  (made of cardboard) and who packed her body in dry ice for the journey. When Tamar’s father Amos and friend Nathan arrived in Rutledge after their 19-hour journey, they went straight to Sandhill Farm, where the casket was placed in Sandhill’s walk-in cooler.

A few hours later the casket was brought here to the home of Tom and Tereza, where a group of friends gathered to say goodbye and to wrap Tamar’s body in the shroud. We placed her on the bier and covered her with flowers. We carried her to the burial site ourselves, stopping seven times in the Jewish tradition. Everyone was given a chance to help carry her. Friends and family stood along the pathway from the house to the burial site. We created the service ourselves. People sang and shared stories; Tamar’s mother Eva led us in the Kaddish (a Jewish prayer of praise, thanksgiving and peace); and other family members spoke; a former fiddle student of Tamar’s played; and a local business brought packets of flower seeds to hand out. When the time came, we lowered her into the grave. It was not smooth and effortless like many other funerals I’ve attended, where the shiny casket is suspended above the grave and then, with the push of a button, slowly descends. Our lowering of Tamar was awkward, but it felt important to do this ourselves as part or our mourning process. We then filled in the hole, shovelful by shovelful — many of the children helped as well. It was horrible; it was lovely; it was grief, real and raw, made manifest with every action. Every single person here at the time, and many other friends, relatives, and neighbors contributed. I hesitate to use names, because those mentioned are only a few of the dozens of folks who helped, in ways both big and small. It really did take a village.

One year later, Amos, Eva and Tamar’s sister, Sharon, had a memorial delivered. Instead of a formal headstone, and in keeping with Tamar’s aesthetic, they chose a large rock and had the front smoothed and engraved. Our friend Megan came and led us in creating a mosaic to encircle the text. Many of us pass by this memorial each day, and often leave a stone in remembrance. However, I find that I don’t need the beautiful rock, or the Asian pear tree planted there, to remember Tamar. She and her family gave us an incredible gift that really will stay with us always: they enabled us to learn to care for our own dead, to show our love and care, to work through our grief, and to understand that many of the old ways are still valuable and useful. For this we are grateful.

If you’re interested in participating in one of our Ecovillage Weekend Experiences and learning about the awesome things Alline mentioned and more, you still have a chance in September. Slots fill up fast, so don’t delay!

05.21.2019 Christina

Living the Seasonal Life: A Dancing Rabbit Update

One thing that I especially wanted (and have certainly found) here at Dancing Rabbit was a life that is more in tune with the season. This year especially, I have really appreciated dealing with daily routines and rituals that seem more straightforward and simple. Christina here, writing about what it’s like for me to live in northeast Missouri in late spring. (Or is it early summer already?)

Althea taking Luna the goat to fresh pasture.

Mae and I are moving the goats almost every day now, along with the new cow, Sugar. I am finding lots of satisfaction in seeing the goats joyfully explore their new pasture after a fence move. The kids (of the goat variety) are still super cute and small, jumping, climbing and making a playground of every obstacle they can find.

In the winter months, I often found myself getting into bed early with a book, but with more time up and about on summer nights, the social connection time is heating up as well. Pizza night at the Milkweed Mercantile is filling up with locals and visitors, who sit out on the porch enjoying the longer days, late sunsets, and friendly companionship. Potluck and community dinner have been outside on more than one occasion; spending time at the picnic tables in the courtyard with friends is probably one of my favorite ways to pass an evening here. As the days get longer, we linger more and more at these weekly social events.  

Longer days also mean more playtime outside and later bedtimes for the kids (of the human variety). “Will you please take us to the pond?” is heard constantly, and packs often roam the village looking for an adult to supervise their swimming. We’re still chugging through homeschool, but with an earlier finish so the kids can spend more time roaming around with their friends (looking for someone to take them to the pond).  

We have eaten almost all of the garden produce that I froze or dehydrated last year, and I am finding fresh, locally grown food to eat in more and more places. I’m thrilled to be eating lots of nettles, green onions, eggs, and goat chèvre again. I have probably come up with at least three different ways of eating greens and eggs, and I love them all. I’m also enjoying the amazing milk from Sugar. (Really, if you’ve never had milk from a Jersey cow, you’ve never experienced milk!)

The weather is constantly shifting and changing, never really predictable or constant. We have plenty of rain, for now, though I can’t help but think of last year’s drought. This means that we haven’t had an ultimate frisbee game in recent memory, but the prairie is greening up nicely, and the gardens are starting to look more lush; this also means that the weeds are gaining in size and strength. I’ve been hot enough after an hour working in the garden that I need to come inside to rest in the house for a bit before heading out again, but I haven’t yet switched to my summer schedule of getting outside before 6 a.m. and heading in as soon as the sun comes over the trees. I aim to garden “for fun” this year, without pressuring myself, but I have still put in some good work. We have planted out onions, potatoes, most of our tomatoes, lots of kale, some cabbage, and almost enough radishes to satisfy my fermenting needs. I’m still waiting on the weather to be clear enough to plant the peppers, eggplants, some basil, and probably more tomatoes. Though there isn’t much yet to eat in the garden, I have had a few kale salads.

What we refer to as “the season” here is slowly picking up. We have one visitor session under our belts, the Milkweed Mercantile is hosting guests, and workshop season is gearing up. I’m looking forward to meeting interesting people, watching them experience the joy of dinner conversations with like-minded new friends, and maybe even learning some new skills myself.  (Is this the year I finally learn some fiber arts?  We’ll see…)

As I shift to more time outdoors and hanging out: in the garden, with the goats, and at community social events, I am having to sacrifice some in other areas of my life. For me, this usually means that I have significantly shortened my daily meditation, or I am skipping it altogether. It also means that I am not always getting enough sleep, which is something that I am working on fixing. Who wants to stay inside after dinner washing dishes when there is an amazing sunset over the prairie?

I’m grateful to enjoy the spring in as many ways as I can before the season shifts again and the hot, humid summer weather means new routines.

You can experience a taste of seasonal routines at Dancing Rabbit, meet some interesting people, have a pizza at the Mercantile, perhaps learn some new skills, and maybe even make some new friends by attending our visitor program.

Jami, pictured right, hanging out with her Rabbit friend, Katherine.

Returning: A Dancing Rabbit Update

As we we left Minnesota, headed once again for Dancing Rabbit, the I-94 corridor sported a few inches of fresh snow — another reminder of our changing climate. Jami here, writing about my most recent return to the village. My husband Dan and I were excited to visit the friends we first got to know through the community’s weekly column, and who we now feel are a part of our extended family of choice.

Jami, pictured right, hanging out with her Rabbit friend, Katherine.

Upon our arrival, we were surprised to hear that we’d picked an eventful time to visit. Not only did we arrive on Pizza Night — it’s always a treat to see the hubbub of the larger community at the Milkweed Mercantile — but the Dog and Gun was in progress too. The Dog and Gun, more widely known as the Rutledge Flea Market, is an expansive event that comes together once a month in the nearby town of Rutledge, from April through October. I was also glad to hear that there was a facilitated conversation for community members to discuss the issue of child abuse in the village. I love the people of Dancing Rabbit, and I have been distraught and prayerful about the situation. I am amazed by how the people of Dancing Rabbit continue to make such an effort to ensure that the events are processed, and to give everyone a chance to voice their concerns and needs, while working to move forward in a positive and hopeful way.

During my visitor session at Dancing Rabbit in the fall of 2014, much of the workshop time was spent learning about communication, conflict management, and healthy, respectful sharing. Each day began with a circle to check-in with each other to communicate how everyone was doing physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. This PIES model gave each of us an opportunity to process ideas and feelings from the previous day, and to talk them through with our fellow visitors, guided by our session liaisons: Hassan and Tereza. I found these PIES discussions to be enlightening and connecting, and that they generated empathy and understanding as I grew to love each of the members of my group. (As with any group of humans, some folks were easier to love than others.) Many of the friendships I formed at that time continue five years out.

I still practice PIES with groups of friends occasionally, and it is always a stimulating process that brings increased trust, intimacy, and love. Sometimes it also brings scary things. When I did this with a group earlier this spring, one of the members opened up about a near-death experience: while gathering wood, he experienced insulin shock. Luckily his partner found him in time to save his life. Our group grew more cohesive and supportive as we each shared our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual reactions to his experience, as well as that of his partner, before sharing about what was happening in our own lives. Two friends joined together in song that evening, and I found it to be a delightfully creative way of sharing PIES.

During my visitor session, we experienced some trust building and trust breaking, as well as communication breakdowns and resolutions, in the process of figuring out how to live together for three short weeks. We each brought our mix of skills and baggage to our new relationships with each other. We each brought our own perspectives on reality, our cultures, and our ways of living as well. Truth really does depend on where you stand. Perspectives are surprisingly diverse when you bring people from all walks of life together at an ecovillage in rural Missouri!

The Dancing Rabbit experience taught me about climate change, natural building elements like cob and living roofs, as well as gardens, and different kinds of co-ops. But the most enduring impact came from all I learned about human relationships. I can still reach out to people I met here to ask questions as they pop up in life: I’ve gotten a cob (earthen plaster) recipe from Rae, cistern ideas from Kyle, and many messages of love and humor over the years from a variety of Dancing Rabbit friends. It’s always fun to share what we learn from the folks here.

I spend most of my time working to stop the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline in Minnesota. It is hard, and sometimes depressing, work as thousands of people strive to show lawmakers and politicians, corporations and fellow citizens the risk posed by the pipeline — not only to the pristine waters of Northern Minnesota, the Mississippi River, and Lake Superior, but also to the world at large as we eat away the last of our remaining carbon budget.

Climate scientists are expressing more and more alarm at the too-quick pace of melting ice; sea level rise; the increasing intensity and frequency of storms, fires, droughts, and floods, as well as their devastating effects. Many places have become unlivable, yet we keep doing nothing on a global scale, even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was issued last fall. The world seems to be changing faster than any of us can imagine.

Many are awakening to the urgent need to address our climate catastrophe. With a concerted effort, similar to that which created the Apollo mission that took us to the moon, we could create a new way of life that focuses on clean energy, the restoration of our environment, and a safe, loving future for our children. Dancing Rabbit gives me hope that there is a way for people to live full and delicious lives by living more simply, more lovingly, and more respectfully. It isn’t easy — mostly because we are still humans with emotions, ideas, fears and perspectives that still must be reconciled — but it is possible. The future can be very bright if we all decide to focus less on consumption and more on community; less on money and more on human relationships; less on the hurried rush and more on communing with nature.

The birds are singing, the owls are flying, the green things are growing and Dancing Rabbit is alive and well as our visit comes to an end. It has been delightful to see the food production, creativity, and technological innovation happening here. The gifts of a visit to Dancing Rabbit are endless, but most important are the gifts of friendship and comradery. It is always good to spend some time reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Love abounds.

Jami Gaither was a visitor to Dancing Rabbit in 2014. She lives with her husband Dan in Alida, Minnesota, where they are building a Permaculture homestead and a resilient, sustainable community with neighbors. She blogs as “Retired at 45” on WordPress.

Would you like to visit Dancing Rabbit and learn some wonderful things that you can take home with you, like Jami did with the PIES communication model? Visit our website now and register for the 2019 visitor session of your choice.


May Day: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Hi friends, Prairie here! This month I took my Dancing Rabbit adventure to the next level by work-exchanging with the Ironweed kitchen co-op, and I have since been enjoying my meals in their cozy cob and straw structure. In this co-op there is the opportunity, every Sunday before lunch, for each member to check in with others about how they are doing, how their week was, and what their internal experience is/has been. As someone who leans heavily on the extroverted side of the spectrum, these check-ins have been an excellent way for me to process what has been going on for me.

Javi taking Sugar the cow for a walk.

What does a work-exchange entail? One commits to and carries out thirty hours a week of labor wherever one’s host needs them. In return, the host pays for one’s monthly living expenses: food, housing, and access to the Common House facilities, which includes showers, wifi, library, water, hang-out space, etc.

Historically, folks from Dancing Rabbit have accepted applicants from around the world to work-exchange. My arrangement with Ironweed differs in that I have established a life here for a year and a half, and I am committed to other responsibilities like managing the dance studio, La Casa de Cultura (in English: The House of Culture), and working to make our second annual Singing Rabbit event a flourishing success; I am also in charge of my education. My goal is for these activities to land on me less like a pile of overwhelming chores to maintain and more so the fun, challenging, out-of-the-box experience that I initially desired upon arrival at Dancing Rabbit. So far the latter has been the case.

I’ve transplanted seedlings, weeded garden beds, harvested nettles and mushrooms, and hauled supplies for water catchment, not to mention learned the names and uses of dozens of plants. I have also begun a journey into cheese making. Ironweed kitchen is part of the village’s goat co-op and receives goat milk regularly, and also purchases cow milk from the dairy two miles away, making it the main center at Dancing Rabbit where local milk finds its way into many forms, from hard cheddars, to yogurt, to melt-in-your-mouth chevre.

Speaking of milk, this season we have more than we know what to do with thanks to (dun-du-dun-dun!) the newest addition to our community: Sugar, Dancing Rabbit’s first cow! Mae, member of the Critter Collective and long-standing contributor to the goat co-op, has wanted a cow for years. I still can’t believe her wish has come true. Sugar is a generous sight, all brown and curious and BIG in comparison to the goats around her. It is incredible to be so close to such a gentle and loving animal; and with a calf on the way, she is producing approximately two gallons of delicious milk a day — more than my kitchen can keep up with! Welcome, Sugar!

We are still overflowing with water from the dark days of rain this week, and I had forgotten how the perspective of my surroundings changes when the sun finds its way around the clouds and brings its innumerable gifts to the rest of the world. I feel grateful the sun decided to shed some light for us on the fourth day of May, Sandhill Farms’ annual May Day celebration!

Sandhill is a decades-old community that rests upon a steep slope surrounded by tall woods. I always feel a hush, like the air around me is taking a deep breath, when I enter their property. The place hums with color and a mysterious quiet. It holds the sort of beauty that can only be found in undisturbed areas of nature, and I cherish this one.

May Day draws friends in from various earthly corners like Red Earth Farms, Dancing Rabbit, Memphis, Missouri, and more. Those commuting via bicycle began the trek after two o’clock, and though the distance is comparatively short, just three miles to the southeast of Dancing Rabbit, it was the first time I had hopped on my bike this year, and my legs could feel it.

It’s difficult for me to decide which activities were my favorite. I laughingly enjoyed the field games, like tug-of-war, three-legged races, crab walks and the like. My mom and I almost won the last race but stumbled off balance in the middle, so Nina and Cole took the lead. There were many painted faces to be found amid the rush of celebration and activities: there was a butterfly, several deer, a blue jay and other beautiful animals painted by Cole and Taylor. Weaving the May Pole lifted my heart to the wind, even as people paused in confusion over who was supposed to go over or under who. Members of Red Earth, Sandhill and Dancing Rabbit carried us along with their musically woven melodies: flute, guitar, oboe and drums in synchronized harmony. After the ribbons were bound, kids ventured to climb the pole, taking twigs to mark how high they were able to reach. I found myself struggling up the great post, and I did not manage to pull myself to the top. Maybe next year. Finally, there was potluck, which was the biggest of this year so far. Let’s just say I ate so much I was sure I wouldn’t be able to eat again. The day wound down with a fire circle and music created by Emma and Emory.

The night was deep and clear, starry and full. I was ready to go to bed. One of the aspects of life I enjoy here regularly is feeling attuned to the rhythms of the sun. My sleepy time approaches with the stars and ends with the emerging dawn.

A BIG thank you to everyone who donated on Give STL Day! The Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture raised $5,279 last week, thanks to you all. These donations support our non-profit’s ability to continue to provide scholarships for workshops and visitor programs, to share information about sustainable living, and spread the word about how we humans can make changes to foster deep connections with one another and contribute to a more harmonious existence on this Earth.

Every idea, action, inspiration and light step on this soil can make an incredible difference if one is willing to acknowledge the potential around us to create it. You will most likely find my feet bare on that soil, especially around the Ironweed garden and kitchen, trying to remember the difference between carrot greens and poison hemlock.

You can visit Dancing Rabbit and have a look around Ironweed, and see all the awesome projects underway here, by coming through our visitor programs this year. You might even get to try some of Sugar’s milk too! Thank you for reading!

Matt with his wife Carolyn and son Henry.

Living Lightly: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Where does the time go? My answer could easily be my son, soon to be age 4; Carolyn, my partner for 11 years running; or the ever-growing list of homesteading tasks. In truth the answer is all of those things and more. This life can be relaxing, though my personal time is often fleeting. (Maybe I’m getting older and wiser, or maybe I’m just getting older.) Matthew here, writing as the new Development Director for the nonprofit at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage: the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture.

Matt with his wife Carolyn and son Henry.

One of the most fulfilling things about moving into community is that my social opportunities are abundant. As an introvert, I often find myself having more options than I can possibly commit to. (My family and I moved from Houston, Texas a little over two years ago and ironically, a city of roughly 2.3 million people was missing this dynamic.) Moving here was the most life-altering event I’ve ever experienced. I resigned from my job teaching music (which I still love, and seek out from time to time as a substitute teacher for our local school district) to trade it in for hauling water and gardening amidst the northeast Missouri prairie. I wouldn’t trade back now, but it took nearly a year to adjust. Whenever I can manage to knock the chore list down to an acceptable level, I enjoy: playing board games, ultimate frisbee, and just plain hanging out. My son and I visit the library frequently, and I enjoy overlapping my time with many of the people in my extended community in various ways. These activities, and the interconnected relationships I’m forming, bring perspective to the lifestyle we live here in intentional community and make the chore list worth the effort. I enjoy bringing my personal worldview into these interactions. I also enjoy teaching and learning in equal parts; the give and take of information is essential to my life. I learn as much from those I’m “teaching” as I give, and this interaction never ceases to draw me in more. It is a pleasant reminder that human connection and understanding can be a bridge, even when there is a difference of opinion, that I don’t have to agree with someone to listen to their experience, and that we both have knowledge to gain from the other.

Here at Dancing Rabbit we just finished giving our first 2019 visitor session a chance to experience a little of this lifestyle. I enjoy the time I spent with visitors, sharing about this community, answering their questions, and seeing their faces light up with inspiration. I remember my time spent on the other side of the equation, and I like to reflect on what I have to give to them now. In order to keep giving this knowledge and experience to others we need your help. We invite you to join us on May 1st for Give STL Day. This 24-hour online giving event will help keep our organization going, and help us further our outreach efforts, as well as provide scholarships to some of our visitors. Your gifts are the essential elements that we need to keep on growing. We thank you for giving back, and we appreciate you for being loyal readers.

Every time I read the weekly column I’m revitalized by the people that I now call my neighbors. I am able to refocus on the simple things that I easily take for granted. I recalibrate my attitude so that all tasks, even doing dishes (not my favorite duty), can have some positive effect on me. I hope that these inspiring stories of the lives of Dancing Rabbit members feed you as well. In part, this inspiration is what Dancing Rabbit is about: showing the imperfect nature of living this way, with the beauty, struggle and triumph it brings. There are wonderful individuals all around the globe doing amazing things. Sometimes I want to run out and join them. I question if I’m doing enough, and how I could be doing more. Maybe, this has a similar effect on you.

I felt stifled in Houston, nestled in a conventionally built suburban building and spending much of my time working and driving back and forth in traffic. I realized I wanted to live lighter. We were however fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood with a loosely run yard policy. Our friends down the street had converted their entire plot to food production. In contrast, our nearest neighbors, though they were friendly folk, trimmed their grass to the extreme and applied herbicides and pesticides. Meanwhile, our yard was a haven for spiders and insects. The miniature jungle was quite a spectacle to behold: spiders crawled freely through the grass and garden in search of shelter or prey; flowers supported bees and other pollinators, which is what happens when you let clover grow; fallen leaves housed all the beetles that zone 7 afforded. As I teach my son the benefits of spiders, I often remember this time, but my love of spiders does not extend to getting caught in their webs, some brainstem responses are hard to reprogram. Missouri offers a new host of organisms to admire, and I hope to one day be able to identify them by sight so that I can teach that to my son as well. I love that Dancing Rabbit holds space for nature to thrive, so that humans can live alongside it. Being in nature constantly is healthy for my well being (seriously, it’s supported by scientific research).

Getting ready to be surrounded by nature this time of year means sharpening my scythe blade and building a snath (the implement that houses the scythe blade). Sure, the goal of mowing is to manage and reduce the longer blades of grass. However, that in turn gives us fodder, mulch, paths and exercise regimens. I am reducing months of growth from these amazing plants to tailor our homestead and use the collected material in a sustainable loop. It’s a give and take that has been one of my favorite uses of the limited time alloted to me. I am thankful for the chance to learn this skill, and I look forward to the day when I understand it well enough to close the circle and offer some of this knowledge to others. I enjoy giving back. Maybe you feel similarly. You read these stories each week. You help spread the messages, insights and sustainability tips that we share with you. I have learned that we are one small spoke that radiates out to all of you this year. I’m thankful that you are part of our readership. I encourage you to consider a contribution on May 1st. To make the most of your donation through prize pools, join us during the hours of: 12-1pm, and 6-7pm.

For updates about Give STL day and other exciting events, please follow us on Facebook. We appreciate your support and that we have an amazing audience. If you are not available on May 1st you can pre-schedule your donation as well.

Goat Co-op Eco Wkd

It’s all about the Goats: A Dancing Rabbit How-To

I don’t know about you, but I love goats. Their cute faces while they goat-goat around, which typically includes silly jumping and running about, just brightens my day. Carolyn here, from the Dancing Rabbit Communications Team to share the magic of goats in community. One thing I find particularly special is that here at Dancing Rabbit, you can love and enjoy goats while not having to be their sole owner or provider.

Visitors getting to play with the baby and mama goats after the fantastic goat parade!
Visitors getting to play with the baby and mama goats after the fantastic goat parade!

How is that you ask? Well it’s simple. Join the goat co-op… goat co-op?? Yep, you heard right. You can join in the benefits of owning and enjoying goats with fellow village members, while reducing your time input and limitations. Here in the village, people tend to seek a sustainable living lifestyle by starting co-ops to share the burdens and ultimately the pleasures of life. For the goat co-op, you put in more or less an even amount of money and time so it is an egalitarian approach to animal care.  

The time investment is spent doing tasks that include moving fences, providing water, milking, pasture improvement projects, getting winter food, helping build infrastructure like the new timber framed goat barn, cheese making, socializing baby goats, and even goat parades! Oh yes, there are daily goat parades to a from pastures or spots needing mowing like the ultimate field. Our recent visitor program attendees really enjoyed experiencing the fun goat parades. These tasks are divided based on experience, desire and scheduling.

To better understand the ins and outs of the goat co-op I recently did interviews with some of the members to see what were some of the benefits, drawbacks and things in between. The positive points of joining included:

  • Allowing for more agriculture that aligns with ecological values of the members. This is  due to the personal scale of hands-on work without regularly using tractors or other large implements.
  • Work that is done together helps build connection.
  • Members can travel or skip days if something happens because there are others to help pick up the slack.
  • The ability to do management intensive grazing on a small scale using a real budget is possible when sharing the work burden.
  • Improving soil fertility.
  • Amazing goat cheese!

Struggles of running a co-op like this:

  • Labor doesn’t always come out even due to traveling or how close people live to the goats.
  • Deciding the accurate scale to work at, whether certifying as a dairy or not, to provide to a wider audience than just those living in the tri-communities (raw milk can be sold from the farm to neighbors legally, but to be taken to market other certifications are needed)
  • Fluctuating membership numbers at Dancing Rabbit leads to more or less demand for the cheese products which leads to continual reevaluation of how much they have to offer with what will actually sell.

In the end, all of the co-op members believe that cooperative labor is the way to go. This co-op has allowed Dancing Rabbit members to have goats and do things like cheese making without the sole burden of work. Even on the small scale the daily chores can seem like a breathtaking amount of things to do and when consistency is vital, it can seem like too much work for one person. With the backup and support of the co-op, common goals get accomplished with relative ease. Also a key feature that members spoke about is not having to be tied to a particular job, which allows for flexibility and interest based activities. It’s not like a job you have to do every day; things can change if wanted or necessary. The members believe this is a great way to have animals without 100% of the responsibility.

If you are curious about learning more about co-ops and how you can apply that concept to your life, come check out our Ecovillage Experience Weekend that’s coming up in just a few short weeks. With only 4 spots left, sign up to secure yours today so you can come learn about car co-ops, food co-ops, goat co-ops and more!

Interested in seeing the video recordings of those goat co-op interviews? Check out our Patreon account where you can get a behind-the-scenes look into life at Dancing Rabbit. We post videos, pictures, and even do live Q&A’s to help spread the word of sustainability.

04.22.2019 Alline

The Exciting Life of A Sometimes Non-Gardener: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Hi friends! Alline here, writing from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. The weather is warm and sunny, and if I were actually a gardener I’d be outside basking in the sunshine, planting seedlings, applying layers of compost and mulch, and thinking deep, organic thoughts. Alas, my brand of gardening is more Darwinian, as in “survival of the fittest”. I begin with such good intentions. I spend the month of February drooling over the dozens of seed catalogs that land in my mailbox, turning back pages, circling precisely which variety of kale and peppers I want most, and then drawing beautiful designs of just where in my garden everything will go. I order seeds, and paw through them excitedly when they arrive. Then, while icy weather rages outside and just about everyone else here at DR is nurturing their seeds into seedlings in their greenhouses, I’m watching movies on Netflix, learning to crochet granny squares, and planning a trip to visit the best bookstores in all 50 states (the first leg, which is in October, begins in St. Louis and stops at ten bookstores, the Crystal Bridges Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the National Quilt Museum. Wanna come?). Whoops, sorry, that’s exactly why I don’t have a garden.

Alline reading her piece at a past writer’s workshop.

Sometimes in the late spring a few of my seeds do get planted outside, and do actually come up.This makes me feel very accomplished, and exceedingly proud of myself. For example, last year I harvested 12 whole okra pods. I’m finding I do best, however, with perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb, berries, and mint, used in juleps (see below). It seems absolutely miraculous (to me) that they all come back year after year, regardless of how neglectful I have been. Fortunately, I have friends who have incredible green thumbs who always end up growing waaaay more produce than they actually need. I am happy to purchase their leftovers, they are delighted to not have to can 4,356 dozen quarts of tomatoes, and it’s a win-win for everyone.

That said, not all of my gardening news is bleak; we are currently hosting our first Visitor Session of the season, and the group is scheduled to join me and Angela in a clean-up of the garden area surrounding the Milkweed Mercantile. There are a lot of native plants such as rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), echinacea (purple coneflower), rattlesnake master (the coolest plant ever), and, of course, milkweed, which need to be divided and moved a bit. We also have seeds for zinnias, hollyhocks and marigolds to plant along the edges. Visitor Work Parties (we call them “parties” because we have fun!) are a great way to get to know one another — somehow working alongside each other enables the conversation to flow more freely than sitting still and facing each other. Plus, a lot of good work done gets done.

I am able to join these work parties because I finally have some spare time in my schedule. When the Milkweed Mercantile went from two owners (my husband Kurt and I) to a cooperative board of eight, I gained peace of mind and a lot of my time back. Even better, I still get to do the things I like best, like bake ooey-gooey desserts for our Thursday Pizza Nights and cook for special events, like our annual Mother’s Day Brunch, coming up in just 18 days (Sunday, May 12th, 9:00 am – 2:00 pm). For the record, everything at the Mercantile is made from scratch — you won’t find a frozen entree or a microwave here. We have all of our favorite items on the menu, from French Toast stuffed with our own raspberry jam, to biscuits and gravy, to asparagus and Swiss frittata, and so much more. In addition to mimosas and bloody Marys, we have the most delicious, locally harvested grape juice. Last fall we canned a zillion quarts of Concord grape juice from the vines surrounding Liz’s house: Sparrow’s Nest, which we have been saving for Mother’s Day. If you’ve never had real grape juice you owe it to yourself (and your mom!) to come check it out at brunch – it is heaven in a glass! (Reservations are required. Call 660-883-5522 to secure your spot!)

With some of my newly-gained spare time I am able to attend the weekly Dancing Rabbit Writing Group. A group of folks (often including Tereza, Vick, Prairie and Benji) gather each Wednesday morning in the Mercantile. We close our eyes and take turns choosing a few slips of paper from a bag, all of which have a single word scrawled on both sides (blue paper for nouns, red for verbs, and yellow for adjectives). We read the words aloud and then then give ourselves 14 minutes to use them in a piece. The chosen words often seem to have nothing in common and are really fun to try to put together. Examples of some of the past word groupings: continue, irritate, and colossal; x-ray, scrub, and boundless; phobic, drum, and mean; garbage, substantial, and encourage. Ha! When the time is up, we each read aloud what we’ve written. I am constantly in awe of the talent of my fellow writers, and amazed by just how differently we use the same words. We follow the guidelines set by Frankie Voeltz and Jennifer Morales in the Milkweed Mercantile’s annual writing workshops, such as: we assume all writing is fiction (even if the story sounds suspiciously like the writer’s own life, we assume it is “made up,” helping the process feel much more easeful and adventurous), we treat each other respectfully, and we make no disclaimers for our writing (this one is so difficult!). Writing with this group is one of my favorite things to do each week, just as the writing workshops have become my favorite week of each year. Our 2019 five-day Writing Workshop will be in August this year, led once again by Frankie Voeltz and Jennifer Morales. If you’ve ever been interested in trying a writing workshop but haven’t felt brave enough, or if you’re a writer who would like to surround yourself with support, encouragement and kindred spirits, I encourage you to take a look. Frankie and Jennifer create a safe space where laughter abounds and tears are welcome, where creativity flows as fast as the encouragement, and where all talent is nurtured. Plus, the food is really, really good.

One last event to share with you all: on Saturday, May 4, everyone is invited to join us at the Milkweed Mercantile to watch the Kentucky Derby and the quest for the Triple Crown. Post-time for the race is 5:46 pm. You won’t want to miss what has been called “the most exciting two-minutes in sports”.  Who will win? Will it be Omaha Beach (son of War Front), Improbable (at 10-1), or Roadster (5-1)? Our bar opens at 4 pm and will, of course, be serving mint juleps. There will also be a contest for best hat!

That is pretty much my (non-gardening, excuse-filled) life in a nutshell: cooking, baking, reading, writing, and avoiding the garden. I feel fortunate that it takes all kinds of people to make a village, and am grateful every single day for the farmers and gardeners among us. Have a great week!

Want to join us in some work parties and learn all kinds of interesting things firsthand from gardeners and non-gardeners alike? Sign up for our visitor program, where you will partake a wide array of workshops, experience a little of life in our village and the nature that surrounds it, and enjoy some scrumptious homemade food.

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.