Making Money, Making a Difference: A Dancing Rabbit Update

    This is what a Dancing Rabbit Village Economics Summit looks like! Photo by Illly.

This is what a Dancing Rabbit Village Economics Summit looks like! Photo by Illly.

Hi friends. This is Alline, writing for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Most of us who live at Dancing Rabbit have come here to make a difference. To, as the quote from Mohandas Gandhi goes, “be the change we wish to see.” The mission statement for Dancing Rabbit’s non-profit arm includes the notion that our sustainable society will “…have an influence… by example, education, and research.”

But how exactly does that work? Situated on a former pig farm in the middle of rural and sparsely populated Northeast Missouri our reach is somewhat limited. We are active online but are hardly a household name (yet!). We decided 18 years ago to remain an affordable place to live, and so do not charge a membership buy-in fee. This leaves our community-level bank accounts dependent upon lease fees and CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) income, which go to the Land Trust/Village side of things, and member dues and (much appreciated) donations, which go into the non-profit coffers to increase our ability to share our knowledge with the world.

Many of us hope to make a difference by the way we live our lives. I agree with author Paolo Coelho, who said: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” It has never been our plan to encourage everyone to move to a rural area and live in strawbale houses (although we are delighted when people do want to). Instead, we hope that others can learn from both our successes and our mistakes, and that appropriate bits of our striving-to-be-sustainable lives can be implemented regardless of where one lives. Our recently completed webinar/online education series is one great resource to find out more about some of the things we are trying.

Our yearning for a simpler, more sustainable life often yields stockpiles of happiness in addition to stockpiles of tomatoes, potatoes, and beets. But without stockpiles of money, how does one change the world? How does anyone make a difference?

I dream of being a philanthropist; with a ton of dough there would be so many ways to help. Unfortunately I’ll never be a tech guru, or a real estate mogul, or the recipient of a trust fund. I left a high-paying job for a different sort of life here in Missouri, knowing that I’d be trading that enviable income (which also came with no free time, exorbitant rent, traffic jams and lots of noise) for a much lower one. I consciously made the choice in favor of time, community and a better values match over cold hard cash. But it is often challenging.

Many of the members here at Dancing Rabbit value the importance of organic produce, of paying a fair wage, of social justice in its many forms, and a way of life that is non-exploitative of the earth and of its inhabitants. But we struggle with balancing our desire to support these values, which are often more expensive, with the realities of our lives, which are often lower-earning.

Knowing that consumerism and greed are frequently the motivation behind big business, and that the earth and its inhabitants ultimately pay the price of this greed, can make it challenging to find a business and/or a way to make a living that feels true. My own business, the Milkweed Mercantile, has a really goofy business model – how on earth does a store survive in a village full of people who don’t shop for recreation?

Dancing Rabbit’s Long Term Planning committee (yes, it’s true – we have committees for just about everything!) has been aware of the struggle of many members: to truly thrive our village has to be sustainable, not only ecologically but financially as well. So this week, after the Board of Directors meetings, we held a three-day Economic Summit.

Five friends of Dancing Rabbit who have expertise in a variety of financial realms worked with us through a number of different processes. There were “fishbowls” (where the experts sat in a circle and discussed their ideas for DR, while we sat outside the circle and observed), brainstorms involving the whole group, individuals sharing information, and much, much more.

A number of ideas, both short and long term, were explored. None are quick fixes, but the more we are aware of the financial realities the better we can deal with them. The meetings felt powerful and ground-breaking; I am very grateful to the “experts” for taking the time from their busy lives to come and help us!

That gratitude leads us right to this Thursday, which, of course, is Thanksgiving. The more I learn about the true early history of our country the less I want to participate in holidays that were, frankly, rather awful. However, any and every opportunity for gratitude is an opportunity I am happy to embrace.

Speaking of gratitude, I am thankful for Chris and Keri Feeney, publishers of the Memphis Democrat, the local Memphis, MO newspaper in which this column appears (in addition to being sent via email to the Dancing Rabbit mailing list). They have a solid and steadfast commitment to all of the local community, regardless of our opinions, and have welcomed this column since 2000.

I continue to be grateful for all of the neighbors who have shown us kindness, for the beauty and bounty of our land, and for those with whom I am able to build a village and a life. To those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! May it bring you time spent with those you love, a second helping of pumpkin pie, and a comfortable pair of elastic-waist pants.

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Super exciting! Our first-ever Online Education Series, “How to Live Like an Ecovillager: Low Carbon, High Quality”, is now complete! You can order the 5 webinar bundle, which gets you a bonus extra Q&A session for free, or watch only the ones that interest you most. Check out the series’ promo video, or find more info here!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.