Deep Thoughts and Down Time: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Looking down Crooked Route in the Grassroots Neighborhood on a chilly afternoon at Dancing Rabbit. Photo by Dennis.
Looking down Crooked Route in the Grassroots Neighborhood on a chilly afternoon at Dancing Rabbit. Photo by Dennis.

Ah, true winter, after the holidays, down time semi-enforced by the frigid weather. The thinking and planning time of year, it seems. So I’m doing lots of thinking about the year to come, as well as deeper topics, and there seems to be an up-swell of similar energy amongst my fellow villagers. Ted here with an update from chilly Dancing Rabbit.

For several years now in the winter we’ve had a weekly gathering called “tea and conversation,” where we get together for an hour each week to warm up with hot tea and take an hour or so to talk on a pre-announced topic. We have been at it for several weeks this winter, on topics such as “What does it mean to be a community of communities?”; “Feminism – are we still a feminist ecovillage?” and “Selectivity or not in the membership process.”

This past week we talked on village economic development, and though I was late in arriving, it was a good conversation. This topic has come up steadily over the years, from a variety of angles.

Some communities collectively make and sell things like hammocks and tofu (Twin Oaks in Virginia), organic seed (Acorn, near Twin Oaks), and nut butters (Missouri’s Eastwind). Our neighbors at Sandhill make and sell sorghum syrup and a variety of condiments, as well as selling fresh produce locally.

The thing these communities have in common is that they are income-sharing, where every member is part of a common economic framework– a single purse. The individual’s work is valued equally, whether he or she is computer programming, accounting, caring for animals, or cleaning the kitchen.

Dancing Rabbit, though its members share many of the same ideals and engage extensively in all manner of cooperation both formal and informal, economic and otherwise, is a village, where each individual/family/established sub-group is responsible for their own finances. It is up to you to figure out how to make ends meet.

The cost of living here is pretty low compared to most other places and ways of living I’ve encountered in this country, and we try our best to keep it that way, but some monetary inputs are unavoidable, and in the end, there is no village financial safety net to catch you if you fall.

Thus far we have lacked any economic ventures that people can readily plug into, without major training, to make ends meet if they don’t arrive with an existing income source or salable skill. In our rural location, the local job market is very limited. Regular commuting by more than one or two people, when we must rely on the vehicle coop, would quickly turn impractical.

Add to that the fact that many Rabbits are driven by their ideals and not super excited by work that does not advance those ideals, and altogether this financial limitation can be significant. Plenty of people who were otherwise happy at Dancing Rabbit have come and gone over the years because they could not make it work in the financial realm.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t work for hire here. Our internal economy has grown significantly in my time (coming up on 12 years), particularly in recent years. DR Inc., the educational nonprofit organization based here, now has around 10 hired positions, and some other organizations (various co-ops, and the Milkweed Mercantile) also support some paid positions. Most of these are part-time, however, and in general not sufficient to be a sole income source. Private work-for-hire opportunities abound, but are similarly limited in scope.

Making it work here requires versatility. And many of us work diligently at doing for ourselves — growing food, building shelter, and making our own entertainment, among many other things — the sorts of things that many people pay to have done for them in the wider culture, in part because many of us are fulfilled by those pursuits, but also as a means of reducing the need for income.

Much of our conversation Friday centered on how to turn our experience and know-how in sustainable living into income streams that will improve our financial sustainability, while allowing us to influence the wider culture toward greater sustainability and stay focused on the research and experimentation side of what we do (all part of our mission).

The idea of a natural building school has been tossed around for years, as there is no comparable institution we know of in the Midwest, and we have nearly 20 years of collective experience in this realm. As well we talked on the geographical limitations of getting our products to market, acknowledging that the significant markets for organic, homemade, values-driven products are the larger regional cities (Fairfield, Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago).

We all seemed to leave the conversation with a buoyant sense of hope, along with an undertone of needing to focus our inspiration and turn it into reality. Somehow this seems to encapsulate the spirit of living here quite well for me.

Despite feelings of despair at times, wondering if we’re changing anything at all, there is no doubt that the public debate has shifted in the past decade. Climate change is now a more-or-less accepted reality, and the next step, figuring out how to reduce our collective impact, is coming ever more regularly into the spotlight. We certainly can’t claim responsibility, but we are working hard to help lead the debate.

We offer one vision of what living more lightly can look like, and people who visit and see our efforts, or read about them, seem to respond, to find some inspiration to make a shift their own lives, reducing their own footprint. That makes it all worth it.

The fact that I also enjoy the constant challenge of figuring out how to further reduce my own impact is just icing on the cake. Being surrounded here by others cooperating in the same efforts normalizes it, reducing the psychological strain of trying to swim upstream that I feel when I travel elsewhere. Things are improving elsewhere too, and that sustains my hope.

Some things just stay the same though; Star Wars is still as enjoyable to watch as ever. Saturday night Alyssa, Bear and Zane hosted a viewing of Star Wars (the first one, from the 70s), and for a bunch of kids in the Casa, it was their first time seeing it. Zane has been itching to see it for quite a while, and his parents felt like he was finally ready for it. Aurelia hadn’t seen it either, and I had curious feelings seeing her watch and respond to it for the first time, since I loved discovering that universe (so to speak) as a kid. Viewings of the other movies in the series are planned for subsequent weekends. Winter is great for this sort of thing.

One of our founders, Tony, who is on sabbatical right now, has just arrived for a visit, and in general people who’ve been on vacation for the holidays have started to return, so the population is feeling more bountiful again. All bring anecdotes about what they’ve seen and done lately, and also make for better attendance at community suppers, game nights, and other winter fun. More people warm up cold spaces faster too!

Hockey season is in full swing (though I have yet to get my skates laced up) and if ice conditions improve, we might even see some broomball games. Meanwhile, if we get just a touch more snow, we can inaugurate the sledding season as well. I’m doing my best to get into it all, despite the bracing conditions outside (loved that “high” temperature of -3 last week!).

I was relieved to get my seed, plant, and garden amendments ordering mostly wrapped up this week, with Alyssa organizing a group order from one of our favorites, Fedco up in Maine. Hard to believe it’ll be time to start some seedlings in a month or so. I sure like the warmth conjured up by the thought of planting a couple dozen raspberries and pear trees in a few months, and harvesting some of the same in high summer.

From Dancing Rabbit, warmth to you as you do your own version of winter down time and deep thoughts. Hope to see you here this coming year!

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LATE BREAKING NEWSFLASH! Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is proud to announce our brand new “Intro to DR” video! We love it so much it’s right on our homepage… Plus the 2015 Visitor program dates are now up on our website– check ’em out!

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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.

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