DR does St. Louis Earth Day!

Author Josi shows some budding young natural builders how to stomp plaster. Photo by Ashly.
Author Josi shows some budding young natural builders how to stomp plaster. Photo by Ashly.

Despite being evacuated by a bomb scare, and our event tent jumping into the lake, Dancing Rabbit’s booth at the St. Louis Earth Day Festival was a delightful success. 2014 marked the first time Rabbits have made an official appearance at the festival and it won’t be the last. My head is full of plans for making next year’s booth bigger and better.

Now, making things better by making them bigger isn’t something we Rabbits generally subscribe to; small and simple is our preferred approach. But when it comes to accommodating the Earth Day Festival crowds, I’m going to endorse expanding our footprint.

As an educational booth, we chose to give a live demonstration of strawbale construction. Many of the buildings in our ecovillage are strawbale, and despite the method’s growing popularity, many festival goers were unfamiliar with the technique. Former Dancing Rabbit intern Michelle Rook, now a St. Louis-based architect, was on hand to answer technical questions about natural building.

Our booth had an area for stomping earthen plaster and a small wall of strawbales where the plaster was applied. Mixing the plaster was the main attraction, and I spied many a festival goer looking curiously in our direction while Michelle and I were treading mud up to our ankles.

If you’ve never seen plaster made by foot, it involves equal parts sand and clay, with varying amounts of water and straw added throughout the process. Making a cohesive substance is easiest when you kick off your shoes and just start stomping. This sight proved particularly attractive to the younger festival goers, and we encouraged kids of all ages to join us in our demonstration of natural building.

Most of the kids were eager to grab giant goopy handfuls and enthusiastically press plaster onto the strawbales. Ashly helped them figure out the best way to make it stick, and the best way to wash their hands in a bucket before returning to their camera-clicking parents.

For myself, being able to engage kids in this way was really rewarding. I found that if I showed them a picture of a strawbale building and then told them that the mud and bales they saw in our booth were major components of that building, it was easy for them to grasp the process. Parents usually chimed in at this point with a lot of great questions about all the natural buildings at Dancing Rabbit.

For next year’s Earth Day booth, I want to triple our space and make sure that everyone who wants to take their shoes off to squish their toes in earthen plaster gets a chance! Natural building is just one of many sustainable living practices we share with the world, and I think it may be the most engaging activity to demonstrate at Earth Day.

In addition to the mud and straw, we had displays with photos and information about Dancing Rabbit; Julie and Clint stayed busy talking with visitors about the diverse lives people live at our ecovillage. It was during one of these conversations that the tent decided to take a swim; with help from an errant gust of wind, our lovely white pop-up tent went airborne before landing dramatically in the lake behind us (apparently sand that had been weighing it down was added to the earthen plaster).

Julie jumped in to rescue the DR booth tent after it flew into the nearby lake. Photo by Josi.
Julie jumped in to rescue the DR booth tent after it flew into the nearby lake. Photo by Josi.

We Rabbits tend to be rather self-sufficient, so before event staff could be called, Julie had already jumped in the lake and begun swimming after the tent. Can you imagine the crowds that gathered to watch the swimming Rabbit? With the help of a rope from shore and lots of applause, Julie towed the whole tent back to land, and within 20 minutes we were back in plaster-stomping-business!

I had the chance to talk with at least a hundred festival goers, more than 10% of whom surprised me with the information that they had visited Dancing Rabbit at some point in the past 16 years. Another 20% knew all about our ecovillage and plan on coming to visit at some point in the future. Neither of those figures are really surprising given how close St. Louis is to Dancing Rabbit, and that we were all out celebrating Earth Day. It was an honor to be able to connect with people in this way, and I hope to see many of them come up for our 2014 Visitor Programs and the great educational courses offered by Ecovillage Education.

And then…. the entire festival was evacuated because an unattended bag (a rather bulky, black backpack ominously sitting 50 feet from our booth) triggered security protocols. I’ve worked a lot of booths and have never seen one dismantled as quickly as ours was that afternoon. In less than 30 minutes, materials (including 5 big strawbales) that had taken 90 minutes to set up had been been broken down and trundled to transport.

Before departing, Ashly, Julie and I made one final run to the food court to see if vendors were having any bomb-sales on their delicious offerings (yes: Julie scored pad thai and Ashly and I split an amazing vegan wrap). Thankfully it was just a backpack– no bombs went off and no thunderstorms spoiled the day. As part of Dancing Rabbit Outreach, I am so thankful to have St. Louis Earth Day as a place to connect with folks interested in sustainable living.

We will be back next year, just look for the wall of straw bales, folks stomping big piles of mud and a tent firmly attached to the ground!

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