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.