By Michelle Winebarger
I thought visiting Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage would be like taking a trip back in time, but once I got there, I felt like I was stepping into the future; a future where technology meets sustainability and conservation; a future where weapons and locks are not needed; a future where traditions are kept, yet new ideas are always welcome and appreciated.
Solar panels sit atop many buildings, powering modern appliances from refrigerators to wifi modems, air conditioners, and coffee pots. As a community power source, there is an impressive solar panel array near the sports field, which powers houses that may not pull in enough juice from their own equipment throughout the day, as well as homes that are only connected to the local power grid. There are also several wind turbines that dot the village sky and act as an auditory reminder that energy is available all around us.
The traditions of conserving resources are abundant in every dimension of life at DR: in the jar-lined cellars of homes, the natural lighting in living rooms, and the sounds of splashing in the pond, where some folks bathe, instead of taking a shower, to conserve water. (Not to say that a shower isn’t available — the village Common House has two excellent shower rooms, either of which I used almost daily.) Simple practices, like turning off lights and using composting toilets, may seem like familiar ideas, but they are being lost to present generations, including my own.
The Critter Kitchen is a special place on the edge of the village, with some of the Missouri prairie as their backyard. Their co-op runs entirely on an off-grid solar system. Woodfire rocket stoves pump energy into their kitchen for warmth and for cooking. During my time there, I could hear goats grazing as I enjoyed my meal, while chickens ran underfoot; I was reminded that the hard-boiled egg I just ate with lunch was laid locally. I loved the pickled foods, especially the radishes (something I’d never had before) and kimchi (which I adore), mixed with fresh fruit and vegetables, grains and legumes. The menu took me back to my grandparents’ kitchen, where they always had green beans from their garden and homemade sweet pickles on the table. (I got my trip back in time after all.)
I grew up in a small place in rural Tennessee much like Rutledge, the nearest town to Dancing Rabbit. The idea of leaving houses unlocked during the day or keys in the ignition at night isn’t new to me. Unfortunately, I quickly learned in college to be cautious of trusting people too soon. I was the victim of a breakin when I was 20, and ever since, I have been wary of leaving anything unlocked, even for the few minutes it takes to walk my dogs down the street. At Dancing Rabbit, however, the trust I knew in my childhood is present. Locks and weapons aren’t needed, because when conflict arises, it is handled with respectful communication, rather than passive-aggressiveness or violence. Dancing Rabbit is decades ahead of the mainstream in terms of conflict resolution and non-violent communication.
Even though I have left Dancing Rabbit physically, the people who live there will be forever in my heart and mind. I have made plans to return at a time when I can experience the northeast Missouri winter and observe their village governance in action. I hope to begin my residency in March of 2020. As I travel abroad in the meantime, I take with me a work ethic, and a sense of cooperation, conservation, and overall contentment from the time I spent there. I hope to spread these universal messages to the world.
Would you like to have an experience like Michelle’s? Come join us for a Sustainable Living Visitor Program of your very own.
Michelle Winebarger is a teacher by trade and a learner by passion. A Tennessee native, she enjoys swimming, cooking, reading, and embroidery.