Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life in an Ecovillage: the REAL scoop

For the last eight years members of Dancing Rabbit have been writing a column for the local weekly newspaper, The Memphis (MO) Democrat. Started by Rachel in June, 2000 to help increase our visibility and to diffuse rumors about, well, who knows what, the writing rotates among a team of talented writers. Below is a column that originally ran on March 13, 2008, in reaction to questions asked by neighbors It is my attempt to capture DR in a nutshell, never an easy task! (I have updated a few numbers to make it more accurate). Should you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer!

Taken during a break in our week-long 2008 annual retreat

Hi. This is Alline with some interesting news: Everything you think you know about Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage may be wrong.

Dancing Rabbit has just celebrated its 11th anniversary – eleven fabulous years among the gently rolling hills and gracious friendliness of the people of North Eastern Missouri (fondly nicknamed NEMO). We have countless Rutledge Fall Festivals, Dog & Gun auctions, volunteer Fire Department meetings, donuts at Zimmerman’s and Memphis Democrat columns under our collective belts.

And yet inaccuracies about us abound. Here’s some of the real scoop.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is a nonprofit and a residential community that demonstrates ecological sustainability in Rutledge, Missouri. We are a group of individuals who own an old beater farm together in a non-profit entity called a Community Land Trust. No one person is in charge. We make decisions by consensus, which is a step more inclusive than one person, one vote. If everyone does not agree, we go back to the drawing board to find a solution that will work for all.

On this old farm we are crafting a village – we have plans for a town center, roads, and all of the other constructs that go into it. We have dozens of committees, ranging from Land Use Planning to Kid Committee, which help the decision-making process along. Imagine having to start your town from scratch, and you’ll begin to understand what we are doing. From rules around pets (when is barking too much? How many dogs can we have roaming free?), to deciding how much to charge ourselves for use of the Community Building, we’re doing it all ourselves. It is dizzying and time-consuming but ultimately incredibly satisfying.

Our bottom line is ecological. If someone comes to DR and agrees to live by our six ecological covenants (which include using recycled/sustainable materials in building and using renewable energy), can get along with others, and can support his/herself, we welcome you. This provides a wide spectrum of opinions, experience and skills that individuals bring to our village. We are hoping to continue to grow, and have a visitor program throughout the summer and fall where folks come stay for 1-3 weeks to see if they might like to join us. While here they attend workshops on alternative building, consensus decision-making, cooking for a crowd, organic gardening and participate in sing-alongs, Ultimate Frisbee, sewing circle, game night, swimming in the pond and lots of other activities.

We don’t own cars individually. Instead we have a vehicle cooperative, which owns two cars, a Ford truck and a John Deere tractor in. We pay for usage by the mile, which covers fuel, car payment, insurance and maintenance. We feel strongly that if everyone drove a little less the world might be a little better off. Each Sunday we meet, calendars in hand, and figure out ride-sharing for trips to the doctor, the Mexican restaurant, the vet, the Farm & Home…

We are independent financially from one another. Each of us owns our own home. We do not turn our income over to Dancing Rabbit. We tax ourselves 2% of our annual income to help with the infrastructure of the village, much like condo association fees. We grow much of our own food, but are not attempting to be self-sufficient – we’ll never grow rice here, for instance. We believe in supporting our local economy, buying locally grown food and locally produced items. This is for ecological reasons (why use petroleum to transport stuff from California or Vermont when it is available here?) and because we want to see NEMO thrive.

The 45 adults here are very different from one another. Some, like my husband Kurt and me, come from a decidedly middle-class background, and have worked for 30 years before coming here. Some folks arrive right out of college, or come as interns, and have stayed. Most of us vote. We pay taxes. We work really hard – we build our own houses, and grow a lot of our own food. We don’t have televisions, but a few of us subscribe to Netflix. Most of us are not wealthy, although a few are fortunate enough to have a trust fund. We earn our livings a number of ways – carpentry, computer/online businesses, gardening, teaching music, consulting, and many other things. It is often challenging, but we feel that the hard work is worth being able to live our lives as we do. Many of us are vegans or vegetarians, and yes, we eat tofu. Some of these same people love a good pork barbeque (while clearly, others do not). On a sunny day you may find a tie-dye shirt or two around, and not many neckties. Some Rabbits go to church, others do not but consider themselves to be deeply spiritual. We try not to judge one another, and strive to get along respectfully.

It is important to us that we are transparent. There are no secrets here. We are so grateful for the kindness with which residents of NEMO have treated us, and for the many friends we have made. We welcome you to visit us after the mud has dried when we start giving tours again. Once the Milkweed Mercantile is up and running (December 2008, keep your fingers crossed!) you are cordially invited to come have an up-close and personal tour of a strawbale, solar-and-wind powered building, eat delicious homegrown food, and sit on the porch and drink juleps as the sun sets. We look forward to seeing you soon!

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