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!

Musings, Changes and Things to Come!

Ziggy's Reciprical Roof

Welcome to the new and improved Ecovillage Musings! The focus has now officially changed - from my life and adventures launching a green business here at Dancing Rabbit, to a more general Dancing Rabbit informational site. Click here to view my new blog, A Passion for Green Business.
This morning I had the pleasure of meeting Brian's (aka Ziggy's) dad who is visiting from New Jersey. I now understand Brian's sunny disposition - his dad is a delight! Check out Ziggy's Year of Mud, where he shares his adventures of building a cob house.
That's it for today - I'm way behind in EVERYTHING! More tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Midnight Ramblings, in spite of the cat...

Oh sure, he looks innocent enough...

Dear Friends,
It's midnight, and I tried to sleep. Oh, how I tried. But my brain was whirring, churning, spinning so fast that I had no other option but to climb out of bed, put on Kurt's old blue bathrobe, come down to the kitchen where my computer is sitting on the table and pour myself a bowl of Cheerios (just because I live at an Ecovillage doesn't mean that I always do what is best for me!). So here I sit, brainstorming the next steps in my business, plotting tomorrow's photo shoot, and attempting to think of fabulous, verging-on-genius ideas for The Green Mom's Carnival in which the wise and generous Karen Hanrahan has invited me to participate. But the cat (Fionn McCool) is taking turns running up and down the stairs at top speed and clawing at the tablecloth so that the glass water pitcher inches ever closer to the edge of the table ("Mom! Pay attention to ME!!!) while the very patient but not-a-cat-fan dog, Baloo, keeps coming over to let me know just how annoying the cat is. So I am doing my best, but if this is less than coherent, it's all the cat's fault.

Baloo, who in spite of his obsessive compulsive behavior regarding throw toys, is a fine dog...

OMG. Now the cat has rolled himself up, enchilada style, in the throw rug in the living room. Things were much calmer before I turned on the light...

But anyway, it has been an amazing week. Actually, it was last week that was amazing - I'm just now recovering from recovering from it!

The absolute tip top highlight was the opportunity to be on a panel at the West Suburban Women Entrepreneur's (WSWE) Sixth Anniversary Event. Joining me on the panel were the irrepressible and hilarious Jodi Murphy of Murco Recycling Enterprises, and the absolutely delightful Tracey Robertson of Share Wear in Chicago. Wrangling, er, moderating the conversation was the warm and gracious Jenniffer Weigel, who managed to be both down-to-earth and totally "woo woo" at the same time - what stories she had! We spent an hour and a half talking about our businesses - what inspires us, how we came to do what we do, appreciating our bodies, how we deal with the current economic downturn, and much, much more. What pleased me the most was that the four of us were able to have breakfast together in a private dining room before the event, so that we could get to know one another better before being "on stage." As we talked and shared our ideas, we realized that we all shared a belief in gratitude and abundance. Thinking good things (and doing the work) really can make good things happen. It sounds very Pollyanna-ish, but I know from my own experience that when I follow my heart, amazing things happen, doors open, and the right people appear right out of the blue. When I try to force things, to do what I think I should instead of what I feel I should - well, the results just aren't the same.

It was wonderful to be in a room full of 190 business women (and five men), and feel the support and encouragement from each and every one of them. I was so happy to see Maria Moran of Green Home Experts again (if anyone needs information or help with green building or rennovation, Maria is your girl - she's not only creative and knowledgable, but impeccably honest), Falise of 24/8 Book Club (who confessed to eating Cocoa Krispies, giving me the courage to confess my own sugar ceral jones...), Denise of So Tell Me, creator of So Tell Me Medical Organizers (which I can't wait to carry - oh, to have had these when my parents were ill), the aforementioned Karen Hanrahan, and the Revolutionary Muses, Joanne Stone-Geier and Sue Reardon.

I love being in business, at least the way I am choosing to run my business. And the women I am meeting continue to inspire me to do exactly what I have set out to do - create a community-centered, successful, sustainable, ethical, truly green business.

And speaking of how I choose to run my business, this blog has turned in a direction that was unintended. And so I am going to go with the flow (see 4th paragraph, above) and make a change. This blog, Ecovillage Musings, will morph into an unofficial blog for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. As I travel and talk about my home and where the Milkweed Mercantile is located, I am told again and again that the DR website is huge and almost incomprehensible. So I will present our little Ecovillage in managable bites, here, with a name that suits it's purpose.

My business and personal blog, will be new. It is almost ready to go, and as soon as I figure out all of the settings, I will launch it, hopefully by tomorrow.

So that's it for tonight. If I can't sleep now, I'll pull out the latest Henning Mankell book - I'm loving his Kurt Wallender series. It is set in Sweden, and so I make up ways to pronounce the names. They are most likely VERY wrong, but it sure is amusing!

more tomorrow!