Sunday, August 9, 2009

True Confessions: My Green Life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

It has taken almost ten years for many of our beloved friends to become comfortable with the fact that Kurt and I live in an ecovillage. This is not, we hope, a reflection on our attitudes, but rather their own. We find that we (unintentionally) inspire a lot of guilt and eco-shame where ever we go. Once we utter the words "eco-village" we become unwilling confessors to many perceived eco-sins. I don't need to know how many miles you drive a day, alone, in your SUV, or how many disposable Starbuck's cups you go through. Really. I'm living my life the best way I know how, and trust you are doing the same. I do not claim to have ANY of the answers - I'm just working on my own stuff here.

In the spirit of full disclosure and knowing how far I still have to go to reduce my footprint on this planet, I am presenting a peek into my life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. I'm sure I've forgotten a lot of things, and included some that many would consider TMI ("too much information").

This is just the way Kurt and I live our lives; it is not necessarily the norm at DR. One of the most important things we've learned while living here is that green is a wide continuum - we're just one spot on the spectrum.

Additionally, while the list below may look like shilling for the Milkweed Mercantile, I view it as walking my talk. We only carry items that I believe in and use (or would use) myself. Neither of my blogs nor the Milkweed Mercantile sites carry advertising - we're in this to change the world, not to sell our souls.

Home: Our house is a 2-story, gabled-end 1,200 square foot building. Built of straw bales, reclaimed and locally harvested lumber, sheet rock, and lime plaster (hydrated lime, straw, sand, water). Downstairs we have a poured concrete floor stained with a non-toxic agricultural fertilizer. Upstairs is reclaimed wood flooring.

Aaron and Thomas applying lime plaster to the west gable end of the Milkweed Cottage.

Downstairs is a bathing room (shower & tub), a toilet/sink room, open living room-dining room-kitchen, and Kurt's office. Upstairs is our bedroom, my office and my art studio. Actually, the studio is currently in recovery from being the storage facility for all the Milkweed Mercantile merchandise. Can't wait to get it cleaned up!

Power: Our electricity comes from 8 solar panels and a 400 watt wind turbine. Power is stored in 8 deep-cell batteries. We run everything in our house off of this system: fridge (the biggest draw), pump for water system, Kitchen appliances, lights, tv, fans, sewing machine and serger, computers, etc. During sunny/windy days when we have an excess of power (the batteries are full, it is sunny out, and it is only noon) we have a number of “dump loads” so that we can utilize the power still coming in, like food dehydrators, and an electric convection oven. We also feel free to indulge ourselves and watch NetFlix movies on our TV, run the ceiling fans, make waffles, etc. In the winter, on dark, cloudy days when power gets low, we use as few lights as possible, make coffee in a press pot instead of the electric drip coffee maker, and read or play games in the evening rather than watch movies.

The solar panels, part of the garden (tomato seedlings that I didn't have room for anywhere else), and assorted wood piles and lawn chairs...

Water: We collect rainwater off our roof into a 3,000 gallon cistern. It is built below our house and made of steel reinforced, poured concrete. It is sealed with DamTite. Many Rabbits are choosing to go with ready-to-install plastic cisterns, but we did not want to be drinking our lovely rainwater out of plastic.

Storing the water and then filtering it for drinking has proven to be quite an art. I hope to post a complete description soon, as we receive many, many questions about it.

Waste: We use a composting toilet (Joe Jenkins’ Humanure system, his website is here, with lots of videos) with sawdust from the local saw mill which would otherwise be burned. All food scraps are composted. Paper, glass, steel, aluminum and #1 and #2 plastic is recycled. We use rags (old t-shirts, boxer shorts, etc.) and household hemp cloths instead of paper towels.

Appliances: We have a Planet DC fridge which we dislike (but it does have a high efficiency Danfoss compressor and runs on DC power directly from our batteries) and which will soon be replaced with a Sundanzer chest fridge. The other appliances are pretty normal – a KitchenAid mixer, Braun coffee grinder, my grandmother’s toaster, etc…Many of these we’ve had for years; when it comes time to replace them we’ll either consider doing without or investigate who makes them, and where. Our computers are Dell laptops. NOTE ON PAPER: We have friends who work in the publishing industry and so get reams and reams of paper that has been printed on one side only. This is perfectly fine for the majority of our needs, especially internal DR paperwork.

On the windows: we have Roman Shades made out of Warm Windows fabric. A five-layer system which includes a vapor barrier, these help keep our home cool on hot summer days, and keep the warmth in on freezing winter nights. They are relatively easy to construct (although are a bit unwieldy) and even have a magnetic strip along the edges to seal the shade tightly.

Scrubbing the Sinks: Bon Ami. Yep. Just like grandma. It works like a charm, doesn't smell like something you'd find in a nuclear dump, and is blissfully non-toxic.
Soap: Dr. Bronner’s (Peppermint or Almond) or one of the many lovely soaps made by friends and Mercantile vendors. I like to put them in an organic cotton soap bag which keeps all the little pieces together and foams up fabulously!
Laundry Soap: Moon Works All Natural Laundry Soap This is what we use in the Dancing Rabbit Laundry Co-op, where the gray water goes out to a constructed wetlands area. It cleans really well, and remember, lots of suds does not mean lots of cleaning!
Laundry Spray: Earth Friendly Everyday Stain and Odor Remover When I moved to Dancing Rabbit I was reluctant to give up my SHOUT. Oh, how it worked - I tend to slobber a lot of food onto my clothes, and Kurt works construction. We're really not neat and tidy people at heart (well, we are first thing in the morning, but as the day goes on...). At the risk of sounding like a cross between a 50's housewife and a cheesy TV commercial, this stuff really works!
Dish Soap: Dawn - oh, this is bad, I know. But I needed to be honest! Our gray water goes out into our garden into a sand and gravel trench, and so gets filtered before getting near any plants or ponds. I just haven't found an eco-groovy dish soap that actually removes grease. Arrrggghhh! I use organic cotton/hemp Household Hemp Cloths or hand-crocheted wash rags.
Furniture Polish: Earth Friendly All Natural Furniture Polish On the RARE occasion that I actually clean instead of handing out dark glasses to guests at the door, I use this. I have one really lovely table that belonged to my grandmother and this polish is keeping it that way. It removes dust, leaves a delightful shine, and has a very light, very clean fragrance.

Guilty Pleasure: Dr. Pepper. On ice. Served by a cabana boy.

Photo credit: on flickr

Shampoo: BWC and a few others. I'll post more later on this. In the mean time, check out the Environmental Working Group's recommendations here at Cosmetics Database.
Sunscreen: a big hat and Badger SPF 15
Bug Repellent: Badger Anti-Bug Balm
Menstrual Products:
Seventh Generation Organic Cotton Tampons
Hemp/Organic Cotton Menstrual Pads and hydrogen peroxide for soaking
I blow my nose on: vintage cotton hankies or organic cotton flannel hankies

Transportation: I am part of a vehicle co-op which shares two VW Jettas, a Ford Truck and a tractor (this IS rural Missouri, after all!). All vehicles are run on biodiesel. When going further a field, we drive to LaPlata, MO (43 miles from Rutledge, to destinations south or to Chicago), Quincy, IL (64 miles, to Chicago) or Ottumwa, IA (73 miles, when headed west) to catch Amtrak.

Meat comes from the Rutledge Meat Store (local) or HyVee grocery store in Kirksville (34 miles) where they carry organic meat trucked in from God-knows-where.

Still life with salsa (2007).

Produce: In the summer just about all of our produce comes from our own garden, the gardens of friends here at Dancing Rabbit, Sandhill Farm or Red Earth Farms, or is ordered from a local Mennonite family who grows their produce organically. This usually gives us large enough quantities to can tomatoes, pickles, fruit, etc. for the winter. It is a lot of work but the trade-offs are huge – fresh delicious food just the way I like it (the tomato sauce has my own home-grown basil and oregano in it!) and I know exactly what is in it and where it came from.

Dry Goods: We are able to purchase bulk goods such as beans, rice, sugar, oil etc. from a Natural Foods Distributor through our local grocery store. We are also able to get organic cheese, tofu, meat, ice cream, etc. They add a 5% surcharge to the wholesale prices but it is still quite a deal, and enables us to find organic and Fair Trade goods in what is often a less than sympathetic to organic area.

All of the other "stuff": we have the delightful Zimmerman's General Store in Rutledge, which carries everything from 20 kinds of bulk flour to local milk in glass bottles. They also have soft serve ice-cream cones for 75 cents, and the best quilting fabric selection I've seen outside of San Francisco (far better, in fact, than many quilt stores I've been to!)

Shopping: Shopping no longer has the allure it used to. After working 30 years in retail and knowing just how exorbitantly prices are marked up it just kills me to pay full retail price. Also, it is important for me to know where items come from and who produced them. I grew up in a union family, and prefer to support American labor when possible. It is not worth it to me to pay a “less expensive” price at somewhere, say, like WalMart when I know that the true cost is not reflected. Items made by exploited workers, possibly underage under inhumane conditions do not feel like bargains to me. When purchasing imported items I look for a Fair Trade label.
I find a lot of things that I need online.

Relationship: married and monogamous. There are many ways to be in a relationship; Kurt and I have found that being a respectful monogamous duo works best for us. At DR, however, relationship forms are all over the spectrum; I like living in a place where people can find what works best for them in all aspects of life, including love.

Alline & Kurt in the garden. Photo credit: Dan McCoy

Our wedding rings: if we knew then what we know now (where diamonds come from, the devastation caused by mining, etc.), we would have done things differently (perhaps a ring from an antique store? A ring from a Dr. Pepper can?). We both have hand-crafted gold bands from a shop in Berkeley, CA. My engagement ring has a diamond. I hope to gift it to one of my nieces or Kurt’s grand daughter someday.

That's all I can think of for now. If there are more lurid details you'd be interested in knowing about life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, let me know!

NOTE: Read an updated version of my Dancing Rabbit life here, written January 2012. 


Julie said...

Hey, we've got a separate bathing room, too! Loving the set-up of that. Just moved into our new home at White Hawk Ecovillage ( in Ithaca, New York, one week ago. Beautiful photos on your blog. I've been drooling over Dancing Rabbit for years! Thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I hope it will be a long running show, that’ll be shown in many different countries!

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