Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Food Sleuth: A Visitor's View of Dancing Rabbit

While doing a search on Dancing Rabbit and food to see what I'd come up with (OK, what I should REALLY say is "while wasting time, following my nose on the web instead of doing, oh, taxes and budgets...") I came across one of the best descriptions of Dancing Rabbit I've read (you can read it below).

The article was written by Melinda Hemmelgarn M.S., R.D. , who I learned is a clinical dietitian, advocate for sustainable food systems and 2004-2006 Food and Society Policy Fellow. She is also a newspaper columnist, and freelance writer and speaker. She has written her trademarked weekly "Food Sleuth" column for the Columbia Daily Tribune since 1989, and it now appears in a variety of publications nationwide. The "Food Sleuth" mission is to "digest" nutrition research, expose diet fraud and help consumers think beyond their plates.

You can read many of her other excellent articles here on her IATP Food and Society Page.

Food Sleuth: ‘Rabbits’ Live Simple, Sustainable Life
By Melinda Hemmelgarn
Columbia Daily Tribune
April 12, 2006

"My daughter, Hannah, gave me a choice on how I wanted to spend her sorority’s mom’s weekend at Truman State University. I could play Bunco with the other visiting mothers or tour the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage with her “Expanding Environmental Consciousness” class. Without blinking an eye, I chose the latter.

Forty minutes after rolling out of Kirksville, we arrived in Rutledge, a rural community in northeast Missouri. Under a gray sky and cool April chill, our tour guide, Ted, explained the mission of Dancing Rabbit: To create a sustainable, socially just society that would influence the global community through education, research and example. The community strives to live efficiently, using only its fair share of Earth’s resources.

What might be described by some as a “hippie commune,” the Dancing Rabbit “bioregion” consists of 280 acres of predominantly prairie and former farmland. To re-establish native grasses and provide for a close-knit community, only 80 acres are designated for dense settlement, including homes, common areas, fruit trees and more than 15,000 square feet of organic gardens. The 25 or so inhabitants of Dancing Rabbit grow, eat and preserve local, seasonal and organic food. Many are vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons, but it’s not mandatory.

The “Rabbits” also live “off the electrical grid.” In other words, all of their power is generated by wind and solar sources. They’re keenly aware of energy use and practice conservation and resourcefulness religiously.

Make no mistake, though: Dancing Rabbit is not a cult. Rather, it’s a community where inhabitants intentionally choose to live cooperatively and leave less of an ecological footprint than the average American.

For example, the source of all power used at Dancing Rabbit comes from renewable and sustainable sources. No fossil fuels are used for powering vehicles, heating and refrigeration. Homes are constructed with reclaimed and recycled lumber. Members give up their personal motorized vehicles and instead share three cars fueled with biodeisel and recycled vegetable oil. Rain collection provides drinking water, and wastewater is treated in constructed wetlands. Speaking of waste, Dancing Rabbit’s waste disposal systems are designed to reclaim organic matter. In other words, they make “hu-manure.”

It was after my toilet experience that I concluded Dancing Rabbit would not be for me, at least not for the long run. Much like a camping vacation, it could be fun for awhile. I decided I’d learn what I could on the tour, help with some gardening as planned and look forward to dinner back in Kirksville.

But as morning turned to afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds, and I began to better understand the appeal. Ted walked us through the village, touring warm and cozy homes, explaining how their community provided both personal space and rich human interaction. At noon, Ted’s partner Sara prepared a delicious, health-fortifying lunch of lentils, rice, soup and salad, made with a variety of just-harvested greens.

The “Rabbits” live a simple yet labor-intensive lifestyle, with pioneering energy largely devoted to survival and community building. However, members also have access to the Internet, postal service and phone. They volunteer in their wider surrounding community, too. Ted and Sara visit family on the East Coast twice a year. But they’re anxious to return home, to a sense of security, safety and place. That connection to our local environment seems missing from too many modern-day communities, Ted says.

“When you visit a different place, you should know it’s different.” He adds: “I’ve always felt safest when I’ve been sustainable.”

Back in Kirksville, dinner began with a plate of wilted pale lettuce, drenched in dressing, followed by greasy, overcooked pasta. I wondered how far the food had traveled. Hannah and I exchanged glances. We had tasted a more health-sustaining alternative, and we knew at once we wanted more."

Thanks Melinda!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Humanure, Composting Toilets, and the Big Rock Candy Mountain

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage has been getting a lot of press lately. Journalists usually start circling a week before Earth Day, looking for an angle that hasn't been played.

This year we've accommodated them by making our composting waste system public - and all the media have turned into 6-year-olds telling poo poo jokes.

It all started with a very well-done segment called Kids Off the Grid on Nickelodeon - Linda Ellerbee's Nick News Show. As it was a show about kids living ecological lives, and is really pretty cool. DR is at the very beginning.

Boys being boys, and teenagers being teenagers, Morgan could not resist discussing our composting toilet system, and Nick News could not help repeating it.

Then, of course, Jon Stewart picked up the most, um, "colorful" segment, and ran this
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Kids' Earth Day
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

Defecating in our drinking water is perhaps one of our culture's most curious, but least talked about, habits. Some of the reasons for composting, rather than flushing our waste are:
1. to prevent water pollution (almost 4 trillion gallons of sewage effluent are dumped into our coastal waterways each year);
2. to fertilize the soil (rich in soil nutrients, humanure can be safely recycled by thermophilic composting);
3. to protect our dwindling drinking water supplies (nearly 1/3 of all household drinking water is used to flush toilets); and
4. to enhance our health. Fertile soil not only grows great veggies, but nourishes our health and community's well-being.

Before coming to Dancing Rabbit, the only time I spent talking or even thinking about defecation was when I went backpacking in my beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains. However, even 20 years ago How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art was required reading for participants on the backpacking trips I led, because it explained how to utilize the woods without endangering the water and wildlife systems. This is simply the next step, to be used in one's day-to-day life instead of just two weeks a year while on vacation.

We've all become so inured to NOT talking about our waste (it's simply not polite!) that we are ruining our drinking water and the planet with our wasteful, thoughtless ways. It's time to get over the "icky" factor and find out what is really going on.

To learn more about composting waste, I highly recommend two books.

First, The Toilets Papers, Recycling Waste and Conserving Water by Sym Van Der Ryn. It is an informative, inspiring, and irreverent look at how people have dealt with their wastes through the centuries. In a historical survey, Van der Ryn provides the basic facts concerning human wastes, and describes safe designs for toilets that reduce water consumption and avert the necessity for expensive and unreliable treatment systems. The Toilet Papers provides do-it-yourself plans for a basic compost privy and a variety of graywater systems.

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure by Joe Jenkins is the book than many of the Dancing Rabbit systems are based upon. It provides detailed scientific information on how humanure can be hygienically recycled, without fancy technological do-dads, a large bank account, toxic chemicals, or environmental pollution. This unique handbook provides information on composting, soil fertility and microorganisms, alternative graywater systems and much more. It also gives detailed instructions on how you can build your own sawdust toilet and compost bins for only a few dollars.

So there you go. More poop than you ever expected to find here. Let me know if you have any questions!