Digging Deep

Ok, so the title is somewhat of a misnomer. Here in NE Missouri, with the temperatures hovering in the 40’s to 50’s and the soil just starting to wake, we haven’t been doing all that much digging in the soil. It’s far too wet with the spring thaw and three inches of rain in one long dark day. The hydrological cycle is refreshed for the moment and so are we. Coming from southwestern Florida suburbs to a tightly clustered community currently housing 70 people might be a culture shock for some. It certainly took me (Adrian) more than one day to get used to how busy this place can seem with all of the building that is taking place, business happenings, and the constant flow of people in and out of the common house. But let me assure you, the rabbits (a nickname for residents here) here made it easy to jump into the flow.

I’ll provide a little context. Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, as defined on their website, is “an ecovillage and intentional community of about 70 people set amid the hills and prairies of rural northeastern Missouri. Our goal is to live ecologically sustainable and socially rewarding lives, and to share the skills and ideas behind that lifestyle.” Their website contains a plethora of information, but we’ll offer a little of insight into what we’ve learned firsthand.

When they say village, they mean it. They set out with the intention of designing and living in a human scale village between 500 and 1000 people. You may ask yourself “how did they find this number? Why set limits?” What Tony, one of the co-founders, had to say is that when they were still in the meeting phase of the project while in Berkeley, California one of the first articles came out on the realistic number of people you could actually know and have some kind of relationship with before people just became numbers. They decided somewhere around the numbers stated above. This number sets them apart from many other intentional communities or eco-villages out there. Many hover around 100, with a few exception, and many never grow above 30. They see their future to be one modeled after the old villages of Europe. They have set some limits to do this by organizing distinct land-use committees to help guide their growth. They set aside 40 acres of their current 280 for the sole use of village development and possible light industry. This number may not mean much until you realize that at their current warren (or lot) size for residential buildings, that comes to be about 1/17th of an acre per house. You can guarantee that in this country and in these times, this type of planning is very unique. Whether they’re trend setters, adapters to future growth constraints (peak oil and climate change anyone?), or just very unique in their ways, we can all agree that it has to be fun to experience and learn from.

You may next ask “why would you ever do this if you have the option of upward mobility and unrestrained growth/income, and the largest house that money can buy?” There is definitely more than one answer to that and I guess it’s up to individuals to choose what fits their needs best. It’s not always bubblegum drops and candy circuses here and there certainly are trade-offs for many people who move to rural Missouri. On the other hand there’s an immense amount to gain. I recently heard Ethan over the Possibility Alliance (an electricity free intentional community 35 minutes away) describe his decision as one (in part) of sacrifice. What I didn’t know is that sacrifice is defined roughly as giving up something of value for something of greater value. Now, in my eyes, that depends on what you want out of your life and of course what you value. For example, I personally want to trade my access to the abundant and cheap global markets for quality local ones. I value knowing how, where, and in what conditions what I purchase is produced and the more locally it’s made, the more I know. I also value setting limits and realize that humans have lived in many different ways throughout history and we can do without things we’re told we need. Mostly people tend to want to trade of social isolation and fragmented ways of living for a model that makes it much easier to meet your basic human needs. The inherent sharing that takes place here is what makes it easier. People here have the advantage of village life while having 240 acres to walk through or manage when they need the gifts and insight that being close to mother earth brings.

One last thing to know is about their plan for the rest of their land. By most models 280 acres is not enough to feed a population of 500 to 1000 people their needed daily calories. With well done permaculture designs, there’s a chance this could change. Currently they just took out 20 of their 240 in the Conservation Reserve Program to open up for agricultural pursuits. This is land that’s close to the residential space that they plan to keep leases at 1 acre or under per person. This is so it won’t be gobbled up by a few people and thus leaving the rest to wait until more space (which would also be further away) to open up. They’re assuming that not everyone in the community will want acreage larger than their home garden space. For those who want larger tracts for rotational grazing or nut canopy food forests, there are and will be other options. The land that’s further out can be selectively opened up for these forms of management. Until someone is ready to manage it more intensively, it will remain under conservation easement and DR will receive government payments for keeping it so.

Over these past two weeks we have been amazed at the amount of organization and time that has gone into coordinating the visitor program here at Dancing Rabbit. There is definitely truth in the fact that it’s impossible to know a place all that well in three weeks time. Dancing Rabbit goes above and beyond to try to make sure you know the ins and outs of community life here. They even make sure that you’re well informed that life here is not perfect and that there is a lot of process to work through conflict that occurs. Sometimes you just want to pull your hair out (or someone else’s), but through the systems they have in place for resolving conflict, that usually that doesn’t happen =). We’ve had classes on everything that DR values and integrates into their systems for living. From restorative circles to consensus and permaculture design to natural building, they work hard to live healthy and holistic lives and you get to see that while you’re here. If you are interested in community living and don’t mind the idea of rural Missouri, it is a place worth visiting.



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