Friday, June 14, 2013

Thoughts as I Leave Dancing Rabbit

I'm pretty glad I came here.  I've gotten numerous tick bites and had to share my tent with ants, spiders, and pill bugs, but overall the experience was positive.  In addition to workshops on DR's ecological agreements, consensus decision making, deepening communication, alternative construction, alternative energy, and, of course, land use planning, we've also had workshops on permaculture, humanure, their co-op fee structure, and their alternative currency.  We had a session devoted to 'inner sustainability', which is their term for various techniques to keep yourself going--including NonViolent Communication, ReEvaluation CoCounseling, and Restorative Circles.  We later learned more about Restorative Circles in a discussion group about conflict resolution at Dancing Rabbit.  There was a useful session on the whole communities movement (with a tool that I liked to compare communities as well as figure out what you're looking for) and discussion session about 'community economics' which tied together a bunch of the earlier workshops (like co-op fees and alternative currency) and provided a good framework for looking at how people manage at DR.  I liked the blend of focus on technical stuff (construction, energy, land use, and economics) with ways of connecting and taking care of yourself (communication, conflict resolution, and inner sustainability).  Obviously some people here are aware that there's more to community than building houses and growing food.

We also had a bunch of work parties--some of which were cancelled due to the wet weather and other problems, but we did get to help finish a living roof, help build a straw bale wall, help mulch pathways in a vineyard, help stake out pasture land, and help work on the foundation to someone's house.  The hands on work was a nice supplement to all the lectures and workshops.  I also attended a men's group, several Quaker meetings (which, for some reason, they hold here on Saturdays), and a Five Rhythms night of dance and music.

The people at DR were very welcoming and helpful.  We were hosted at different people's houses for dinner and lunch and so got a chance to talk with many of the folks here.

I did get to talk with Tony Sirna about what happened to Skyhouse, the income sharing community that was part of Dancing Rabbit until last January.  He told me that there were three other people he'd been doing it with for years.  At one point, one of them (another founder who Tony was close with) left to go on to other things, and when the couple that was left decided they wanted to raise a child outside DR, it left Tony to start a new group.  He told me that he really likes income sharing communities but didn't have the energy to keep Skyhouse going because his focus right now is on building DR and guiding it through the next stage in its process.  So, right now, he is renting rooms in Skyhouse and there is no income sharing community at DR.

Which brings me to my biggest difficulty with DR.  Dancing Rabbit is not an income sharing community.  As I wrote in my post on Red Earth Farms (6/4/13), "at DR there's a strong sense of 'this is mine' and 'I need to make sure I'm being paid for what I do'".  It can be a bit much at times.  The alternative currency discussion focused on their electronic currency and made me feel like they were trying to reinvent capitalism.  Still, I do believe there is a need for many different types of community--I don't believe that income sharing is the only way to go.  The problem, as it became clear in the discussion on community economics is that it makes it easy for some people (especially those with jobs where they can 'telecommute') to live here because they have worked hard to make the place affordable, but for others, they are barely making a living trying to work from the land here.  Unfortunately, they seem to have reinvented economic classes as well.  I heard from some people who talked about who had power here and who didn't--and made me aware that those who were barely scraping by did not have time to be involved in decision making groups, even if those groups are open to anyone (at least in theory), let alone take any leadership. 

Please, don't let that last paragraph turn you off of Dancing Rabbit.  Like any other community, DR is a work in progress.  None of the communities I've visited has been even near perfect and I'm very glad they all exist.  In fact, because DR is still growing and early on in their community building, I think I've learned more (at least from the point of view of someone who wants to build community) here than at any of the other communities I've visited.

Which leads me to my last insight.  I have made some nice connections here and it feels really weird to be leaving never to return.  I had thought of visiting other communities (like Earthaven in North Carolina and Heathcote in Maryland) and now I'm rethinking that.  Twin Oaks and Acorn were fine, because I intend to keep returning there, but I don't want to just hop all over the communities circuit--perpetually visiting places and leaving.  Besides, I hope I will be actually building community with others soon.  (More on this in the future.)  It's good I got to see DR, Red Earth, Sandhill, and the PA, but I've had enough of traveling.  I'm headed home.  I will be going to the Communities Conference again at the end of the summer but aside from that, I hope to settle down for a while.

Quote of the Day: "In addition to being a wonderful home for us, DR is a model for social change. Outreach and education are integral to our mission. Rather than isolating ourselves completely from the mainstream, we promote DR as a viable alternative. We enjoy sharing discoveries and ideas of sustainable living with people who have a wide variety of lifestyles." - from the Dancing Rabbit website

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Possibility Alliance

A week ago Monday, we got to visit yet another community, this one in La Plata, 40 miles away from Rutledge, called the Possibility Alliance (and also known as the Still Waters Sanctuary).  I had hoped to visit it after I was done with my Dancing Rabbit visit because the train station I was being dropped off at is in La Plata.  However, I was told the only time we could visit was in the middle of our DR stay (because they're in a 'retreat year'), so I figured it wouldn't happen.  However, it turned out that most of the
visitors group wanted to check out the Possibility Alliance and a couple
of people had cars so a whole bunch of us went off attend their community

The tour was led by Ethan Hughes, their charismatic leader. (At least one
person at DR warned me about him--but for our brief visit he seemed fairly
easy-going.)  He began the tour by citing the mission of the Possibility
Alliance: "Living for the upliftment of all life and reaching for our
highest human potential."  He also claimed that the PA was guided by five
practices: 1) Simplicity--he said others called it 'radical simplicity'
and he thought of it as 'necessary simplicity', 2) Service--many different
kinds of service, but one that's often associated with the PA is their
'Superhero Bike Rides' where people dress up as superheroes and ride into
towns offering to help in any way that's useful, 3) Social Engagement and
Nonviolent Activism, 4) Self Transformation, and 5) Silliness,
Celebration, Gratitude, and Joy.  Finally, after quizzing us on things
like dying people's regrets and what our most passionate wishes were, he
led us on a tour of the sanctuary.

We got to see his house and the new timberframed/straw-bale home that they were building, the very mellow draft horses that they own, the pond that they've recently tranformed, and the land and how they've been taking care of it.

Life at the Possibility Alliance is extremely low-tech.  They don't have
electricity (they use candles, they also don't have a website although
they do have a phone).  All the building done there is with hand tools
rather than power tools.  They try to apply permaculture principles to
their work.

They also run on 'the gift economy'--taking what is offered but not
charging for all their courses and workshops, including a permaculture
design certification course which other places often charge enormous
amounts of money.  We all enjoyed the tour and the place, although we were
clear that this was only a taste of what the place was about.

For another view of the PA, see this post by leavergirl on her blog Leaving Babylon.

Quote of the Day: "What we would like to do is change the world.  Make it
a little easier for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God
intended them to do.... There is nothing we can do but love, dear
God--please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor,
to love our enemy." - Dorothy Day (as quoted in the Possibility Alliance

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sandhill Farm

There once was a small village in northeast Missouri called Sandhill.  In
the 1960s it disappeared as it was incorporated in the town of Rutledge.
In the 1970s, four people (two couples) were searching for land to start a
commune and purchased a plot in Rutledge very near the Sandhill Cemetery
(which is still there).  They named the place Sandhill Farm.

It's still there nearly forty years later.  On Tuesday night last week,
there was a 'tri-community' dinner at Sandhill Farm and along with that,
we visitors to Dancing Rabbit, got a tour of the Sandhill community.  Of
the three communities here in Rutledge, this is the only one that's an
income sharing community.  Unlike Twin Oaks or Acorn, it sounds like the
income sharing procedure at Sandhill is rather informal.

Sandhill makes its income on what our tour guide called 'value-added
products'.   He mentioned honey and salsa and other products like that but
their biggest money maker is sorghum--which is used to make Sorghum Syrup, a natural sweetener popular in the midwest.  They produce about 800 gallons of the syrup a year  and sell it in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa,
Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The Sandhill community has never gotten very large.  They currently have
around six adults (and one child) and have had at most twelve adult
members.  They also (like the other two communities here) have a bunch of
interns and work exchangers.  Sandhill also participates in a lot of
interactions with Dancing Rabbit and Red Earth Farms.  To give one small
example, there are a bunch of maple trees at Dancing Rabbit and last year
someone tapped some of them and collected the sap.  Since there wasn't a
facility at DR to boil it down, they brought it to Sandhill which has a
'sugar shack' which they use mainly for the sorghum, but they also boil
down maple syrup.  Sandhill was glad to boil the syrup down for DR (and
they got paid in a small amount of the maple syrup).

A bigger example is that the very reason Dancing Rabbit is in Rutledge is
because Sandhill was here.  It's fascinating to watch the interactions of
the three communities and see how much they depend on each other. There's another way of living going on in Rutledge, MO, and Louisa County, VA.

Quote of the Day: "We envision Sandhill Farm as a stable, progressive,
fluid and vibrant community thriving in abundance. We prioritize building
and maintaining the health of our members, systems and facilities. We hope
to integrate more alternative energy, natural building, empowered health
care and self sufficiency in our lives. Sandhill Farm, in cooperation with
our friends and neighbors, will continue to expand and network a culture
of sustainable living in northeastern Missouri." - Sandhill's Vision

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Red Earth Farms

A week ago Saturday, the visitor's group I'm in at Dancing Rabbit went on a tour of the nearby community of Red Earth Farms.  The relationship between DR and REF reminds me of the relationship between Twin Oaks and Acorn.  (See my posts on Update 2: The Acorn Community, 9/14/12, and Update 6: Life at Twin Oaks, 12/4/12.)  Dancing Rabbit and Twin Oaks are both large sized communities that are high on structure and policies, where Red Earth Farms and Acorn were much smaller and more into individual freedom and figuring it out as they went along.  The big difference is that where Twin Oaks and Acorn were both income sharing communities and very strong on sharing everything, DR and REF are both much more individually oriented--while they both share a bunch (particularly DR), at DR there's a strong sense of  'this is mine' and 'I need to make sure I'm being paid for what I do', and REF (which is a homesteaders community) is divided into individual sites with the expectation that each site can pretty much do what they want (although they're all pretty committed to sustainable, ecological living and most of them live rather simply).

On the other hand, the REF homesteads are quite interesting.  Since there
are no rules about what anyone can do or can't do, each of them is pretty
different.  One in particular had a house that was very old fashioned and
obviously hand built.  Several people said that when they entered it they
had the sensation of going back more than a century in time.

And it's important to note the back and forth between DR and REF--I've
seen a bunch of folks from REF hanging out at DR from time to time and
people at each community will say, 'I built this with the help of
so-and-so at ...' the other community.  This interconnecting of the two
communities also reminds me a lot of the relationship between Twin Oaks
and Acorn.  But both communities here have a strong interelationship with
the third community in Rutledge, Sandhill, which is also the oldest of the
three.  I'll write about that next.

Quote of the Day: "Red Earth Farms is an intentional community of
homesteads sharing a 76-acre land trust in the rolling hills of northeast
Missouri. Our community’s mission is to creatively explore and evaluate
sustainable ways to meet our needs in accordance with our guiding
principle: 'Love the land; love your neighbors.' " - from Red Earth Farms'