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Modern Pioneers: What it’s like living in an Ecovillage

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Living in community with one another is the foundation for a new pioneering, sustainable culture…

By Brian Ziggy Posted Feb 13, 2012

Eco Village Intentional Community In 2006, I found myself visiting an ecovillage in northeast Missouri. My destination was Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, an intentional community dedicated to ecologically sustainable and socially rewarding lives, and sharing the skills and ideas behind that lifestyle. I was taken with the place rather quickly and knew that this was the change I wanted in my life, and the following spring, I became a resident. My own quest towards a more low impact lifestyle in a community setting was just beginning — indeed, this was the first and single most important step I made.

But what is Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and why should you care? What’s living off the grid, and in a cooperative community all about, anyway? And how does it affect you?

What is Sustainable Community Living?

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is one of thousands of intentional communities all over the globe, with a specific focus on sustainable living and cooperation. With a current population of 50 members, the community has been steadily growing since its inception in 1996. Residents and members agree to several ecological covenants and guidelines upon joining the community, which offer boundaries as far as what is acceptable within the realm of our consumption and impact.

For example, no homes are allowed to heat or cool with fossil fuel energy — all homes use some form of renewable energy. No one is allowed to keep a personal vehicle on the property — instead, most of the members are part of a vehicle cooperative. All fifty members share a mere three vehicles (and drive a mere 10% of the average American). All gardening is organic, and homes are built using natural and reclaimed materials. Group decisions are made through the process of consensus. The goal of living more sustainably and cooperatively is reflected in all aspects of life.

Living Off the Grid & More

Eco-Village There is quite a bit of freedom in how you decide to live your life at Dancing Rabbit, and I have been thankful for the room to pursue a simple life here. My goal has been to try to live as mindfully as I can, and as low impact as I am able. The things I have chosen to explore are based on my interests in reducing my carbon footprint as much as I possibly can. Currently, I live in a hand-built house without electricity (I have access to power and internet usage in a shared Common House, hence my writing this article!) I cook exclusively with wood heat (including a small, efficient rocket stove in the summer months). I grow some portion of my own food with a group of friends, have dabbled in beekeeping and raising chickens, make my own candles for lighting, and practice building with hand tools.

There has been a huge amount of learning along the way, and nary a day goes by that I am not continuing that learning process. There are three important areas I have been focusing my learning about living lightly and off-the-grid during my five years here as a member.

Exploring Natural Building

Building has become a large part of my life. In 2008, I built my first cob house, and the following year I moved in with my partner April. Having had no prior building experience to speak of, the process of constructing my first home was a massive learning experience. And a hugely gratifying one, too! Nothing has compared to the experience of seeing my home take shape, literally from the ground up, using my own two hands to accomplish most of the work. (The help of friends and work exchangers played no small part, too!) This experience has given me much motivation to continue to learn about sustainable and traditional building practices, and designing energy efficient homes.

I have, in fact, decided to build a second and much more energy efficient home, a passive solar straw bale house, based on my experiences of living in my first cob home. Sharing my stories about building has become a form of personal outreach, in a way, and that will continue this year when I host two natural building workshops with my partner April. We’ll be collaborating with other builders and teaching a timber framing workshop and straw bale workshops to help other folks learn how to build more naturally and beautifully, and live more simply.

Organic Gardening and Food is Sustaining

eco-village Food is what keeps me grounded. Eating well and cooking homemade meals with fresh garden vegetables is perhaps the source of biggest satisfaction in my life. In that sense, growing my own food has become one of the most important priorities in my life. Again, having had no gardening experience prior to living in community, I learned all of my current skills in my current setting. Living in community is wonderful for just that — connecting with others, sharing skills and labor, and inspiring one another with our creations.

Gardening is a wonderful combination of all of the things I cherish — cooperating with others, spending time outside, producing something extremely useful (and delicious), and nourishing myself and my friends. Learning how to grow food responsibly and organically has been wonderful, and my interest continues to expand into other realms of food production — raising chickens, beekeeping, permaculture, etc.

During the growing season, there is a certain feeling in the air as my community mates are busy digging in the dirt, sharing gardening tips, and sharing the bounty of our soil.

Living with One Another is the Key

Eco-village 4 Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned about living environmentally is that it does not happen in isolation. You cannot do it alone. Living ecologically is a collaborative process, and community is the key to creating a sustainable lifestyle. I would not be where I am today without the support of my fellow communitarians. We grow and learn together, and in many ways, are dependent on each other.

While anyone with a clue knows well the threats of global climate change, stories of rapidly depleting fossil fuel resources, and all the immense and depressing statistics about ecological destruction, it is less known that part of the answer to these issues we face is living more closely with one another. It may sound a little simplified, but it’s true. Living in community with one another is the foundation for a new pioneering, sustainable culture.

I am thankful to have found a home at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and encourage anyone with even a passing interest in living off the grid, growing their own food, building a home, farming, or an interest in more general environmental issues to explore the concept of intentional community.

Brian Ziggy was invited by Eartheasy to write a guest post about his experience living in an Ecovillage. We thank him for this interesting article and hope others will be inspired to explore lifestyles of cooperation and sustainability.

Photo credits: Brian Ziggy and Ramin Rahimian.

Posted in Healthy Home Tags , , , , ,
  • Christian

    We’re designing and building one right now in central North Carolina. Check out

  • Many friends and I helped out at an eco-village in the Caribbean so I can empathize with regard to living in this type of environment; however, I ended having to leave for financial reasons… I see that Brian was able to write this post on a computer in the common area, but what do people do to earn an income?

  • Very inspiring to read and see a real example of someone living off the grid! Congratulations!

  • shisha

    its really resembles my childhood life style, each and everything eco friendly.  

  • Philip Morris236

    nice info about this pioneers….its very very inspiring 

  • Ben

    “Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned about living environmentally is that it does not happen in isolation. You cannot do it alone. Living ecologically is a collaborative process, and community is the key to creating a sustainable lifestyle. I would not be where I am today without the support of my fellow communitarians. We grow and learn together, and in many ways, are dependent on each other.”

    All that is true. 100% true. 

    If there are any places this article falls short, it’s where he fails to talk about the more challenging sides of ecovillage life. It’s great to talk about connecting with the dirt, renewable energy, and building natural materials. All sounds very romantic. At to a large degree, he’s right. It is romantic. 

    It’s also a lot of work. Making candles? Beekeeping? Growing food? building houses? Hard work my friend, not for your average couch potatoes, which a significant portion of our population unfortunately is. 

    Not to mention the other challenges that living in community brings. 

    “Group decisions are made through the process of consensus.” 

    AKA – long, regular, often very dry meetings where I’d rather be watching a movie or hunting, hiking, or doing just about anything rather than sitting in a long meeting. 

    Living in community means you can’t just shut someone out of your life the way we would (and do) in regular society. You have to interact with them on a daily basis. There will inevitably be people in a community setting that grate your personality, and you have to learn how to deal with it (and them) in a way that doesn’t disrupt the harmony for the rest of your co-inhabitants. Again, it’s can be hard work. 

    This is not to say that community living isn’t wonderful at the same time. I just think it’s important to realize both sides of the coin. 
    Overall, great piece. My 2 cents, peace

    • You’re absolutely right, Ben. There are indeed challenges living in community, as there are challenges living in any other setting. Thankfully, we have ‘tools’ for dealing with conflict resolution and strained interpersonal dynamics, as they are very real parts of our lives.

      There is no such thing as utopia — I mean, there is no such thing as zero conflict, no matter where you are. But if you can deal with conflict in a healthy way, that’s critical! Thankfully, I think we do an above-average job of handling such conflict.

      (I’m with you there about meetings, too — I’d much rather be active outside. As hard as it is to believe, some people enjoy them! Weird. But anyway, perhaps they are a necessary ‘evil’?)

      • GaryP

        How does an intentional community get around zoning and “property line” issues? Is the community a co-op? corporation? Land trust?

        • ziggy

          Zoning codes depend on where you live. We are fortunate to not have any here in rural northeast Missouri. It’s a non-issue (whew). The community does indeed have a land trust, so there is no single landowner. (Individuals pay lease fees for their gardens, homes, and agricultural land.)

  • Dres

    I like seeing the people in the circle holding hands. They are trying to live in cooperation. I don’t even know most of my neighbors.

    • Robb

      Same. I would like to be part of a group that works together to live cooperatively. These people are courageous in taking a chance with each other to find a good life. I say way to go!

  • I can definitely see this as learning experience-living off the grid. This sounds amazing, and the concept of intentional community is something to explore.  

  • Marie Marinelli

    This is very interesting. Does anyone know of a community like this in southeast Michigan?

  • John Mulkins

    In 1971 I helped to start a commune in Richmond Virginia. It was an urban commune, we all were in our first or second year of college, and I was in a band which toured quite a bit. It was an exceptionally good community as we had all gone through a program at VCU called the Freshman Life Seminar, or the Human Awareness Series. There we all learned the basics of communication dynamics and began our journey together to explore ourselves and each other in a very trust based environment. It was, at the time, a ground breaking experiment. The “experiment” lasted 35 years, finally ending as a shared living project after serving for a year as both a living space and hospice for one of the members. Currently we are a nonprofit corp and meet annually while each of us live our lives out in various parts of the country.
    I’d love to find something a bit like that again, perhaps in Vermont. I’m tired of life in the Bay Area, and the time to move on is fast approaching. I wish you all the best in your efforts to heal our planet and our communities by intentionally living a more conscious existence. Peace all.

    • Thanks for your comment John. You are one of the pioneers of a way of life that I think will become more commonplace in the future.

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