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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.

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

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

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.