In 1996, attracted to the low cost of land and the lenient zoning restrictions, a group of young Stanford graduates raised money from friends and family and headed to northeastern Missouri to set up what is now known as Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, a successful intentional community and 270-acre community land trust. Their idea was to “move beyond protesting ecological destruction towards finding a positive alternative for ecological living.” Sound familiar?
Almost 20 years later, Dancing Rabbit (DR) is a fully functioning ecovillage with around 60 full-time members who live happily on just 10% of the resources the average American consumes.
Earlier this month, Transition US and Share Exchange had the opportunity to co-host DR’s Executive Director Ma’ikwe Ludwig for the inaugural event in her national speaking tour. We were connected to Ma’ikwe through Chong Kee Tan, a fellow Transitioner and alternative currency expert (co-founder of Bay Bucks) who’s been helping DR refine their community currency.
Below are a few highlights from Ma’ikwe’s inspiring talk about DR’s model for living abundantly with a fraction of the ecological footprint of mainstream society, as well as her one-day workshop on starting a successful ecovillage. Many of these lessons can be applied to Transition, too!
DR’s impressively low resource use can be attributed to a set of ecological covenants that guide the community’s development, including no personal vehicles (commuting is discouraged, but members can participate in a car cooperative), electricity used on site is from renewable sources (or off-set by renewable energy produced on-site), and all construction is from local or sustainably sourced lumber or reclaimed materials.
While some intentional communities have even more stringent ecological guidelines (for example, members of the Possibility Alliance, also in Missouri, don’t use any cars or electricity), Ma’ikwe believes Dancing Rabbit holds a unique balance of ecological commitment and social connection.
Building Resilience through Resource Sharing, Living Simply, and Local Economy
Dancing Rabbit is not an income-sharing community, but members share the costs of food, transportation, common spaces, and more. By living simply, DR’s members are able to live comfortably with an average income of $8,500 per year – less than half of the average income for their region. Many members are employed by the community – in its non-profit, bed and breakfast, bar and restaurant, farm, or building homes for new members. The community currency (Exchange Local Money, or ELM system) is a vital piece of DR’s vibrant local economy, and is used by 3 neighboring communities and several local businesses.
Creating Cooperative Culture: It’s All About Healthy Group Dynamics
No surprise here, but Ma’ikwe attributes the success of any highly functioning ecovillage to healthy group dynamics. Both founders and members should be well-trained in conflict resolution and in whichever decision-making model you choose, be willing to identify and address power dynamics, and have a good handle on essential social skills: accurately hearing (yourself and others), honesty and transparency, owning your experience, compassion and empathy, apology, self-care balanced with group care, naming group dynamics, and bridging divergent perspectives.
If your project/ecovillage is focused on culture change (like Transition), you should try to find collaborators who are committed to personal growth.
You Don’t Have to Start Your Own!
The first section of Ma’ikwe’s workshop was dedicated to convincing us not to try starting an ecovillage. Why? Because it’s not easy. Founders can expect to make a greater contribution in terms of energy (and probably financial resources) than future members, it’s not something you can do on the side while working full time, and it can take up to ten years or longer for the community to be stable enough “that you don’t have to worry about everything falling apart tomorrow.” In addition, there are lots of existing intentional communities (Dancing Rabbit included) that welcome and would benefit from additional members. You can visit The Fellowship for Intentional Community to search their directory for communities that are open to new members.
In conclusion, I’m deeply inspired by DR’s work and am committed to improving my own skills in consensus decision-making and conflict resolution, which seem as useful and necessary for Transition as they are for creating intentional communities. I’m also hoping to visit DR someday to be able to witness some of their systems in action (food co-ops, Village Council, and more). If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out the DR website and Ma’ikwe’s TEDx talk, or check out the many opportunities to visit Dancing Rabbit.
Happy community-building to all!
Photos courtesy of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.