Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Milestone Meal at the Mercantile

Yesterday Ma'ikwe, Jibran, and I had a delicious lunch, lovingly prepared and served by the owners and wait staff of the restaurant. What's remarkable about this is that we ate in, not out. Around noon we simply walked a couple hundred yards from Ma'ikwe's house to the Milkweed Mercantile, where husband & wife proprietors Kurt Kessner & Alline Anderson had the unofficial opening of the restaurant portion of their eco-inn/general store.

Yesterday was only for members of the three local communities—Sandhill Farm, Dancing Rabbit, and Red Earth Farms—to work the kinks out in anticipation of passing a Health Dept inspection this coming week, which is their last hurdle before opening the restaurant to the public. In addition to the great meal, it was an important marker in our combined efforts to create alternative culture.

The story here goes all the way back to 1974, when Nixon was still regnant despite his misadventures in Southeast Asia (his ignominious resignation after the debacle of Watergate was still three months away). In May, four of us idealistic twenty-somethings arrived in Rutledge to start an experiment in group living on 63 acres. Two years later we settled on the name "Sandhill Farm," and we've been here ever since. We expanded to an adjoining 72 acres in 1988. Dancing Rabbit bought 280 acres three miles away from us in 1997; Red Earth Farms launched on 76 acres bordering Dancing Rabbit in 2007. Today the three communities have a combined adult and child population of about 70, and we're all growing.

Unlike Sandhill and Red Earth—which intend to remain relatively small with a homesteading ethos—Dancing Rabbit aspires to be a village of several hundred, and that means a robust internal economy. While it's still early days, and most of the intra-three-community activity has been limited to a steady stream of barter and hiring fellow community mates to work on specific projects, it has always been intended that the community would reach the scale where it made economic sense for full-fledged businesses to operate on site, where an essential portion of the flow would come from member purchases (rather than being sustained solely by curious outsiders, or members' relatives who are a bit too squeamish for the rough and ready lifestyle of composting toilets and no grid electricity). With the opening of the Mercantile's restaurant—filled yesterday to capacity by supporting members of the tri-communities—we passed an important milestone.

A month earlier, I observed a large portion of Dancing Rabbit's annual retreat, where one of the most intriguing proposals was to create an energy co-op and purchase a large wind generator (where the excess energy would be sold back to the grid through net metering until is was needed by the growing community). There's talk of establishing an on-site school in its own building (to relieve pressure on the multipurpose Common House during school hours). Dan Durica is planting grapes for a vineyard cum winery, and there's momentum building for a tri-community dairy (think butter and cheese, not just raw milk).

Dancing Rabbit is building an intentional town, not just a community, and it won't be too many years before their population exceeds that of Rutledge (an even 100 as of July 2008), where our post office currently resides, yet may not always. Strategic thinkers spend as much time focusing on roads, waste water management, and underground utility cables as they do about debt service, vehicle fleets, and how to fill committee slots.

It's exciting to realize that all of this work to create sustainable culture has been accomplished in 36 years, in my lifetime. There was nothing alternative about Rutledge when we arrived in 1974, and now we have a substantial cultural beachhead, with excellent prospects for the future. When I contemplate the world's situation, I figure the need for sustainable culture is pandemic—we need it badly, and we need it everywhere. It gives me great hope to realize that we've been able to collectively create a promising nucleus of sustainable culture in unassuming northeast Missouri. I figure if we can succeed here, it can be done anywhere, and that's the part of eating at the Mercantile yesterday that sent shivers up my spine—not just that great medium rare hamburger made with grass-fed beef, topped with crisp greenhouse lettuce, local cheddar, organic bacon, and onion rings marinated in balsamic vinegar.

Sure, there's still a long way to go, yet what work could be more joyous or more meaningful? And now we have great hamburgers to sustain us on the journey.

1 comment:

Alline said...

Thanks Laird, for your post and for your patronage - it was a delight to have you, Maikwe and Enzio at one of our tables. I am still savoring yesterday's events, and laughing about how after we closed the cafe Kurt, Anthony, Tom and I had to climb down into the (just emptied) 7,000 gallon cistern to scrub it out. Sigh. Business is SO glamorous!