Saturday, October 6, 2012

Not Quite Old Enough to Drive

My stepson, Jibran, turned 15 in the spring. It won't be long before he'll be eligible to get a learner's permit to drive a car—something he doesn't care about at all.

This weekend, Sandhill's neighboring community, Dancing Rabbit, will also turn 15. And they're not just ambivalent about cars, they're actively trying to discourcourge their use. As a community of 70 adults on the way to hundreds, they prohibit members from operating private vehicles. As a group they make do with a car co-op of just three vehicles (one of which is a big ass pick-up). That's right, an average of less than one vehicle per 20 people. In America. It's pretty amazing.

While I doubt Peak Oil is much of a factor in Jibran's calculus, DR is trying to think ahead of the curve. They are an ecovillage attemtping to live a liefstyle that uses resources at a rate that would be sustainable if all humans on Earth lived that way. Their target is something in the vicinity of 10% of the current US level. While they are undoubtedly a driven group, they won't get where they're intending to go via the automobile.

• • •
This is a party weekend. While the weather is cool and blustery (quite a contrast after a summer of blistering heat) and the rime on the grass this morning is a harbinger of the wood heat season right around the corner, the atmosphere at DR this weekend is festive and cheery. The community has come a long way since purchasing 280 rough acres in 1997, and it's time to step back and celebrate.

When DR bought its land, the tillable acres were in the Conservation Reserve Program, and hadn't been farmed for years. Though the property is rolling hills (typical of northeast Missouri) much of which has no business being cleared, there was little standing timber of value. The only usable buildings were a decent equipment shed, a funky farrowing house (quickly converted into serving as an outdoor kitchen), and a couple of grain bins (one of which was creatively adapted to two-story housing).

Essentially they were starting from scratch.

Today the village is tdefinitely aking shape. There is so much new construction that it's hard to keep up with who's intending to live where. The building styles are so varied that touring the grounds is like a trip to a natural building convention. If someone has cooked up a new way to use locally available materials to house people safely and inexpensively, there's a fair chance that a three-dimensional version of it exists at DR. 

As you might suspect, there are lots of timber frame structures with strawbale walls and an earthen plaster finish. Wood, straw, and clay are all present in abundance in the Midwest so most construction is a variation on those three basic materials.

This summer the community built its second stretch of interior roadway, providing all-weather access to the community's second residential neighborhood. DR also launched an energy co-op that generates so much power via a solar panel array that it's selling the surplus to the grid.

While the internal economy lags behind the housing boom, there is now a commercial bed-breakfast operating in the village (the Milkweed Mercantile) that sports a licensed bar and features a killer curtomized pizza night every Thursday. A number of folks have settled into some aspect of food production and there's a robust market in specialty items. Some folks are able to make a decent living doing eco-cosntruction in the village; others offer childcare or educational services to supplement their income. Some are hired part-time to handle administrative or accounting tasks for the community. Slowly, the community is bootstrapping its economy.
• • •
If this celebratory weekend had a patron, it would be Janus—the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and transitions. One the one hand, there will be a looking backward, basking in all that has been accomplished. Among other things, this is a reunion and DR is expecting 50+ folks to come back for both show-and-tell and general camaraderie (and no small amount of carousing).

On the other hand, it will be a looking forward. DR has big plans and there will be a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the new million-dollar Common House, which will be built to the exacting standards of the Living Building Challenge, way beyond LEED Platinum.

Built into the weekend are multiple forms of social entertainment, including open mic and no-talent show opportunities for the theatrically inclined. My chance on stage will come tonight when I perform as the impresario at the benefit auction right after dinner. Proceeds will flow to Dancing Rabbit and its ambitious hare-raising plans to be a model of sustainability (including home grown amusement).

About 50 people (so far) have donated goodies and services to the auction, and it will be great fun inciting the crowd to bid up the bargains and momentos offered in support of a common dream.

Happy Anniversary, Dancing Rabbit! Next year you'll be old enough to drive on your own.


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