Creating Community

Read all about better living through community cooperation and greener homes in intentional communities.

| June/July 2003

It Takes an Ecovillage

By Dan Chiras and Diana Leafe Christian

Nestled in the rolling hills of rural northeastern Missouri, in the middle of what was once 280 acres of corn and soybean fields, lies a town center unlike any other in the United States.

This place, just outside Rutledge, Missouri, is called Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Small passive-solar straw bale cabins with dun-colored earthen plaster walls and white metal roofs, a larger two-story straw bale residence, and a tall metal grain bin cleverly converted into studio apartments are clustered together. Photovoltaic panels pepper the yards and rooftops. Cars, which run on a vegetable oil fuel called biodiesel, are corralled together instead of parked outside each residence. Gardens abound.

This experiment in living on the land and in community truly is a grassroots movement, arising from the rolling hills of northeastern Missouri. In 1994, to "push the envelope" for environmental and social sustainability, Dancing Rabbit's young eco-activist founders created a rigorous ecological covenant, including mandates for building with local and recycled materials and for establishing a car-sharing co-op and fueling their vehicles with biodiesel. But their commitment to sustainable living goes beyond their environmental ethic, into the realm of social and economic sustainability. Residents make decisions by consensus, eat most meals together and generate their own homegrown entertainment, from musical events to yoga to study groups. As residents of a model ecovillage demonstration site, they teach courses on natural building and host throngs of eager visitors each year.


"Ecovillages are intentional communities dedicated to creating and demonstrating ecological, social, economic and spiritual sustainability," Cleveland EcoVillage member Manda Gillespie writes in Communities magazine. "(Although) they take many forms, from rural to urban, from small experiments to large districts in transition, and exist in many cultures and geopolitical climates, all have made a commitment to model community development while considering how present actions affect future generations."

In their book, Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities, authors Diane and Robert Gilman describe ecovillages as "human-scale, full-featured settlements, where human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human develop ment, and (which) can be successfully continued into the indefinite future."

Ecovillages attempt to provide housing, income-producing work and social opportunities on-site, creating as self-reliant a community as possible. To achieve their goals, proponents typically rely on permaculture design in planning the sites, looking to nature as a model. They also make efforts to build energy efficient and nontoxic houses; organically grow much of their own food; eliminate waste; conserve and recycle water and energy; and use renewable energy power when possible. Most ecovillages limit their size to ensure that through some form of participatory decision-making, such as consensus, each member can influence the community's direction.

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