Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage On The Rainy Day Rant
Having worked with them on a few web projects, I invited some folks at Dancing Rabbit Eco Village in Missouri to discuss how internet access has helped their community. Several members are involved in a wide variety of online businesses that bring in revenue to help finance infrastructure and boost their local economy. Brian Toomey was kind enough to share the following with us. – Everett
How Rural Ecovillages Can Have Prosperous Economies
In a recent post/rant, Everett waxed poetic about the sad economic drain of America’s rural economies and the ways that high speed internet opens up amazing opportunities for their renewal. I agree. Two years ago I left a ($2400/mo) loft in the hipster Mecca of Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the greener pastures — literally — of the Midwest. I moved to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural Missouri, and today I own my 200 sq. ft. energy-efficient, solar-powered strawbale home outright. I pay nominal fees (about $50/mo) to the community non-profit, Dancing Rabbit Land Trust, for my house’s lot, and another plot of land I lease, a 7,400 sq. ft. orchard and garden about a five minute walk away. I live in an intentional community with friends and have virtually no experience of loneliness. It is a great change, and I agree wholeheartedly with Everett that many others would also benefit from a similar transition.
More than this though, I think that we are witnessing great opportunities that were not available ten years ago for whole communities to flourish. Traditionally, rural intentional communities that are economically viable have become so through a combination of self-sufficiency and selling simple physical products. A prime example of this in my mind is Twin Oaks, which was founded in 1967. They have a suite of successful enterprises, including a successful hammock-making business, and have been financially solvent (and fun and inspiring) for over 40 years.
That said, many intentional communities last only a few years. These groups often lack a sense of abundance, and they would benefit greatly from steady economies. What’s more, handicrafts and small-scale value-added agriculture are both tough businesses, and the US (and global) economy has become increasingly focused on knowledge work. What if rural intentional communities made use of the miracle of modern telecommuting? Could that be a key component of the renewal of their vitality?
I think so. Below is my breakdown for how rural community-based economies can partially supplant the current rural/urban imbalances.
50% Demonetization & Sharing: Potlucks are free. Restaurants (especially where I used to live in Brooklyn) cost a lot. Make the switch to potlucks, and you are essentially moving from a capital-based economy to a gift-based one. We do lots of this at Dancing Rabbit. Additionally, we share. We have three eco washing machines for 50 adult members and residents, and no dryers. Similarly, the fifty of us share three cars in our vehicle cooperative. Add these up and more than half of the need for money disappears. Best of all, intentional community lets us accomplish this in a simple, eco-savvy way that (for me at least) does not have the least twinge of deprivation.
20% Telecommuting: The potential here is huge. Estimates are that up to 40% of US employees could telecommute, and that doing so would save an estimated 500 billion dollars. My macroecenomic thinking is conservative enough that, in my view, the money coming into a community should be at least equal to the money going out, and I think that a firm telecommuting base in rural, ecologically-grounded communities is the key to making this balance of trade a reality. Middle-class earnings through online knowledge and service work have the capacity to make this balance of trade a reality. I believe this will be a key component of broad-spectrum rural sustainability. I cannot see how a community that spends money externally (on Amtrak, Netflix, health care, etc.), but does not have an equivalent amount of money coming in can flourish and sustain itself over the long haul.
At Dancing Rabbit we have a variety of members who successfully telecommute. Like Everett, I do professional search optimization for companies like this fountain site, and this outdoor gear one. A community friend and business partner of mine does personal growth sales consulting and he also sells green and sustainable ads via his website dedicated to raising awareness about global warming. Other members at DR have a variety of online jobs like Latin Tutoring, counseling, non-profit development and administration, and web-hosting. The options for growth are endless, and the capacity to inject capital and jobs into sustainable communities is incredibly valuable.
10% Physical Product Sales: In the future, I think we will sell more physical products at Dancing Rabbit, and this can complement telecommuting work in generating capital inflows. One member has planted a vineyard and plans to make organic wine, and others have discussed making beeswax candles and running a plant nursery. This work can synergize with telecommuting. I think a healthy rural ecovillage’s economy would definitely engage in selling products like these, and I am excited to see what develops at Dancing Rabbit (and other communities) on this front.
20% Local Economy & Local Currency: Within my community I get haircuts from my friend April, salad greens and homemade mozzarella form my friend Dan, pizza from the Dancing Rabbit member-owned and run Eco Bed & Breakfast, and wonderful massages from my friend and expert massage therapist Nani. I love being able to buy things from people that I not only live within walking distance of, but also share values and intentionality with. Even better, I can pay for these services (and more) with ELMS, Dancing Rabbit’s internal (LETS based) local currency, keeping the money out of the hands of surplus-devouring multinational banks, and generating stable community credit.
My hope is that the above provides a (very rough) roadmap for how rural intentional communities could build a sustainable economy, exploiting the dual power of high speed internet and potlucks!