Chop Wood, Carry Water, Check Email

red earth mark and alyson house

The Gooseberry leasehold of Red Earth Farms

This is what life on the modern homestead looks like. Collecting fire wood for the wood-fired cook stove of an outdoor collective kitchen. Carrying a couple buckets of water over from the neighbor’s cistern. Then heading back to my host’s straw bale house to check my email and write a blog post.

DR neighborhood shot

One of the scenic avenues in Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

I’ve had the pleasure the last couple days of staying at Red Earth Farms, one of three communities of what’s known as the tri-community area of northern Missouri (along with Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and Sandhill Farm). The area is a hot spot for natural building and other aspects of sustainable living. And part of what I find particularly compelling is their selective application of industrial technology.

I don’t think we really have any idea of what sustainable means. Twin Oaks has managed to cut out something like 70% of the junk industrial society produces. At Red Earth they’ve cut out maybe 90%. What’s left? Molded plastic cisterns fed by ABS plastic piping (less toxic than PVC) from a corrugated metal roof, all of which should last 50 years or more. A couple computers with a high speed internet connection thanks to local electrical cooperative. Lights and a small refrigerator powered by their wind turbine and PV solar panels. A ceramic/carbon Berkey water filter.

water pump and filter

Hand pump from the underground cistern into the Berkey water filter

computer and rocket stove

Computer on the left, rocket stove on the right

red earth mark alyson house truss

Mark designed these trusses, made of reused pallet wood. None of the boards are longer than 4′.

There are no wells at Red Earth and no electric pumps. All the water comes from rain water catchment in cisterns or ponds, and is either gravity fed or hand pumped to where it needs to go. Alyson (staff and board member of Dancing Rabbit, Inc. and Board member for the Fellowship for Intentional Community) and Mark’s house, in the Gooseberry leasehold of Red Earth, was built with almost all locally sourced materials, either natural in origin or reclaimed (the trusses on the house are made exclusively from reused pallet wood). With the reductions in carbon this represents could the internet and the molded plastic actually fit into a sustainable society?

red earth portable power

Solar panel with a 12 volt battery wheeled carrier. The other box is a boom box.


milkweed mercentile

The Milkweed Mercantile, a pub and B&B, is a straw bale building, and was Dancing Rabbit’s first solely commercial endeavor.


Dancing Rabbit has been working with some researchers recently to start getting credible data on what this lifestyle represents when it comes to combating climate change. There are various online ecological footprint tests you can do, but these tests are assuming a predominantly mainstream, individualistic lifestyle. We’re only starting to see the metrics being developed and applied to these alternatives.

But what we do already know is that this is, as Helen and Scott Nearing told us decades ago, living the good life. Ma’ikwe, Dancing Rabbit, Inc. executive director, articulates this well in her TEDx talk. The land, despite previously being misused by conventional agriculture, is beautiful, and the folks at Red Earth and Dancing Rabbit are using a sophisticated understanding of ecology to rehabilitate it. The pace of life makes the peacefulness and beauty impossible to miss. And there’s a community of people enjoying each other and creating culture and staying connected to the larger society, because we are, like it or not, all connected to larger society. The folks here understand that and far from escaping are an active, engaged, and living demonstration of what a satisfying and sustainable society might look like.

red earth view

A cluster of buildings in the Dandelion leasehold of Red Earth, including the collective outdoor kitchen shared between them and Gooseberry.








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