Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How fresh is your milk?

I've never been a milk drinker. In fact, I cannot remember a time in my life when I actively pursued consuming milk. This didn't preclude me from milk duty yesterday, when I was asked to travel two miles east to the local dairy to pick up milk for my kitchen. The entire ten minute experience was a trip. The dairy, Zimmerman Farms, is run by a Mennonite family that seems to run just about everything in Rutledge, Missouri. To be sure, the Zimmerman family is more than one family 'unit', but the name labels the local grocery/hardware store/cafe as well as most of the local businesses that come to help with the more laborious tasks in the ecovillage, like removing buildings from the earth.

You know you've entered rural America when milk is purchased on the honor system. While I did encounter one of the younger Zimmerman sons at the farm, it was of no relevance to my extraction of milk. As I entered the farm, I was welcomed by a several baby goats massaging each other and stretching out their legs in a small open-air enclosure. Just across the road from the dairy building is a line of cow dormitories, small A-frame enclosures each with a fenced-in porch, and a single calf inhabitant. As they age, it seems, they roam in what appeared to be a pasture down hill from the dairy.

Entering the dairy buildling, there's an enormous metal tank, a disheveled desk, and a sink. The system could not be more simple. You place you cash on the desk ($2.50/gallon), fill your own container with milk directly from the tank, and leave. Milk for all!

More posts to follow soon! I've got some great pictures of progress on the home and arbor construction.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tent Collapse! and Karma

Around age eight, I developed an intense and irrational fear of strong weather. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Mattingly, recently reminded me that on day one, I requested to sit far away from the window as to avoid proximity to stormy weather. Sometimes, even subtle rain showers would compel me to retreat to the basement. I'm not sure how this phobia evolved, but I imagine it had something to do with the Principal of summer school making very deliberate and serious announcements over the intercom every time a tornado watch was declared for my area (which basically happens any time it's cloudy in the spring in the midwest) and instructing teachers to "open the windows a crack" to offer relief from the sheer force of gusty winds on the building walls.

I have long since overcome the irrational part of this fear- I no longer cower at clouds. However, truly strong midwest storms still rank amongst my biggest fears. On the second evening of my stay at Dancing Rabbit, my tent/tarp structure kept me bone dry during a particularly wicked thunderstorm. "How reassuring." I thought to myself, and I suspended my fear of strong weather for the summer.

There is one grown woman here who, having grown up outside Tornado alley, is particularly afraid of storms. Usually, I sympathize. But last night when she was begging my friends and I to stay with her in her home because of the slight chance of a strong storm, I commented, "Get over it. You'll be fine. It's not even gonna storm." Indeed, Karma arrived to kick my ass when the storm arrived about 5:30 this morning, beginning with what seemed like an innocent rain shower but evolving into total Zeus-vengeance and spastic gusts of wind which snapped a pole in my tent, causing the entire tent apparatus- tarp included- to collapse on top of me. Buried in a sea of swirling nylon, illuminated by the lightening that flashed around me like a synapsing brain, I thought, "Wow. This is really happening." For about a thirty seconds I just crouched in a ball, waiting for the right moment to bolt to the nearest building. When that moment arrived, I fled shoeless and shirtless to Ironweed Kitchen.

Moments later, an equally drenched Sandy (my French co-worker) arrived at the kitchen. Gesturing with a sweeping motion of her hands, she proclaimed, "Zee tahnt..." Yes. The tent. Fortunately for her, her tent managed to stay mostly up. In my wanderings around the village since, I've found several others who experienced a similar fate.

Fortunately, all is well. My stuff is still mostly dry. The storm has subdued, and I've gotta find a new pole.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More pictures from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

I'd like to believe I'm a good writer, but there some ecovillage images that even the most eloquent prose cannot adequately describe. I thought I'd devote this entry to some of the more intriguing structures in the community- with more to follow.

1. Thistledown

This is the most "fully equipped" home at Dancing Rabbit. It currently serves a family of five (three boys) that moved to the village from New York State several years ago. In this picture alone you can view many of its most important features. The photovoltaic panels on the roof supply energy to a full kitchen that most American families would regard as perfectly normal. It's one of the only 'single-family' dwelling with its own kitchen. You can also see a small portion of the home's garden on the left. The north side of the house (opposite this face) is bermed (bascially, built into an earth mound) from which the family extracts much of their produce for the year. On the right, that rolling cart looking aparatus is a solar dehydrator used for drying foods.

The pipe protruding from the roof is the exhaust system for the wood burning stove. Heat from the stove circulates throughout the floors and walls to heat the surfaces that people use instead of the air with which we never come in contact. It's also much more energy efficient. This concetp is called "radiant" heating. According to the owner, heating the building through the winter requires "about $20 in firewood per year." Between winters and summers, the house doesn't fluctuate much beyond 68 and 75 degrees with the exception of a few extreme days during the year. This is all accomplished through VERY tight insulation and thermal mass systems.

2. The Gnome Dome, or "Gnome Castle"

Your eyes are not fooling you. Enter that small brown door, and you'll immediately descend four feet into a circular room, about 12 feet in diameter, with cob walls and gravel floor. I regret not getting a photo of the inside. I'll get one soon for all my loyal readers, but suffice it to say that space is tight in Gnome Castle. A wood stove takes up most of the center of the room and there's maybe enough room to lay down and store some stuff. Currently, devoid of any personal belongings, it makes a great hangout spot. The builder of the dome has set up a small loft for storage and my friend Aaron, who plans to inhabit the dome in the long run, has mentioned that the loft will work well as a desk at which he cand stand. The dome light at the top lets in light all day and, on a clear night, you can star gaze from inside. Since it's embedded in the ground, it remains a pretty constant temperate with minimal regulation during the summer. It's a great escape from the heat. It probably does a decent job in the winter, but I'm not positive. I do know there are some mold problems that will need to be fixed pretty quickly. But this problem may have something to do with the places unfinished state. Nevertheless, it's a GNOME DOME, and who can't get behind that?!

3. The Pooper

I've mentioned the pooper in previous blogs and I believe a picture is due. This is where the magic happens. This little enclosure is attached to the northwest side of Ironweed Kitchen (see entry from a few weeks ago). As described in prior entries, the process isn't desperately different from operating a flush toilet. Hiding inside that wood barrel, below a very normal toilet seat, is a five gallon bucket. You drop your contribution (liquid and solid) into the bucket, whipe, and then cover it all with a scoop of sawdust which you can find in the bucket on the left. The poop bucket is switched with an empty bucket once it's they're nearly full, and full buckets are delievered to a compost pile on-site during each week.

You might be surprised to find that the most pungent smell this very small room (which serves as the chicken coop when there are chickens) is sawdust. With the lid closed and the poop covered, the stench is really no worse than a flush toilet.

Interestingly, during the summer the pooper is the coolest room in the entire building. It has super thick strawbale walls (which you can see on the left edge of the photo) and no windows. As long as the door stays shut during the day, there's really no way for heat to get in. During the night, we open the door (place the bucket over the toilet seat) and allow the cool air to infiltrate. Therefore, bathroom breaks have become a sort of a literal "cool down."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Social Proximity, Shared Responsibility, and Limited Privacy

I’m finding that life in an ecovillage more closely resembles summer camp and fraternity life than I’d have ever anticipated. Admittedly, comparing an eight-week all-boys summer camp and/or a group of sixty college-aged man-friends to an ecologically-friendly village of full-time residents of all ages is a bit like comparing a tropical fruit with a sub-tropical fruit. Nevertheless, summer camps and fraternities are institutions with which I am personally very familiar, and life at Dancing Rabbit reminds me of them in several ways. Many of the similarities, I imagine, are simple consequences of close-proximity living.

Dancing Rabbit inhabitants share aspects of daily life that conventional urban dwellers access to the exclusion of their neighbors. I’ve discussed shared kitchens and gardens in prior postings, but sharing extends much further. There are relatively few toilets in the community. A “toilet” here is colloquially called “the pooper” or “the humey”, which is short for humanuer. It’s a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat. When enclosed and properly decorated, it doesn’t look terribly different from a conventional toilet. Each person, however, is responsible for covering his or her “contribution” with saw dust or dirt to cover the smell, and the contents of the bucket are emptied into the bed of some unfortunate resident.

Not really. They’re emptied into a compost bin. I’ll cover the intricacies of the sanitary process on a later date.

So, not only does everyone share the relatively few number of poopers, but we all share the responsibility of muting the smell of our poop, emptying the buckets when they’re full, and like anywhere else, washing our hands when we’re finished. Hand washing is especially important because of the manifold shared kitchen appliances, doorknobs, garden tools, construction tools, books, and musical instruments in the community.

Community social life centers around the common house, which is cleaned each Sunday morning—a duty I executed last week. My fraternity would take time (almost every) Sunday morning to clean common areas of our house. Similarly, at camp, we’d take time to clean the cabin each day and other parts of the camp on other occasion. While most urban areas today uphold littering laws and enforce nuisance laws, but common areas like streets and parks aren’t necessarily cleaned by residents (the mess makers), but rather by municipal employees or outsourced cleaning companies.

Finding privacy in the community isn’t always a simple endeavor. Indeed, I enjoy the privacy of my tent, but the instant I leave my 6’ x 4’ containment unit, I encounter a construction site and a couple working hard to build their house. The few Skype conversations I’ve arranged (my phone has no signal here) have all been interrupted by someone peeking into the small office at the common house where I can pick up an internet signal. This morning I sought a quiet moment before beginning work and sat down on the porch of what I thought was an uninhabited cottage, when someone—a new renter!—surprisingly emerged from the door. While I’m sure I could easily find time to myself if I worked hard, most space in this village is shared and visible. Privacy is the exception, not the rule. I just left a dinner conversation at which someone explained, “One week at Dancing Rabbit feels like one month.” I agree. I feel like I’ve known some people here for much longer than 2 ½ weeks. This isn’t to say that I’ve sparked deep, spiritual relationships with everyone here, but it’s easy to learn a lot about a person when working and eating with them all day long. Even those with whom I don’t work all day or eat every meal, I see most nights night or at least at weekly activities. The intensity of relationships given the relatively truncated time reminds me of the very meaningful relationships I established cabin mates and fraternity brothers in similar living scenarios.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Garlic Galore!

The garlic harvest is upon us, and the aroma around here is inescapable. The Ironweed kitchen maintains a 5000 sq. ft. garden, much of which consists of garlic. Two days ago, I spent the morning with five others plucking about 2,500 bulbs of 12 different varieties of garlic from the earth. Today I helped to peel and hang the garlic where it will cure before Ted and Sarah sell it to the village. The couple also sells homemade yogurt and kimchi to the village for extra income. Peeling was tedious but relaxing: a welcome respite from home construction and hauling lumber. In general, I've really enjoyed working with my hands here.

Above: The Ironweed garden. Lots of garlic, kale, mint, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cabbage (soon to be planted) and more. All organic! No petrochemical biocides allowed!

Above: Ted basking in piles and piles of garlic.