• Commonground — An Experiment in Social Change

    A vision for a Just, Non Violent & Sustainable World

    The sun is streaming through the mud brick building. It feels quite warm for a winter’s day in Central Victoria. We are sitting around the communal dining area chatting to Phil Bourne at Commonground — a social change intentional community he helped set up about 35 years ago together with a small group of close friends. Their vision is to create a just, nonviolent and sustainable world. Their aims are threefold and include a desire to not only enable a vibrant community of people living there but also to share the space as a conference and retreat venue for like minded groups, while providing education and training opportunities for people who are seeking social change. They are very mindful that they live on the ancestral lands of the Taungurung People. Working together with the local aboriginal people is very important to them and they feel honoured to support Koori culture through parts of their work. Their spiritual practice is to be more connected to the people around them, their food systems and the work they do while living a simple life. The creation of Commonground has come from a desire to create a space where they could live within their ethics and principles. Those early founders were a small group of social activists who set up this intentional community as a social experiment that others could learn from. Phil explains they are still in their infancy and are continually learning and evolving as they plan for the future.

    As we drove up one morning on Yellow Box road, a group of kangaroos scurried away. The community is set in a beautiful pocket of regenerated bushland, yet Seymour is just about an hour’s train trip away from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne. The founders of Commonground believe that we must learn to live and work in a more collaborative way if we are to offer our best creative contribution toward a just and sustainable world. Phil and his friends are the early adopters but as we begin to feel the ravages of climate change and the stress of life in overcrowded cities begin to take their toll, more of us will look for resilient solutions that enable us to thrive. Millennials priced out of the housing market and able to work online are already looking for new models that allow them to be mobile but still have access to work and live hubs.

    We are sitting in the common building referred to as the Wedge.

    It has been beautifully designed with philanthropic funding, professional builders and the blood, sweat and tears of the residents. It is both a conference centre and the main residential quarters for the people who live here. The high thermal mass in the building has reduced the need for heating. But this is Victoria and in the colder months, a wood fired hydronic heating system keeps them warm. Commonground started at the radical end of the Intentional Community spectrum. While each adult had their own personal space — a room in the building — there were no couple or family spaces as they planned to bring up their children together. They had a common purse, cooked and ate meals together and worked on the property while raising and educating their children in this ‘village’ atmosphere. In those early days, they contributed their income to the common purse and took from it what they needed for their living expenses. I am surprised to read that this aspect was never a source of conflict. I know this part of their experiment would be a struggle for most of us who have grown up in the mainstream world of nuclear families. But those early residents were intent on living outside these myths, creating a more tribal culture and a space where everyone was welcome. These rules have now been relaxed to enable more personal freedom. The residents pay ‘rent’ by contributing a minimum of 10-hours a week on the work of Commonground, in hosting social changes groups at the Wedge venue. They now have a shared vegetarian meal in the evenings and the occasional BBQ in the summer but attendance is optional.

    Unlike many of the eco-villages and intentional communities I have visited, Commonground is quite a small community.

    Currently, there are 14 residents who live here permanently, out of a total of 25 members. The non resident members are actively involved in the project but live in Melbourne. Despite being a small community, Phil says there are 3 generations living here; his son was born here and his daughter has returned with her family after travelling overseas. From our experience of visiting eco-villages we know that it is often the human element that brings these social experiments undone. So the talk turns to governance and how they resolve conflict. Phil explains that 35 years ago governance structures like the now popular Sociocracy model was not specifically known to them. However, they practiced consensus decision-making and developed their own understanding of collaborative processes, keen to do away with hierarchical and patriarchal structures. From this process the training aspect of Commonground was developed under the current name of Groupwork Centre. One of the founders has documented their mutual learnings on group process in the book, “Getting Our Act Together.”

    There is no doubt there is a wealth of experience here, gleaned through living and working together in such an intimate way.

    Their own governance structures have also evolved over time as they have come to recognise the wisdom that elder’s bring to the table while enabling the next generation to put their own stamp on the community. The Commonground Festival is an example of how the next generation is having an impact. The festival attracts a wide audience from around Victoria and beyond, and is a wonderful way to sow the seeds of new ideas in the hearts and minds of people who come here. Phil says that while having fun is important, there is also a deep level of discussion that takes place, challenging everyone who attends to ideas outside their comfort zones. One of the couples that came for the festival has now decided to live here.

    We go for a walk outside to admire the gardens and to learn about how they source their basic needs of food, water and energy.

    Various residents and an accomplished gardener and non-resident member worked on building up the soil here to grow their veggies. It is winter, so the fruit trees are dormant but the veggies are thriving, thanks to the care given to them by the residents and the horse manure sourced locally. They grow most of the vegetables they need and some of the fruit with berries, apples and pears are thriving here. However, they bulk buy other items including legumes. There is often surplus fruit, which is preserved for the winter. They are generally self reliant with respect to water — relying on the dam to source water for the garden and the toilets and harvesting rainwater for drinking and showers. This year’s drought and low average rainfall resulted in Commonground needing to purchase drinking water — in one of the few times in 35 years. We see the dam in the distance. It is not as full it should be at this time of year and Phil fears for the summer if the rains don’t come. They are not self sufficient in solar energy but have a 3.5 KW solar system — the maximum they are allowed — as they are at the end of the line. They plan to install batteries and an updated solar hot water system when money allows.

    It has been an interesting visit and we are thankful to Phil for taking the time to show us around and share some of his story. Intentional communities such as this are not for everyone but as our one-person and two-person households grow, we need options besides the single detached family homes that are both unaffordable and isolating. We also need solutions for the next generation who are priced out of the ‘Great Australian Dream’. Phil reckons that young people are either giving up or getting really active. Giving them places to live where they can access their basic needs, work remotely and still be able to commute into the city for fun and work is what drives Steven and me. We have commenced discussions with Mitchell Shire Council about our ideas to build a pilot regenerative village, so it is good to know that models like Commonground have already been established in the area. We hope that our contribution to the future would be to embed such change in the planning scheme, thereby making regenerative village developments that tend toward zero waste and a one planet lifestyle easily replicable. Phil says that what they have created is a mix of thinking involving the principles of permaculture, feminism, social justice, equity and anarchy.

    See their website for more info: http://www.common-ground.org.au/about

  • Dancing Rabbit Community Building

    Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, founder and editor of Sustainablog, has been kind enough to provide this post on Dancing Rabbit’s planned community building and its plans for funding.

    Image result for "Library and office space on the second floor of Dancing Rabbit’s planned community building"

    Library and office space on the second floor of Dancing Rabbit’s planned community building

    While the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) does a great job of spreading the word about alternative communities and their potential, their own office space leaves a lot to be desired: a 1970s-era trailer is hardly the surroundings you’d expect for an organization promoting more sustainable lifestyles.

    FIC doesn’t plan to stay in its trailer at Sandhill Farm much longer, though: down the road at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (where – disclosure – I’m a board member), plans for a new green community building are underway that will provide FIC with work space that better reflects the organization’s ideals.

    OK, a green building at an ecovillage may not immediately strike you as newsworthy, but DR and FIC are aiming for something more than the typical common house: they’re planning a showpiece of natural and sustainable building technologies. Among the features planned:

    • Passive design: the building’s design takes “maximum advantage of passive solar heating, natural daylighting, and natural cooling and ventilation.”
    • Envelope: While the building’s envelope won’t be quite at Passive House standards, they’ve still got plans for impressive numbers: R-50  insulating capacity for walls (achieved through a combination of wet-blown cellulose and strawbale) and R-84 for the roof.
    • Systems: As with most buildings at Dancing Rabbit, electricity will come from a grid-tied solar system. While the county requires connections to its system for drinking water, the building will also feature rainwater cachement systems for non-potable uses. Ground source heat pumps will support the passive heating and cooling design.
    • Certifications: The community’s aiming big here – the new community building was designed with both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge standards in mind.

    Take a look at the community’s explanation of their plans.  Of course, such a building won’t be cheap, and FIC will be contributing to cover the cost of its office space. In order to raise half of the needed funds, they’ve launched a crowdfunding project on Indiegogo.

    Want to get a sense at just how badly they need new office space? Check out their pitch video.

    Time’s getting short – they’ve only got 10 days left on their campaign – so they’ll appreciate any help you can offer. Got thoughts about the planned building? Share them with us in the comments.

    Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog, and a board member at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

  • An era of updated communes takes root in Missouri

    Intentional communities offer alternative lifestyle opportunities based on shared vision

    • http://www.columbiamissourian.com
    • Jul 27, 2015

    RUTLEDGE, Missouri — For 40 years, the grain bin near the entrance of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage was filled with thousands of bushels of corn.

    In 2002, it was converted into a comfortable duplex in this rural hamlet near Rutledge, Missouri.

    Known as an intentional community, Dancing Rabbit is a collection of distinctive living quarters, gardens, common spaces and pastureland.

    Down a dirt road, an old school bus has become a modest residence with a wooden porch and attached greenhouse. Nearby, a domed adobe cottage looks as if it had been plucked from the landscape in “Lord of the Rings.”

    Across a narrow footpath, a two-story log home showcases a living roof — rye and wild grasses insulate the place.

    These green and natural building techniques characterize Dancing Rabbit’s sustainable vision. Renewable energy, collaboration and organic food production contribute to that vision, adopted years ago by its residents.

    Dancing Rabbit is one of more than 50 intentional communities in Missouri and at least 1,700 in the United States. These communities, much like communes 50 years ago, are organized around a set of principles that define their lifestyle and unify their members.

    Some communities are based on religious beliefs, while others — called ecovillages — are grounded in sustainability. Still others hark back to the egalitarian culture of communes in the 1960s and '70s.

    The intentional communities in Missouri reflect those cultures, but most fall under the headings of ecovillages and egalitarian communities.

    Egalitarian communities retain many of the characteristics that distinguished the cooperative lifestyle of communes. Members share nearly everything, including land, labor and income.

    Ecovillages began to flourish in the 1990s and are grounded in the modern environmental movement. Today, nearly 400 ecovillages in the U.S. and more than a dozen in Missouri are on the cutting edge of sustainable building and living.

    Sustainability and cooperation are both essential to the success of an ecovillage, said Bob Rouse, a retired sail maker from Houston who moved to Dancing Rabbit in 2002.

    “I came out here for the ecovillage, so I was light on the community side," he said. "But it’s important.”

    Missouri’s intentional communities
    There are more than 50 intentional communities in Missouri, some sustainable ecovillages, some religious communities and some egalitarian communes. Intentional communities are formed around a vision that all members agree upon, such as religious or spiritual views. The communities shown are featured in the story. Central Missouri Grains for Food is the location of Richard Knapp’s farm, where he would one day like to start an intentional community. Alexa Ahern


    Religious communities, like the Plymouth Colony in the 1600s, were among the first intentional communities in the United States, according to Susan Love Brown, an anthropology professor at Florida Atlantic University and the author of "Intentional Community: An Anthropological Perspective."

    Among the early nonreligious communities was Brook Farm, an agricultural and egalitarian venture in Massachusetts in 1841. Inspired by the transcendentalist movement, the farm community sought to balance leisure and labor but ran into financial trouble six years later.

    Communes gained a fair amount of notoriety in the 1960s for the widespread reports of sex, drugs and general idleness. East Wind Community in the Missouri Ozarks, however, has steered clear of most messy interactions. Founded in 1974, it has become one of the more successful communes in the state.

    Young environmentalists in the 1990s began building self-sustaining communities based on renewable energy, natural building materials and a lighter dependence on the earth's resources.

    Etta Madden, an English professor at Missouri State University who has studied intentional communities in the U.S. and elsewhere, said ecovillages aren’t much different from the earliest intentional communities.

    “The ecovillage has become the new religion,” she said. “The goal of every intentional community is to provide a model way of life that will improve the members and, if adopted, the world at large. People think, ‘This (sustainability) is how we will save ourselves and other people in the world.’”


    Dancing Rabbit is one of the largest and most well-known intentional communities in Missouri. The founders were three students from Stanford University who moved in the '90s to the northeast Missouri property where land was abundant and cheap. Another community, Sandhill Farm, was already established there, and two more — Dandelion and Red Earth farms — would arrive later.

    When Rouse arrived at Dancing Rabbit's 280-acre spread in Scotland County, most of its 15 members were living in tents. An old trailer served as a community meeting place, and the pre-existing buildings — a hog barn, two grain bins and a tool shed — had long been disappearing into the overgrown foliage.

    Signs of a prosperous future lay in the construction of a new community building and the group’s steadfast vision. The founding members had set-up a nonprofit land trust where anyone who joins the community can lease land for pennies. They own anything they build on it and can lease the property to newcomers, but the land stays forever within the community as an affordable commodity.

    By the second year, only four of the original members remained at Dancing Rabbit. But interest and membership soon began to grow, and the ecovillage has stabilized at about 60.

    By 2004, the community building was completed with heated floors, a battery station — the source of most energy then — a wood-fired boiler for hot water, computer room, library and kitchen. Alternative building techniques were tried: timberframe, cob — a clay, sand and straw mixture that can be molded into walls — and waddle and daub, an ancient technique of woven wood covered in plaster.

    For many, it's an abrupt change from their familiar living accommodations.

    “A lot of people learn when they get here, and it's a steep learning curve,” Rouse said. “Sometimes we have to convince them not to do something.”


    The houses are clustered on just a few of the 280 acres, and members can rent additional land for cultivation. Dancing Rabbit has two types of land use — agricultural and garden space.

    Garden space is leased at one-tenth of a cent per square foot per month. The plots are small and typically devoted to growing produce. Agricultural land is leased at one-hundredth of a cent per square foot per month. It is designated for raising small livestock, starting an orchard or growing crops such as grapes in a small vineyard.

    Both commerce and cooperatives thrive in tandem at Dancing Rabbit.

    The Milkweed Mercantile, an inn and restaurant, sells drinks, baked goods, specialty preserves and canned pickles to the public every day but Wednesday. On Thursdays, the restaurant offers homemade pizza.

    Milkweed Mercantile is owned and run by a resident couple, one of many opportunities available to village members. Some staff the inn, while others run the honor-system grocery store, the laundry, the library and various food co-ops. A number of members are also employed elsewhere, either online or in town.

    Members can join the co-ops for a small fee. Joining the shower co-op costs $50 per year, for example. Internet use runs $27 per month, and belonging to a food co-op costs $7 or $8 a day.

    Although many things are shared, the community operates more like a small town than a commune. The ecovillage is governed by covenants, a set of laws and regulations established by members throughout the years. They’ve written covenants for everything from managing pets to raising children.

    “It is wildly individualistic here,” Rouse said. “We have the covenants to hold us together. Other than that, we are all different.”

    It’s not always easy adjusting to the community, however, and Rouse said the turnover rate is high. It can be financially draining to build a home, which might take more than a year to complete, he said.

    Maintaining and expanding the community isn’t cheap either. Plans to build a new common house were scuttled after the cost estimate came in at more than $1 million.

    Richard Knapp checks the consistency of flour coming out of the mill
    Richard Knapp checks the consistency of flour coming out of the mill at his farm near Columbia on June 20. Knapp grows wheat, fruits and vegetables at the farm in addition to milling his own flour. Adam Vogler/Missourian


    Although growth at Dancing Rabbit has slowed, interest in intentional communities continues to build in Missouri. Thirty-three of the 52 communities found on a statewide directory claim to be “forming” or “reforming.” One such community near Columbia is the dream of Richard Knapp.

    Knapp, 72, has fantasized about starting an intentional community since his younger hippie years. The dream began to take shape after he retired as a computer programmer for MU’s PeopleSoft software system.

    He bought a piece of land along Black Branch just outside Columbia intending to grow organic wheat. He wanted to provide income for a future community on the property, as well as add more food sustainability to the area.

    Five years ago, he started Central Missouri Grains for Food. The business has seen good years and bad.

    Clover's Natural Market and Lucky's Market both sell his flour. He also sells through the online farm-to-table grocery service, Pick A Pepper, and has customers in St. Louis. He tried the local farmers markets but said it became too expensive for him to set up a booth every Saturday.

    On a recent humid day earlier this summer, Knapp was eager to talk about his operation as he walked around the small plot of land. He explained which of the tall grasses are rye, which are turkey red wheat and which are weeds.

    “If you see a perfect wheat field, you know it’s not organic,” he said.

    He pointed out the dozen or so rows of vegetables and fruit trees he's also planted. Some are nibbled by deer, but others have done well this year. He’ll store the potatoes and squash for the winter.

    Knapp listed the skills needed to build his clean white barn, which has an expansive upstairs that he’d like to turn into a living space or maybe a school. He said everything he grows is done organically, and he used green building techniques in his barn and greenhouse. But he wants more than an eco-farm.

    He thought he would eventually find like-minded people to build homes, help with the business and create an egalitarian community. So far, he hasn’t had much luck.

    Most of the inquiries are from idealistic young people who have no money and think contributing their labor will be enough, he said.

    “I've spent almost all of my lifetime savings on this project," Knapp said. "If there is to be a community, any expansion at all, newcomers will have to have some financial resources of their own."

    There also isn't much demand for organic wheat in Missouri, he discovered. He gets by on his farmers-market earnings and online sales.

    Meanwhile, this year's wheat harvest is just ahead, which requires the help of friends and strangers alike. He found a fellow wheat grower on Facebook and others have offered to help as well.

    “I have this ideal,” he said. “It’s way up there, but there are instances of community. Any sort of cooperative venture is attractive to me.”

    Richard Knapp separates wheat kernels from their beards
    Richard Knapp separates wheat kernels from their beards, a protective outer covering, at his farm near Columbia on June 20. Knapp grows wheat and vegetables at the farm and also mills his own flour. Adam Vogler/Missourian


    Others share Knapp's dream of building an intentional community in Missouri and elsewhere. The number of intentional communities isn’t as large as it was the '60s and '70s, Brown said, when as many as 10,000 were counted in the U. S. — most short-lived. But there has been a definite resurgence.

    Intentional communities belong to what’s called a revitalization movement, Brown said. These movements emerge when change pushes some people to leave the mainstream and develop an alternative lifestyle around their own vision.

    Communes in the '60s sprang from deep distrust of the establishment during the Vietnam War era and the civil rights movement. Likewise, the environmental movement was built around the dissatisfaction with abuse of the earth's resources.

    That movement has since expanded to include sustainability, the foundation of ecovillages, Brown said.

    All communities need income, and every intentional community in Missouri dabbles in banking and business. Dancing Rabbit accrues money by leasing land to members. It has an internal bartering system and its own currency, called ELMs.

    Sandhill Farm near Rutledge sustains itself on sorghum syrup and other farm products. The community has always had an agricultural slant, said Mica Wood, a seven-year resident.

    “The values we hold very highly are connecting with the land, food and with each other,” she said. Members rely more on food sustainability than energy sustainability.

    The Shepherdsfield Community near Fulton, which is rooted in Christian teachings, sustains its community through dog grooming and landscape services, as well as a bakery, butcher shop and other small business ventures.

    No matter the lifestyle, adaptability is key.

    “For a community to be vibrant for a long time, it has to be willing to change,” Madden said.

    Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

  • Review of Tedx talk - Dancing Rabbit

    For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been highlighting a series of interviews on climate change — our current situation and possible solutions. While engaged in that series, I came across a TEDx talk given by a woman who lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (dancingrabbit.org), a sustainable living demonstration project and intentional community in Rutledge, Mo.

    Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig is the executive director of the ecovillage and a sustainability educator. She’s also a member of the board of directors of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (www.ic.org), which hosts a long list of intentional communities around the world and tons of information about them. These communities are formed with a wide variety of lifestyles in mind, generally including social cohesion, sharing and teamwork.

    “This should be interesting,” I thought.

    And it was.

    Ludwig’s main message in the TEDx talk was “Living a sustainable life doesn’t suck.”

    She talks about all the images we see from an early age, on TV, magazines and now Internet, of expensive cars and beautiful people, classy clothes and flashy jewelry, and huge mansions with exotic swimming pools.

    We’re taught to want these things, to work long hours to acquire whatever version of them we can afford.

    But the images we have of a sustainable life might include scrappy, idealistic hippy types making do with life’s castoffs.

    Life in an ecovillage really doesn’t suck, Ludwig says. It’s hard work, for sure — but full of creativity and cooperation, delicious organic food and plenty of fun.

    What’s astounding is that people at Dancing Rabbit use less than 10 percent of the electricity and water that average Americans use.

    Ludwig says reaching that kind of metric doesn’t happen without a lot of cooperation and optimism.

    We need to see the world realistically, she said, with its ecological situation, all the poverty, political strife, terrorism, everything.

    But seeing only the bad news leads to pessimism. And pretending poverty and strife don’t exist is to have an unrealistic, Pollyanna mindset.

    Optimism, though, is having one foot in the realm of pain and suffering, “looking unflinchingly at the world just as it is,” and one foot in the realm of possibility, believing that “we can create something better.”

    “Dancing Rabbit imports optimists and exports hope, because we are 75 people actually hitting the 10 percent mark in some of the most important ecological measurements,” she said.

    The village started its own solar power cooperative and committed to the practice of exporting 2 kilowatt hours of its solar power for every kilowatt hour of grid power the community uses.

    The village uses:

    • 7.5 percent of the electricity of the average American

    • 8 percent of the U.S. average for propane consumption

    • 9 percent of water usage

    How do they do this? For one thing, they use composting toilets, recycling the nutrients and saving the water.

    They grow gardens around their houses instead of lawns.

    They catch rainwater from their metal roofs.

    They’ve decided that it’s OK to not take a daily shower. (They do have a lovely swimming pond, and showers are always available in the community building, as well as many of the homes.)

    Ludwig points out that Americans own 83 cars for every 100 people. At Dancing Rabbit, they have four cars for 75 people.

    What about food? Thankfully, they don’t live on 10 percent of the calories.

    “Our basic approach to food is local, organic and low on the food chain.”

    About half the members don’t eat meat (about 13 percent of Americans overall are vegetarian).

    What about their houses? Many are straw-bale homes, with straw harvested nearby, using posts and lumber either harvested in the area or reclaimed from area structures that have come down. Others are made from rammed earth or other natural materials. All are super-insulated and use passive solar and thermal mass in their design.

    Many homes have earthen, or adobe, floors and walls made from clay at the building site.

    And homes are smaller, about 230 square feet per person.

    Dancing Rabbit has been thriving for about 15 years. Ludwig says there are four keys to living well together: creativity, courage, compassion and cooperation.

    “We are literally inventing a new world and making it up as we go,” she said.

    She points out that these keys are skills that can be learned.

    “And we need places to practice those skills. Living in community is one of the best places to practice because it is so real. When it comes down to it, intentional community living is world peace work, because here we can learn to resolve conflicts peaceably. And that’s huge if we want a sustainable world.

    “We share tools, cars and a common house that meets a lot of our needs and allows us to keep our individual homes small without it feeling like deprivation. And sharing means coordination, which means getting very good at social relationships.”

    People sometimes say it’s too expensive to live sustainably. Ludwig points out that they are living this life on an average income of only $10,000 a year.

    “We don’t need more money or more stuff to be sustainable,” Ludwig says. “What we do need is each other.”

    Roshana Ariel is an assistant editor for the Journal. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


  • Communal living minimizes carbon footprint


    March 12, 2015


    Nestled in the fields of rural Missouri, the entire Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage uses only 10 percent of the resources used by an average American.

    The 280-acre planned residential community produces its own solar and wind power needed to run and rent is $200 a month, according to the Dancing Rabbit website. Its 62 members eat food either grown directly on site or purchased from local, organic co-ops.

    Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig, executive director of Dancing Rabbit Inc., is coming to Bellingham to show how fewer resources doesn’t mean living anything short of a 100 percent life.

    Ludwig will be sharing her experience of sustainable living within the Missouri-based Dancing Rabbit intentional community as a part of a larger national tour 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17, at Explorations Academy at 1701 Ellis St.

    Her talk will focus around three main topics: How the Dancing Rabbit operates sustainably, the importance of cooperative culture and the urgency of climate change.

    Ludwig’s father was an ecologist, so she has always had a heightened environmental awareness. She was teaching composting classes and advocating for climate change when she was 20 years old, and thus began her journey into living more sustainably, she said.

    “When I visited some friends living in an intentional community, I saw that people living there actually found a way to embody the values I was talking about and advocating for,” she said.

    Since then, she has lived in seven different intentional communities and has been an environmental educator game for the past 25 years.

    The Dancing Rabbit has been her home for the past eight years, which she calls a “special sweet spot” between reality and idealism.

    Shifting to an ecovillage lifestyle can be made across a spectrum, she said. Choosing to walk instead of drive, grow a garden or just share a space with multiple roommates can make a big difference.

    Her favorite aspect of intentional living extends past just environmental benefits.

    “I have hugs available whenever I want them,” she laughed, referring to her close community. “I live a life where everything is moving in the same direction. A lot of times in modern society we have work, school and church pulling us different directions, and they aren’t necessarily based on the same values. [In an intentional community,] my whole life works together.”

    Intentional communities can exist in either rural or urban environments. According to the Fellowship for Intentional Community, three communities are officially listed in the Bellingham area, though many more exist that aren’t officially registered.

    Western alumnus Zachary Robertson is on a team working to found the Cascadian Homesteaders Community Land Trust, a non-profit organization that will hold multiple properties with the hope of facilitating eco-centric intentional communities.

    He sees the Land Trust first purchasing urban communities and helping them transition from a one-owner structure to collective ownership, Robertson said.

    Robertson’s passion for the environment started on a bike ride home from work where he saw perfectly fine tomatoes lying on the path. When he took them to dehydrate them on his roof, a thought occurred to him: What if there were lots of people working together instead of him just feeding himself?

    He later came to Western, and that’s when he discovered the Sushi House.

    The Sushi House on North Forest Street has been an intentional living community for more than seven years, housing students and community members that carry out the tenants of eco-living, such as growing a garden and communal living.

    “In urban cooperative house, it might be hard to find personal space sometimes, but you have your best friends right there, and you can connect people so easily,” Robertson said. “That’s so much easier when you live in an intentional community instead of living on your own.”

    Robertson graduated in 2012 and now only lives part time at the Sushi House. Living there as a student, however, helped him not only live sustainably, but create deep connections with people, he said.

    “I come home and I’m home,” he said. “Home is more than a house. Home is a structure of people and the shared history and all of the friends who have lived there.”

    For more information about the event and the Dancing Rabbit ecovillage, visit www.dancingrabbit.org or the Facebook page, “Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage Reaches Out!”

  • Intentional communities initiative aims to put Jews back in touch with the land


    Tova Kinderlehrer and her husband, Micah, are hoping to draw 10 Jewish families to their farm in rural Pennsylvania.


    NEW YORK (JTA) — For most of the seven years Tova Kinderlehrer lived with her young family in Pittsburgh, she wished she were somewhere else.

    Her son wasn’t doing well in school, her husband’s construction career had stalled and Kinderlehrer, though part of a “massive” urban community, felt isolated. She dreamed of escape.

    In 2011, Kinderlehrer and her husband, Micah, bought a 38-acre property in Conneautville, Pa., they named Farm Shmarm. Along with their three children, they care for 16 hens, five turkeys and four roosters. Eventually they hope to use the land to raise kosher meat.

    But the price of life in the country has been the loss of an observant Jewish community. So the Kinderlehrers are hoping to create their own, building the infrastructure they hope will eventually support an intentional community of at least 10 Jewish families.

    “Right now it’s impossible to be a frum Jew outside the city,” Kinderlehrer told JTA. “We never wanted to settle there, but felt like we had no other option.”

    Intentional communities are residential collectives designed to incorporate a high level of social interconnectedness, often organized around a particular cause or spiritual orientation. Examples include Israeli kibbutzim, communes, eco-villages and co-housing arrangements, in which residents typically agree to live together and share certain tasks like child care or food preparation.

    A number of Jewish versions have sprung up across the country in recent years — including AVODAH, an anti-poverty nonprofit whose participants live in communal apartments in four cities, and the Adamah fellowship in Connecticut, where fellows learn sustainable agriculture and share housing at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

    But those communities generally are temporary and aimed at younger people. For families and individuals looking to live in such a community long term, the options are few and far between.

    “There are many young Jewish families, baby boomers and people of all different backgrounds who are really ignited by a vision of more than just small, short-term opportunities, that this is actually a whole way of life,” Jakir Manela, executive director of the Pearlstone Center, told JTA. “People of all different Jewish backgrounds are inspired by that vision.”

    In an effort to make that vision a reality, Pearlstone has partnered with the Jewish environmental group Hazon and Isabella Freedman to organize the inaugural Jewish Intentional Communities Conference, which was held last week at the Pearlstone retreat center in suburban Baltimore. Organizers hope the conference will encourage the formation of a network of individuals already living in a Jewish intentional community or hoping to create one.

    “Our hope is that this conference will bring many of these people together, and that by doing so we’ll really kindle that spark,” said Nigel Savage, the founder and executive director of Hazon.

    The far-flung participants in the nascent Jewish intentional community movement embrace diverse approaches to community life. Some are hoping to bring communitarian principles to urban settings, but many aim to pursue intentional lifestyles in rural, agrarian environments.

    “I feel there’s an agricultural aspect to Judaism that feels like it hasn’t been celebrated fully here in America,” said Stacey Oshkello, who with her husband, Craig, are planning a community in rural Vermont called Living Tree Alliance.

    The Oskhellos already live in an intentional community, Cold Pond Community Land Trust, in Acworth, N.H. But while Oshkello says she has gained much from the experience, she feels a persistent lack of Jewish experience in her current living situation.

    The community they hope to build will join an ecological agenda that includes animal-powered farming and herbal medicines with intensive Jewish life — “intertwined,” their website says, “like the strands of a challah.”

    Steve Welzer and Delane Lipka, who are building an intentional community called Mount Eden Ecovillage on 180 acres in Warren County, N.J., already are in contact with five young Jewish families considering a move there.

    “These families are looking to get back to a communitarian way of living,” Welzer told JTA. “With like-minded other people, they have a real sense of commonality and community. I think that’s what people are lacking in our world today, and it all comes back to roots, community and sense of place.”

    Though diverse, the models of intentional community being explored throughout the country are broadly united in a view that something essential is absent from conventional expressions of Judaism in America. Conference organizers hope to harness a transformational impulse toward more spiritually informed and ecologically sensitive living taking root across the United States.

    “Jews used to pray for rain,” Kinderlehrer said. “Now they just go to the supermarket.”

    For Kinderlehrer, agrarian Judaism resonates with her spiritual orientation. She marvels that contemporary Orthodox Jewish communities eat Shabbat meals off Styrofoam plates and supplement their diets with margarine and marshmallows. She longs for a Judaism that exists in concert with the land.

    “It’s hard to connect to Hashem in a paved world,” she said. “But we want to live in harmony with the land and let parents bring that idea to their children. Because the foundation of being human is being part of something larger than yourself.”