• From free love and sexual liberation to vegetable patches and $3 a day living costs: Inside America's oldest hippie commune

    If you thought hippie communities of the Sixties were dead, think again.

    Still going strong is America's oldest,The Farm, a piece of 1,700 acre land located in Tennessee, that at its peak in the Eighties had 1,500 members and attracted celebrity visitors like Walter Cronkite and Phil Donahue.

    Now, the 160 member community, more about Eco-Friendly living than free love, is the subject of the new documentary,American Commune, in which the filmmaker-sisters who were born there reveal what is like to grow up knowing nothing of commercial beauty, meat, television, or pop culture.

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    Peace for all: Free love is still going strong in America's oldest hippie community, The Farm (pictured), a 1,700 acre piece of land located in mid-Tennessee

    Peace for all: Free love is still going strong in America's oldest hippie community, The Farm (pictured), a 1,700 acre piece of land located in mid-Tennessee

    The hippie movement of the Sixties counterculture rejected established institutions, criticized middle class values, opposed nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, and championed sexual liberation.


    Often vegetarian and Eco-friendly, they promoted the use of psychedelic drugs which they believed expanded one's consciousness, and created intentional communities or communes - using alternative arts, folk music, and psychedelic rock as a way of express their feelings, protests and vision of the world and life.

    'You don't have to live in the boonies and walk around nude just to live an alternative lifestyle'

    While a third of today's The Farm members are second- and even third-generation (the commune encouraged procreation),spokesperson, Douglas Stevenson says it has changed somewhat since its heyday of peace, freedom and love.

    He recalled to ABC News: 'No one held personal money. It was all pooled. A lot's changed. We still hold the land collectively, all 1,700 acres.

    'All the houses and community buildings we own collectively. We're still revolutionary. But everyone is now responsible for their own support.'

    Family orientated: The Farm is the subject of a new documentary called American Commune, made by two filmmaker-sisters who were born there (pictured)

    Family orientated: The Farm is the subject of a new documentary called American Commune, made by two filmmaker-sisters who were born there (pictured)


    The Farm was established after Stephen Gaskin, a former U.S. Marine, led 320 pot-smoking hippies in 60 buses, vans, and trucks from San Francisco on an Eastern religions and Christianity speaking tour across the U.S.

    Along the way, they checked out various places that might be suitable for settlement before deciding on Tennessee in 1971.

    From its founding, The Farm members took vows of poverty and owned no personal possessions, though this restriction has loosened.

    Next generation: The Farm's way of life saw work and raising children as spiritual disciplines

    Next generation: The Farm's way of life saw work and raising children as spiritual disciplines

    The Sixties: Commune members were often vegetarian and eco-friendly - they promoted the use of psychedelic drugs which they believed expanded one's consciousness

    The Sixties: Commune members were often vegetarian and eco-friendly - they promoted the use of psychedelic drugs which they believed expanded one's consciousness


    Encouraged family: The Farm was family-friendly and procreation was encouraged; it had (and still does) a Midwifery Center, giving free services to expectant mothers

    Encouraged family: The Farm was family-friendly and procreation was encouraged; it had (and still does) a Midwifery Center, giving free services to expectant mothers

    Mr Gaskin firmly viewed marriage as sacred, where the sexuality between two people created a flow of cosmic energy, which he called 'the juice'.



    A serious sensibility and commitment were required in marriage in the community, andmost couples on the Farm were married.

    The use of birth control was frowned upon, and abortions were prohibited; childbearing was seen as a natural, beautiful and wholly spiritual undertaking for a woman.

    VIDEO: Trailer for "American Commune":

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    Modern-day hippies: Now, the 160 member community is the subject of a new documentary called American Commune

    Modern-day hippies: Now, the 160 member community is the subject of a new documentary called American Commune


    Commune housing: A third of today's The Farm members may be second- and third-generation, but The Farm spokesperson, Douglas Stevenson says it has changed somewhat since its hayday of debauchery

    Commune housing: A third of today's The Farm members may be second- and third-generation, but The Farm spokesperson, Douglas Stevenson says it has changed somewhat since its hayday of debauchery

    Members: The Farm, and other modern communes, appeal to a variety of different groups from senior citizens to the environmentally-minded

    Members: The Farm, and other modern communes, appeal to a variety of different groups from senior citizens to the environmentally-minded

    Towards the Nineties, The Farm strongly concentrated on initiating environmental social change through outreach and example.

    The Farm's Ecovillage Training Center was established as an educational facility for solar energy, bio fuels, and construction techniques based on locally available, Eco-friendly materials.

    An entrepreneurial spirit also took hold, and numerous small businesses were established to provide support for the residents.

    Gathering place: The Farm's own dome, for picnics, concerts, with playground equipment underneath

    Gathering place: The Farm's own dome, for picnics, concerts, with playground equipment underneath

    1,700 acres: It costs about $100 per adult, per month, to cover communal expenses for The Farm and its land

    1,700 acres: It costs about $100 per adult, per month, to cover communal expenses for The Farm and its land

    For example, the members ran a soy 'dairy farm', which later marketed a soymilk 'ice-cream' called Ice-Bean

    MrStevenson said that it costs about $100 per adult, per month, to cover current communal expenses -it still has a Midwifery Center for expectant mothers, for example.

    'It's a hybrid system compared to the old days. We've gone from being a commune to a collective,' he added.

    The Farm: Sisters Nadine Mundo (far left) and Rena Mundo Croshere (right) were born on The Farm and are making a documentary about their childhood; founder Stephen Gaskin (far right) settled the commune in 1971


    It seems the trend is resurfacing elsewhere too. Over the past few years, several 'non-hippie' groups have seen a sharp increase in interest - where they are starting new experiments in what is refereed to as 'intentional living' situations rather than communes.

    Appealing to a variety of different groups, from senior citizens to the environmentally-minded, the editor of Communities Magazine told The New York Times: 'These days you don't have to live in the boonies, chop wood, walk around nude and pool all your money to live an alternative lifestyle.'

  • Dreamland commune forced to disband by city

    Dreamland, a communal house in south Minneapolis, makes pseudo families out of young, social justice-minded strangers.

    Dreamland, a communal house in south Minneapolis, makes pseudo families out of young, social justice-minded strangers.
    Last winter Joseph Walz found a three-story house in Midtown which neighbors had labelled a crack den, restored it, named it Dreamland Intentional Community House, and invited five others to move in with him. Living as a makeshift family, they grew food together in a communal garden, split chores, shared meals, and had group outings on the weekends.

    Dreamland, like other “intentional communities” across the Twin Cities, was founded as an alternative to the isolation of modern living. They attract young people who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in the city or are too busy to start a traditional family.

    But as the idea of communal living takes root, housing laws haven’t evolved in step. In most parts of Minneapolis, only three unrelated adults are allowed to live together, regardless of how many bedrooms there are. The limit exists to prevent unscrupulous landlords from cramming renters together, but makes no exception for communes purposely trying to create that intimacy.

    After a year in operation, Dreamland is teetering on the verge of disbanding this week. Walz says the city is withholding the certificate of occupancy he needs to move his commune from their old house, where the lease is ending, to a new location in south Minneapolis. Though the new place has 10 bedrooms, zoning codes prohibit filling them with unrelated people.

    Unable to see any way around the restriction, two of Dreamland's original six residents have already vacated, and the rest are preparing to follow suit.

    "The real frustrating part is you build community, you bond with people, it's practically like family," Walz says. "Where other cities have changed the laws to incorporate different definitions of family, zoning and occupancy laws in Minneapolis are fairly ridiculous."

    Another commune, Lake House, used to be located right next door to Dreamland. It was a quiet boarding house that hosted 8-10 people at a time. The occupants kept their heads down and ran their house in secret, Walz says, because the setup was basically illegal. Lake House has since dissolved as well.

    Dan Perucco of Winona House, located in Ventura Village, remembers the October 2013 evening he came home to find an eviction notice tacked to the door. Winona House hosted seven Lutheran Volunteer Corps members at the time.

    After many visits to zoning board meetings, Winona House residents were ultimately allowed to stay, Perucco says, because they argued on grounds of being a part of a volunteer program. While he'd hoped to broaden negotiations with the board to include other communes, regulators weren't interested.

    "It’s such a shame because the city self professes that they’re trying to increase their urban population, they’re trying to get more population density, reduce the urban sprawl, and support the inner city," Perucco says. "One of the ways that organized people are trying to do that is through intentional communities, and the city is utterly failing to recognize that."

    Lisa Keacher will be evicted this week if Dreamland can't get an exemption. If all fails she'll find a new place with roommates. But it won't be the same without Dreamland's potlucks, weekly jam sessions, and surrogate family.

    "It's something I value highly, being connected to the place I live, being connected with the people I live with," Keacher says. "It's the only thing I do outside my career, and I'm feeling really uprooted right now, honestly. It really breaks my heart."

  • A Jewish commune and lessons of sharing

    Image result for "One of the hardest lessons to teach a young child is the value of sharing."

    Joel Tauber and son Zeke 'fixing' Happyville. Photos courtesy of Joel Tauber

    One of the hardest lessons to teach a young child is the value of sharing. How do you explain to your son or daughter that they should hand off their cherished teddy bear or toy truck to another child? The word “mine” is one of the first words to come out of a toddler’s mouth, and children see their toys as extensions of themselves.

    Artist Joel Tauber, 43, ran into this dilemma while raising his 5-year-old son Zeke and 3-year-old son Ozzie. If Tauber wasn’t willing to let others borrow his expensive video equipment, why should Zeke have to share his prized toy guitar with a friend?

    The challenge of teaching the value of sharing led to “The Sharing Project,” a 15-channel video installation at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach, up now through July 19. Visitors will see a room full of screens, featuring 15 short films as well as 21 interviews with experts in fields ranging from evolutionary biology, psychology, anthropology, history, philosophy, and education. Through these experts, Tauber tries to get at the root of why humans choose to compete or cooperate.

    “We applaud selfishness in so many ways. Probably the dominant narrative in our culture is, get as much stuff as you can. We’re bombarded by all this advertisement all the time, telling us to get more and more stuff,” Tauber said.

    “It troubles me, seeing how we’ve become a really selfish culture. I don’t think that’s good for us as a whole. I try not to be that way. I’m conflicted just like everyone else though. There’s a part of me that wants good things for myself and for my kids and for my wife, and for us to live an easy life. But then I’m also really troubled by all this inequity.”

    At the museum, Tauber encourages visitors to bring in toys to share and arrange in the space. When the project concludes, visitors are invited to take a toy with them and give it to whomever they’d like.

    While investigating the idea of sharing, Tauber and his son Zeke turned to the forgotten Socialist Jewish commune of Happyville in South Carolina. Established in 1905 and disbanded in 1908, Tauber sought out the remains of the utopian community, hoping some of the mysteries of sharing would be buried in the ruins.

    The central video in the installation tells the story of Happyville. The video features long shots of birds chirping, green leaves quivering and ripples spreading across a lake. Its tranquility seems to mask the incredible experiment that took place deep within its wooded folds.

    In 1905, Jewish immigrant Charles Weintraub and other Eastern European families purchased a 2,200-acre plantation in Aiken County. They bought livestock, equipment and the buildings that were on the land. They cleared the sandy soil into pasture, and set about constructing a grist mill, saw mill and cotton gin.

    But the colonists were beset by troubles. First, the Russian and Polish immigrants had little knowledge and experience in farming. Heavy rains washed out the fields and the dam built to power the ginnery. And most significantly, they incurred a heavy debt and were unable to attract patrons. In 1908, the 50 settlers living in Happyville auctioned off their equipment and livestock and sold the farmland, and left town. All that remains are an ancient tractor, a horse carriage and some crumbling foundations.

    When he discovered the story of Happyville, he felt a kinship with the socialist pioneers. In Tauber’s video, he and Zeke (who was then 3 years old) use the boy’s brightly-colored plastic tools to “fix” the rusted tractor and a decaying house, a poetic metaphor for the concept of “tikkun olam” and for the desire to repair whatever caused Happyville to disintegrate.

    “You’re doing a really good job,” Tauber tells the boy, with his mop of curly brown hair and his rain boots, as he attacks the spokes of a wagon wheel with his yellow plastic wrench. “We’re fixing a special place,” Tauber tells Zeke, as the boy bangs against a rusted door.

    Tauber's son, Zeke, 'fixing' the door with his plastic tools

    Tauber left Los Angeles in 2011 to develop a video art program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was startled by the economic inequality he saw in his new home. Census data shows that 23 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty level.

    “It turns out that Winston-Salem might have the most childhood poverty in the whole country, and that’s while there’s all these really wealthy people there,” Tauber said.

    Tauber brought Zeke to protests in Winston-Salem against unemployment and funding cuts to social programs, and filmed their participation in the protests as yet another lesson in sharing.

    Tauber was raised as an Oorthodox Jew in Boston and as a boy showed promise as a scholar of Talmud. But at 18, instead of continuing on to a yeshiva, he opted to spend a summer at Tirat Zvi, a religious kibbutz in Israel’s Beit She'an Valley, where he picked carrots and worked in a salami factory. That experience made him think a lot about communal living. He had planned to become a doctor, but decided to study art at Yale University and then at Art Center College of Design.

    Another of Tauber’s projects is called “Sick-Amour,” in which he adopted and maintained a sycamore tree growing in the middle of a giant parking lot at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

    “It was getting hit by cars, starved for water and oxygen, and eventually asphalt was removed, boulders were placed around it, then that started happening for other trees,” Tauber said. “Taking care of that tree, which is really ongoing, taught me how to love, how to become a husband, how to be a father.”

    Tauber and volunteers planted seeds from the sycamore around the region. He estimates there are about 200 “tree babies” now growing from those seeds. He and his wife, Alison, even got married at the tree. “I think of the tree as part of my family,” he said. “It’s part of our family.”

    All of his art projects revolve around ethical issues, Tauber said, whether it’s saving a tree or uncovering the roots of altruism. He traces it back to his Jewish education.

    “I’m a secular man. We live a secular life. I’m happy that I had an education that encouraged me to think about ethics,” he said. “I’ve made all of my work about ethics. That’s what I’ve devoted my career and my life to. So as a parent, also, I feel that my responsibility is to help my children struggle with the idea of how to be a good person.”

    Joel Tauber’s “The Sharing Project” is on display at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach, through July 19, 2015. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, June 20, 6-8 pm, with a performance by Earth Like Planets. More information at http://web.csulb.edu/org/uam/.

  • Are America’s Intentional Communities Financially Sustainable?

    Are America’s Intentional Communities Financially Sustainable?

    • May 23, 2015

    Utopian communities in America go back to the 19th century, though most people first think of the communes that arose out of 1960s counter-culture. A handful of those founded during the hippie movement are still fully functioning communities. But even communes and cooperatives, which commonly reject aspects of mainstream capitalism, must face the realities of a struggling economy.

    In a 2006 article in The New York Times, Andrew Jacobs explained how American communes have evolved:

    “After decades of contraction, the American commune movement has been expanding since the mid-1990’s, spurred by the growth of settlements that seek to marry the utopian-minded commune of the 1960’s with the American predilection for privacy and capital appreciation.”

    With the growing popularity of eco-villages, housing cooperatives, communal homesteads, and other alternative communities, it seems a new breed of commune has arrived, one focused more on the practicality of sharing resources than ideology alone. Today’s advocates say the high price of housing, food, and energy sources make suburban life increasingly unsustainable, both for people and the planet.

    The Fellowship for Intentional Communities, which provides a global community directory, lists more than 1,700 intentional communities in the U.S., and estimates claim as many as 3,000 or even 4,000 total. There are plenty of reasons people choose to live in a more cooperative way, including a sense of community, freedom from consumer culture, and increasingly, concern for the environment.

    Richard Perez of Home Power magazine estimated in 2006 that 180,000 families lived off the power grid, relying entirely on solar and wind energy. Perez says the figure jumped 33% every year for a decade.

    Today, many people look to alternative living situations simply to save money. Co-housing is the fastest growing aspect of the intentional living movement, according to Jacobs. Pooling resources has the added appeal of saving both money and the environment.

    Communal living is even coming to big cities, with companies like Campus setting up co-living arrangements, akin to adult dormitories, with the added relief of month-to-month leases. While it’s not exactly cheap to live this way in a large city like New York, even young professionals coming to a bustling metropolis are seeking the support of tight-knit communities.

    The handful of 1960s communes that have endured have, in some respects, shifted with the times. Jacobs says they have survived in large part because they have scaled back on dogmatism in favor of pragmatism. A Virginia commune called Twin Oaks, founded in 1967 and modeled after B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two, is still alive and well today, despite hardships faced during the economic downturn.

    Though Twin Oaks no longer calls itself a behaviorist community, it has retained many of the same principles and self-governing practices. Members are expected to work 42 hours per week and receive a small stipend, though the necessities are covered. According to an article in Al Jazeera America, Twin Oaks spends about $5,000 per year on each member.

    Another long-standing American commune called The Farm has monthly costs of only $100 per adult to cover communal expenses. The Farm’s Douglas Stevenson said, “It’s a hybrid system compared to the old days. We’ve gone from being a commune to a collective.”

    Through the sale of consumer goods like tofu, Twin Oaks has a certain amount of reliance on the financial mainstream, making it vulnerable to changes in the market. The company made and sold hand-woven hammocks to Pier 1 for years, until the deal collapsed in 2004. Twin Oaks was then left scrambling to find a way to cut $50,000 from the annual budget.

    Rising levels of student debt are threatening other intentional communities, according to Al Jazeera. Although it’s the middle class, not the poor, who frequently seek communal living, financial burdens can be a problem. This could be why low-cost housing cooperatives, in which members still have income-earning day jobs, are among the fastest-growing intentional communities in the U.S.

    Intentional communities come and go, as do the people who decide to live a simple lifestyle, and this only seems natural. Some experimental communes of the 1960s were deliberately disorganized, rejecting the idea of rules altogether. These “anarchistic” communes were often short-lived, while some of the more “intentional” groups that came together with a common philosophy have endured. Today’s communities and collectives, with their growing emphasis on sharing and environmental impact, will do their own experimenting.

    Financial sustainability is one of the biggest challenges for any community operating outside mainstream America. But well-run intentional communities are finding ways to succeed, and for modern-day consumers, the appeal is only growing.

  • GRUB at risk of losing longtime home as lease not offered for renewal

    Posted: 02/15/15,

    A sign is posted near the entrance to the GRUB farm Wednesday. GRUB, the longtime intentional community that focuses on farming off of Dayton Road, is at risk of being put off the land it has tended for so long as the owner tries to sell it. They are hoping someone will step forward to buy it who will support their continued use of the property. Bill Husa — Enterprise-Record


    Chico >>After seven years of growing as a community, it feels like a scythe is hovering over the GRUB Cooperative.

    Growing Resourcefully Uniting Bellies is an intentional community at 1525 Dayton Road, where dozens of people farm together, host community workshops and hold events that support food education, recycling and communal living. Two weeks ago, members learned they are at risk of being pushed off the land.

    Owners are trying to sell the property, and unless a buyer is willing to support GRUB in its vision, it will have to close, said member Monica Bell.


    The hope is members can generate enough money, perhaps through crowdfunding, to make an offer. Another option is finding someone willing to purchase the property and lease it back to them.

    “Can we pull it off and buy it in two months? I don’t have that kind of money in my pockets,” Bell said. “We are communitarians, farmers, mothers and fathers, but we are not skilled in the things we need help with right now.”

    They would appreciate anyone’s help with legal aid, agricultural land assessment, real estate or fundraising, she said.


    Members see GRUB as a vital part of the community, as both a piece of Chico history and agricultural land on the green line. Among its activities include Heartseed Farm, GRUB Grown Nursery, a community garden space, Compassionate Communication classes and Old Spokes Home bike shop.

    It’s also been a place for school students to dirty their hands and learn about agriculture during field trips. And produce grown on site is divided among community-supported agriculture memberships, to restaurants and individual buyers, some of who work at the farm in exchange for food.


    When GRUB first took over the 40-acre farm seven years ago, it started with a multi-year lease, Bell said. It was the vision of a group who biked to an environmental conference in Southern California and returned inspired, farming in backyards until they found a place to live and practice agriculture in a community setting.

    “The founders of our community had a real bold and beautiful and courageous vision,” Bell said. “They didn’t try to work out all the details, they just did it.”

    After the first lease was up, they were able to renew it on a year-to-year basis. The current lease expires in October and will not be offered for renewal.


    Operating under a short-term lease for so long, it has always challenging to entice young people to embrace the stewardship model that is GRUB’s philosophy, but the cooperative has still thrived, Bell said.

    “It attracts people who are willing to endure,” she said.

    And they are not without optimism, investing in long-term crops such as artichokes, asparagus and orchards. Circles of mulch support newly planted baby trees intended to produce acorns and other food staples for the future. Even the goats are a symbol of patience, waiting for a herd to mature instead of breeding as quickly as possible to turn a profit.


    It’s all part of the “long-term vision” its members have for the property, said Lily Rhoads, who moved to GRUB a year ago after spending a week the prior summer working on the farm.

    For now, she and others try to focus as much on the present as unknown future. On Wednesday, members sat in a circle of grass for a meeting, closing with a moment of silence and a song, their harmonious voices sounding out below the trees.

    “We will enjoy living this way as long as we can,” Bell said. “We can look other young farmers in the eye and tell them we wouldn’t trade it for anything.”


    The clucks of chickens in moveable fence sounded out as they munched bugs and trampled weeds. Some members tended seedlings as others harvested produce, and one member pedaled by on her bike with children in tow, headed to the farmers market.

    Some ask why not just find a place for GRUB elsewhere, Bell said, but such sizeable lots, with a viable water source and so close to town are rare to locate, with most already dedicated to monoculture crops or left vacant in hopes of nonagricultural development.


    The property has a main home that dates back a century, a guest house and stables. What hasn’t been converted to gardens or orchards includes the bike shop, mobile intern housing, a solar-powered shower and greenhouses.

    The property was assessed last year for $638,453, but Bell expects the sellers may want more.

    GRUB pays $4,000 a month to rent the land. Sixteen adults and up to six children live there are any given time.

    “To me, it’s so inclusive and safe. The pace of life is a little slower, people can really tune in and connect,” Rhoads said.


    If members could secure a long-term lease, their potential is limitless, they say. Dreams include hedgerows and hoop houses and pump investments, as well as increased opportunities for visitors to share in the experience.

    As optimistic as members are, the possibility of an end has been difficult, causing both sadness and grief, Bell said. But they also respect whatever the outcome.

    “As agrarians, we understand,” Bell said. “If something goes to seed, you still have so many opportunities for new life.”


    Those wanting to support GRUB can visit grubchico.org or Help Save GRUB on Facebook, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    Contact reporter Ashley Gebb at 896-7768.

  • Drop City, America's Boldest, Most Far-Out Commune, Left a Surprising Legacy

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    A panoramic view of Drop City in 1966; the large complex to the right housed a kitchen/dining area, a film workshop, bathrooms and a shower, and a TV loft.
    Clark Richert

    On May 3, 1965, an artist named Clark Richert became part owner of a six-acre goat pasture in Las Animas County, a few miles northeast of Trinidad. His former college buddy Gene Bernofsky wrote the $450 check for the land, and Richert paid for the utility hookup that would bring running water to the property. The deed changed hands on Richert’s 24th birthday.

    Not that Richert and Bernofsky — or their other original partners in the venture, Gene’s wife, JoAnn, and fellow artist Richard Kallweit — were hung up on who owned what. The community they hoped to build there, Drop City, would be a place where creative people could share meals and ideas, where everybody had a say and nobody ran the show, a kind of artist colony without landlords or hassles.

    “The only rule we had was that there are no bosses,” Richert recalls.

    Over the next five years, Drop City metamorphosed into something no boss could control. Hailed as the first rural hippie commune, it drew hordes of consciousness-seekers and lookie-loos and triggered the creation of a string of other, mostly short-lived communes across the Southwest. Its distinctive clump of dome homes, inspired by the work of Buckminster Fuller and making use of materials scavenged from junkyards, won design awards; the shaggy people inside the domes became the subject of intense focus by mainstream-media squares, who erroneously assumed that the place’s name was a reference to dropping out or dropping acid.

    dropcityDavid Perkins (with microphone) moderates a La Veta panel of commune veterans. From left: Chip and Elaine Baker, Pat McMahon, Dean Fleming, Nancy Brooks, Jeff Briggs.

    At its peak, Drop City was a required stop for sociologists, filmmakers, pilgrims, putative gurus and anybody else seeking to fathom or exploit the counterculture, hippiedom and the whole ’60s thing. One of the commune’s core members, the poet Peter Rabbit, wrote a quasi-underground memoir — issued in 1971, by a publisher better known for gay stroke books with titles such as Twelve Inches With a Vengeance — that helped to cement Drop City’s growing reputation as a sinkhole of dope, free love and general freakiness. Then, like much of what seemed so Now, it was over, gone, vanished.

    But in recent years, just like the salvaged car tops that covered its domes, the legend of Drop City has undergone some recycling and repurposing. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of its founding, this past month there have been panels and speeches, art and photography shows in venues across southern Colorado, gently debunking some of the media myths and reappraising the group’s legacy. No easy task, certainly, but the retrospectivists — folks who not only survived the decade but actually remember it — seem up to it.

    A recent panel in La Veta featured an array of hardy ex-flower children, several of whom had spent time at Drop City before launching the Libre commune in Gardner, Colorado. The packed audience featured a strong run  of gray beards and snowy white ponytails, floppy hats covering bald pates, tie-dyed shirts on bony chests, and a smattering of bemused millennials. But they all listened raptly as moderator David Perkins, also known as “Izzy Zane,” described what it was like to be a self-proclaimed anarchist ducking the draft in ’68, hustling up a grant to study “utopian communities in the United States,” and ditching Buffalo, New York, for New Buffalo, New Mexico, to pick up the commune groove. “We gravitated to Drop City pretty quickly,” Perkins said. “It was a very exciting time. I’ve never regretted it. For one second. Ever.”

    “Drop City was always an experiment,” added panelist Dean Fleming, Libre’s 82-year-old founder. “They didn’t last long. Now there’s a celebration for this place that bit it in four years’ time. But I think of it as a seed.”

    “We found all these rocks up there. We started painting the rocks. Then we started dropping them off the roof. We called them ‘droppings.’"

    Richert, who now lives in Denver and didn’t attend that panel, says the origins and intentions of the “experiment” have been greatly misunderstood. As an art student at the University of Kansas, Richert had become fascinated by the creative ferment at Black Mountain College a decade earlier, including the improvisational performance art, later known as “happenings,” staged by John Cage and others. When Gene Bernofsky, a psychology student with an artistic bent, moved into Richert’s loft in Lawrence, the two began developing what they called “drop art.”

    “We had regular access to the roof of the building,” Richert explains. “We found all these rocks up there. We started painting the rocks. Then we started dropping them off the roof. We called them ‘droppings,’ and they became more and more elaborate.”

    Bernofsky and Richert began dropping art into stranger situations, inviting public participation. They placed an ironing board on a sidewalk, the iron “plugged” into a parking meter. They set out an inviting breakfast on a table, then waited for a passerby to partake. They talked about establishing a place where artists could work unfettered, collaborate at will and see what happened, a place they would call Drop City.

    “In my mind, it was an artists’ community,” Richert says. “Gene was calling it a ‘new civilization.’”

    Richert went on to pursue graduate work at the University of Colorado. Gene and JoAnn Bernofsky went to Africa, scouting possible locations for a new civilization. Ultimately, though, the group settled on the goat pasture near Trinidad. And by the time the purchase went through, Richert knew what kind of structures he wanted to erect there. The initial plan had been to build A-frames, but Richert had seen Buckminster Fuller’s slides of geodesic domes during one of Fuller’s lectures at CU’s Conference on World Affairs — and quickly became intrigued by the possibilities of domes as low-cost but stable housing.

    Drop City would eventually feature a variety of dome designs, including one large building, composed of three intersecting domes, that served as a common area and contained the only plumbing, including two bathrooms and a shower stall. The first dome was forty feet in diameter and took shape over the first winter on the property. “I had to build it by myself,” Richert recalls. “Everybody else left.” After Richert finished the wooden structure, Steve Baer, who designed many of the Drop City domes, covered the skeleton with salvaged auto steel — “which strengthened it enormously,” Richert notes.

    The domes cost little to produce; most of the materials were begged, “borrowed,” donated or liberated. Soon word got out about a gathering of “Droppers” in southern Colorado where you could live practically for free, growing your own food or combing garbage dumps for the perfectly good stuff middle America was throwing away. Animosity in the county quickly mounted against the dirty hippies camping out and signing up for public assistance, but Richert says a few arrivals got food stamps for only a short time before an outraged bureaucrat cut them off, telling them they “have no right to be poor.” Yet as curiosity about the new settlement increased, so did opportunities for the Droppers to collect speaking fees. Peter Rabbit organized numerous visits to schools and campuses, where members showed films they made and a spinning, strobe-lighted painting created by Richert and others. The group also designed Day-Glo posters that were marketed  globally by a firm in New York.

    “Our main source of income was really art,” Richert says. “For the first three years, Drop City was mainly artists, filmmakers and writers.”

    One of those who drifted through was Fleming, a surfer turned beatnik turned painter, whom Richert had met in New York. At the La Veta panel, Fleming recalled being impressed with Drop City but perceiving more chaos than art in the works. “Their principle was, ‘Everybody’s welcome’ — which, in America, is a disaster,” he quipped. The forty-foot dome, he added, “leaked like a sieve. We built ours [at the Libre commune] for $700. The Droppers thought that was real bourgeois. But my dome is still there!”

    “There’s this myth that we got overwhelmed by hippies and that’s what destroyed Drop City. Our biggest problem was that we didn’t make enough money."

    Media reports about Drop City tended to dwell on the “hippie lifestyle” of its occupants rather than its artistic mission. Richert recalls one overture from the gray-suited minions of CBS News. The Droppers agreed to be interviewed on two conditions: the report would not refer to them as hippies, and it would make no reference to dropping acid. But when the piece aired, it began with a long-haired ringer the television crew had brought out to the site so he could pop a pill in front of the camera, as the dour reporter explained: “This is a Drop City hippie dropping acid.”

    Acid was surely dropped on occasion at Drop City. But Richert maintains that the accounts of wild sex and copious drug use, including those found in Rabbit’s book, are greatly exaggerated. More brazen acts of getting high could be found on any college campus in America. And it wasn’t as if a sudden influx of stoned, lazy hippies drove the operation into the ground, Richert insists. He never saw more than forty people in residence at a time, while the more stable population tended to hover around fourteen people. “There’s this myth that we got overwhelmed by hippies and that’s what destroyed Drop City,” Richert says. “Our biggest problem was that we didn’t make enough money. I didn’t leave because I thought things were out of control. But when I visited a couple of years later, the place was really on a downward trend.”

    Richert left in 1968, after a doctor told him his pregnant wife needed more protein than the Drop City diet, heavy on rice and beans, could supply. He thought at the time that he would be moving back some day, but he never did. The Bernofskys had left earlier. Rabbit stuck around for a couple more years before finally splitting to help Fleming launch Libre. His book paints a grim picture of Drop City in its latter days: “We got lost in a reflected image of ourselves…. People were crashing all over the Complex. Nobody knew anybody else. People would stay a month or so, get themselves a little straight and travel on. The Droppers were going on the same trip over and over again: coolin’ out runaways, speed freaks and smack heads, cleaning up after them, scroungin’ food for them, playing shrink and priest confessor…. Instead of a community of people dedicated to getting it together on the highest possible level, Drop City became a decompression chamber for city freaks.”

    In the early 1970s, what was left of the community quickly deteriorated. The domes were defaced with graffiti, vandalized, torched. The titular owners of the property, a nonprofit group of artists that included Richert, found that they couldn’t manage it from afar. The group ended up selling the property to a neighbor, who turned it into a truck-repair facility.

    quanta"S-Quanta," by Clark Richert, acrylic on canvas. Clark Richert

    But that was not the end of what Drop City began. The panel in La Veta bristled at the idea that the commune movement was some kind of failed experiment; Libre, for example, is still a happening place, billing itself as the oldest continuously operating hippie commune in the nation. “We lived for twenty years off the grid,” boasted Perkins. “We worked so hard for a bunch of lazy hippies. We weren’t any flash in the pan. We must have done something right.”

    Panelist Pat McMahon helped start the New Buffalo commune in 1967, which involved “cooking for forty maniacs living together that didn’t know each other and forty guests a day.” She went on to successful careers in the restaurant business and construction. “How can you say it failed?” she asked the audience. “It was a university. We got to be ourselves. By building my own home at nineteen, I became a builder for forty years. It didn’t fail. We’re still here.”

    Richert, whom Westword art critic Michael Paglia has described as one of Colorado’s “most accomplished and most heralded artists,” sees the influence of Drop City in many areas of artistic endeavor, including his own. “As far as I can tell, we were using fractal systems before anybody else,” he says.

    The Droppers were pioneers of artwork incorporating ideas about fractal geometry and five-fold symmetry, and even claim to have published the first underground comic book. A broader case could be made that the experience, to the extent that it was the expression of a counterculture yearning to shed the constraints of American consumerism and return to the land, helped pave the way for Earth Day and the recycling movement, Occupy Wall Street and tiny houses — and even Richert’s own current quest to establish a co-housing venture for artists in the Denver area, a place where artists would have their own private residences but share common areas, much like the original vision of Drop City.

    “A lot of people called it an experiment,” Richert says. “But art is experimental. For me, it was more experimental art than commune.”

  • Living an Intentional Life

    Palo Alto Online


    A group of 15 people in East Palo Alto commit to shared living, values and community

    On a small East Palo Alto street, just blocks from U.S. Highway 101, 15 people share three houses, a trailer, a diverse fruit and vegetable garden, meals and household tasks.

    Like a tightly knit family, they shop for groceries together, make dinner for each other, watch each other's children and support each other.

    These 15 people live in what is called an intentional community, where participants choose to "cohouse" together under common purposes: a certain lifestyle, as well as a commitment to each other and their shared space.

    Dubbed Greenwave by one of the property's three owners, this East Palo Alto intentional community has many functions. It is one part cohousing community, one part green living, one part social contract, one part support system.

    Diana Bloch, one of the founders of Greenwave, says the main appeal of cohousing is not only sharing resources, but also having a built-in social group.

    "One of the attractions is the college-dorm atmosphere, where people sit around and casually discuss whatever comes up," she said. "It's also a simpler life. Part of the discussion involved is simplifying and using less space."

    Cohousing's Northern American roots can be traced back to two California architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, discovering "bofoe llesskaber" in Denmark in the 1980s.

    "Bofoe llesskaber," translated as living communities, became cohousing -- groups of people deciding to live together in an intentional community where activities such as cooking, cleaning, maintaining a garden and purchasing food are shared.

    Bloch happened to attend the first seminar that McCamant and Durrett gave on cohousing in the United States, in the mid-1980s at the Friends Meeting House in Palo Alto.

    "We then formed a group from the people who went to (the seminar) and various other interested folks around town and tried to figure out how to build a cohousing community, but it's very difficult to find property in this area," Bloch said.

    After sharing a rented mansion on Waverley Street for several years with seven people, Bloch and two other residents, George Hunt and Joe Bamberg, found the East Palo Alto property.

    "One of the attractions of East Palo Alto was multiculturalism and the lack of pretension," Bloch said.

    Bloch, Hunt and Bamberg purchased the 1-acre property, which was previously a family farm with one house, in the early 1990s. They renovated what had become a dilapidated drug den into what Bloch says they call the "farm house."

    A few years later, the three owners decided to expand, and they purchased a recycled house from Mountain View.

    "They were going to tear it down and throw it in the dump, but they said we could have it for a dollar if we moved it," Bloch said. "But it turned out moving it involved cutting it in half, getting it over here in two pieces and then putting them back together on a new foundation. So that was a lot of work."

    The work didn't stop there. In 2000, Greenwave received approval from the city Planning Department to build two more houses -- the main common area, a two-story house, and a third house in the back. The current occupants of the back house do not participate in the cohousing community.

    For the new houses, they used manufactured housing to cut costs and stick to cohousing's foundational values.

    "The combination of sweat equity, trying to keep the costs down and trying not to spend money hopefully would make the community more affordable to good people who wanted to spend their time relating rather than earning money," Bloch said.

    They also acquired a trailer along the way, which is parked on a lot toward the front of the property that was originally designated for a fifth house.

    Bloch transformed the space between the original house in the front, the trailer and the main house into an edible garden, with fava beans, citrus trees, oranges, plums, cherries, persimmons, mulberries and more.

    "Around here it seems like if you really want a nice house, both people have to be working all the time and you don't have time to enjoy it," Bloch added. "So that was the goal: to keep it affordable enough that people didn't have to be working all the time to live here."

    The current residents hold a wide range of jobs, from suicide hotline operator to teacher. Melissa Laughery, who lives in the original front house with her 4-year-old daughter, Bloch and a second family with a 6-month-old baby boy, works two jobs and odd hours to support herself and her daughter.

    But she says that without Greenwave, she would not be able to live in the area.

    "I'm a single mom. There's no way I could afford to live in an apartment in Palo Alto," she said. "Yet to me, being a parent is such an important thing to be doing with my life, so it's essential that I have this option for living."

    All Greenwave residents are expected to pay rent -- $500 to $700 per room -- to the three owners and commit to three agreements.

    The first agreement is to doing a weekly chore. In the kitchen of the main house (which Bloch designed herself so that two or three people could cook in it simultaneously), you can find resident's names on a large Dry Erase board written next to assigned household tasks such as cooking, garbage, shop, garden and laundry.

    The second agreement? Attend a weekly house meeting.

    "Hopefully people will communicate during that time; anything everyone needs to know," Bloch said. "The third (agreement) is to bring up any issues that are causing tension, for yourself or others, and be willing to help out in getting them resolved."

    It doesn't sound too unlike any other family's home. And for retirees such as Bloch, whose son is grown and granddaughter lives in San Francisco, or single parents such as Laughery whose daughter's grandparents are far flung, Greenwave does function as a second family of sorts.

    "As people are, more and more, like seeds scattering to the wind, you realize how important those support systems are and finding ways to cultivate that," Laughery said.

    That support system ebbs and wanes every year as people move in and out of Greenwave. They get married, change jobs or life otherwise leads them in a different direction. But the original "bofoe llesskaber" principles remain, Laughery said.

    "The importance of (Greenwave) is the importance of community and connection," she said.


    Members of the Greenwave intentional community, as well as three guests who were visiting a family member, sit down to eat in the community's kitchen, where they eat once a week together.


    Members of the Greenwave intentional community, as well as three guests who were visiting a family member, sit down to eat in the community's kitchen, where they eat once a week together. Photo by Veronica Weber.



    Joe Bamberg, a founder of the Greenwave intentional community, checks on his tri-tip while barbecuing dinner for about 13 people on April 2, 2013. Residents in the community alternate cooking responsibilties (along with cleaning and gardening) and cook dinner for everyone once a week every Tuesday.

    Joe Bamberg, a founder of the Greenwave intentional community, checks on his tri-tip while barbecuing dinner for about 13 people on April 2, 2013. Residents in the community alternate cooking responsibilties (along with cleaning and gardening) and cook dinner for everyone once a week every Tuesday. Photo by Veronica Weber.




  • Walnut Commons Breaks Ground


    Monday, 04 March 2013 13:49 Aric Sleeper

    Cohousing project begins construction in Downtown Santa Cruz

    After the recent murders of two Santa Cruz police officers, the builders and future members of Walnut Commons thought about moving their groundbreaking ceremony to a later date, but instead decided to acknowledge the tragedy and stick with their plans.

    “It’s so important that we do proceed, because one of the things that is going to get us through this very difficult time is community, and this project is all about community,” Santa Cruz City Councilman Don Lane said at the groundbreaking.

    With the recent approval of a loan from Santa Cruz County Bank, construction for the Walnut Commons Cohousing project, a unique residential complex located at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Center Street in Downtown Santa Cruz, begins this week. Project engineers hope to have the building completed by early 2014.

    Walnut Commons will contain three stories with 19 independent units, as well as a 3,000 square-foot common area with a kitchen, dining room, entertainment center, and recreational space for all residents to use. Most of the units have been filled, but six remain.

    Walnut Commons is part of the growing cohousing movement, a form of intentional community that relies on consensual decision making, which began in Denmark in the late 1960s. The concept was imported to America by people like Charles Durrett, who also helped with the design of Walnut Commons, in conjunction with the building’s future residents and Bob Hightower of Barry Swenson Builders.

    “The elevators and mailboxes are typically put in the front of a building,” says Hightower, “but in Walnut Commons we moved them to the core, so that people walk by the common areas and see what activities are going on.”

    Walnut Commons planners and residents aim for it to be more than just a building. For people like Walnut Commons member and author Cecile Andrews, it is a community of individuals devoted to a smaller environmental impact and a stronger sense of community.

    “We will be each other’s entertainment,” says Andrews, whose upcoming book, “Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community, and the Common Good,” comes out later this month. ”The old-fashioned way of doing things is people getting together with their neighbors, talking, laughing, singing, and playing music. I envision this will be happening more at Walnut Commons.”

    For more information visit walnutcommons.org.

  • 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.”