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Earning a Dime in the Winter Time

Farmer John hanging out in our eco-B&B, the Milkweed Mercantile.

Winter is here and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is well prepared for the cold, snow, sleet, and wind. (As I write, the north wind is driving our morning high of 30 degrees down to 10 degrees before midnight, with a forecast of 9 degrees for the high tomorrow.) We had snow and then freezing rain yesterday, so this is about as rough as winter gets around here, and yet things run along smoothly. Most villagers have good stockpiles of wood, well insulated homes, great supplies of produce canned last summer, and excellent winter clothes to handle this climate. We heat Skyhouse, a shared housing structure, with a stove and a furnace, and it is cozy watching the fire dance as the big snowflakes swirl and drift outside our bay window.

Parmejean here (or Farmer John if you prefer), bringing you the news in the heart of winter. The snow and ice yesterday have made walking around the village treacherous, and the roads are tricky as well. I went to the nearby town of Memphis for a health test, but the real test was driving home with ice forming on my windshield wipers. I went cautiously, a little tense, but had no problems and I am very glad to stay in the village today. Most of the roads around us are iced over and not safe to drive on right now, but I walked around the village a bit and later had several visitors, so even in bad weather, our community has social possibilities.

What do we villagers do in the winter besides fire stoves and cook meals, you might ask. As a farmer I used to joke about farmers only playing pool in the winter, though we have no pool tables here. Nowadays, I play Texas hold’em poker (I feel good if I break even, including a beer or two).

I need to add to my income doing something more productive, and there are lots of tasks that I have found. Fortunately, I have lived into my 60’s and have Social Security, as well as a small teacher pension, but I need to make more in order to have a few luxuries, and to travel now and then.

My home, Skyhouse, rewards me for helping out with wood processing, firing the furnace, and keeping the mice at bay by giving me a very reasonable rent. I am the vehicle maintenance coordinator, and get paid to see that our three community cars and a truck are in good working order; this mainly entails taking vehicles to our local mechanic in Rutledge and, with a lot of miles on our cars and quite a few folks sharing them, this job gets me close to about $100 a month for my time. I am helping maintain our humey system (humey is short for humanure, the composting method we use for dealing with our waste) whereby I take care of the bins where our humanure is deposited. Not a glamorous job, but it is good for a few hours here and there. I have been the regular person to mop and clean the Milkweed Mercantile before our famous pizza nights; this is not as regular because pizza nights are on break, but they will resume in March.

Our community has lots of talented people making successful livelihoods. Like any community, our economy is interconnected. We have a masseuse, an acupuncturist, a midwife, a paramedic, an accountant, a baker, a cheese maker, serious agriculturists on the Critter Farm, and almost everyone has a garden or helps in one. A big plus for our community are the talented craftspeople who can do the building of new homes here. These people generally have complementary skills: carpentry, masonry, stucco work, and electrical skills, including knowledge of solar panels and wind generators. Some of our community members not only do work for the village but also work online with business skills and teaching skills.

Through the warmer seasons we have workshops, which vary from year to year depending on interest, but we have had regular natural building workshops (which in the past have covered several skill sets including strawbale building and stucco work), as well as workshops on timber-framing, permaculture, and even a Singing Rabbit weekend. Along with these workshops come employment opportunities, especially meal preparation. We have many wonderful cooks providing varied meals for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and omnivore diets. I am amazed how we are able to accommodate such variety, and teamwork is necessary.

There is off-farm income as well (meaning outside the village); a few like me get Social Security, but some people add to their income with investments or by renting out personal real estate.

The cost of living here varies quite a bit, too. Some very frugal people can get by on small incomes. We have summer residents that might live in a tent, though we don’t allow it in winter. Tent living tempts me some ($10 a month for a tent platform would save me a lot of money) but I am probably too accustomed to four walls to do this.

We have a wonderful grocery store on site, and weekly village-wide orders through a company called United National Foods (UNFI) make quite a variety of organic produce and staples available. Additionally, we have bulk bins and tubs in the store with everything I could want in order to eat well: many varieties of rice, beans, nuts, flours and more; as well as honey, peanut butter, cashews, olive oil, etc. The grocery also carries grass-fed beef raised by our friends and neighbors, the Neeses. The Critter farm offers eggs and dairy pretty much year round.

So as the temperature outside drops to 10 degrees tonight and the roads are iced over, we are doing quite well. Folks are even going out visiting around the village (though I am glad they close the front door quickly as they come and go).

Have a happy New Year! Peace and Love,