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Second Winter at Dancing Rabbit

From membership policy to winter 2.0 and Validation Day, CAFO ordinances to mission fulfillment: Dancing Rabbit sure knows how to have a good time.

Prairie here, bringing you another update from this corner of Northeast Missouri.

I know it is going to be an interesting two weeks when I start off with a Village Council meeting on a contentious topic. Never mind that it is a (comparatively) balmy afternoon that could be spent outside savoring winter’s blessedly softening grip. Never mind the fluttering certainty in my belly that there will be emotions, opinions and a spectrum of disagreement—this is our first in-person Village Council meeting since COVID began to spread in earnest two years ago.

I walk into the Great Room and take in the tight circle of bodies—that’s right—physical human beings with unmasked faces gathered to discuss the sacrifice we ask members of DR to make after their membership approval: giving up their personal vehicles and using DR’s rideshare vehicles only, or storing/parking their personal vehicles at least 15 miles from DR.

Although my gut warned me that there would be some tension in the room, I was unprepared for the sense of clarity, authenticity, and passion for Dancing Rabbit’s success that became immediately apparent. Yes, sometimes we take a long time to make decisions. Yes, sometimes I feel frustrated throughout that process. And you know what? We are incredible at each holding an important piece of the puzzle of community, and what a privilege and blessing it is to have an opportunity to speak to those pieces in a room of people that genuinely want to hear them.

Needless to say, we did not make a decision, but we did connect to the bigger picture and discussed ways to address core issues. I’m not joking when I say that we need to schedule time to talk about talking about something!

At the end of the meeting, I felt relieved, exhausted, and, frankly, discouraged. There was no easy, end-all-be-all answer in that moment, no straightforward path, and I was reminded once again of how imperfect my home is. It is beautiful and multifaceted, an organism all on its own, with a labyrinthian history and equally complex procedures.

As people filtered out of the room, I found myself dwelling on the aspects of Dancing Rabbit that did not match up to my personal standards and expectations that have accumulated in my mind since moving here, however unrealistic they may be.

I knew that I needed to reframe this experience, but I wasn’t yet sure how.

The following week, Danielle and Cob presented the topic for this month’s New Rabbit Integration Wheel (aimed at, you guessed it, helping new residents and members integrate more smoothly into life here): Mission Fulfillment.

When Danielle opened the workshop by giving us each a three-foot-long stick and told us to balance it perpendicularly in one hand, I knew I was going to learn something. The gist of the exercise was that it is very tricky to balance the mission, the covenants, the board of directors, and the village itself all at the same time. It takes practice, persistence, and the willingness to pick up that stick when it inevitably hits the ground. And everyone has a different strategy to keep that stick upright.

I won’t even try to explain the second exercise involving multiple water bottles, thumb tacks, and thankfully, a massive container to catch the spray of water—except for the water that landed on me!

We talked about visitors, ways to grow the village, and ways to maintain the existing population.

By the end of the workshop, everyone was laughing, and I had found a new perspective through which I could view Dancing Rabbit.

I was reminded of this perspective the next day during our annual Validation (our local “Valentines”) Day tradition. After potluck, as a love letter to DR, Alyson passed out short testimonials from visitors and work exchangers over the years. As we each read a sentence or two aloud, I began to understand and remember why this place is so special to so many people—myself included.

We do not have everything figured out. Our decisions index is a ball of tangled threads (thank you, Cat, for working on that!). We are not perfect communicators. We are not in compliance with all our covenants all the time.

And yet I heard, “This place changed my life,” and, “I got rid of my car,” and, “I learned so much.” Dancing Rabbit has touched the hearts of thousands of people. The messy truth is that we are an odd bunch of do-it-yourselfers, trying to make the best of the wisdom and resources we have, and maybe even enjoying ourselves a bit in the process.

With the cards hidden from our view, Alline and Nikki began reading us snippets of what we wrote to each other, and in turn, we tried to guess who the card belonged to.

At the end of the week, we rallied in nearby Memphis to convince the county commissioners to keep the local health ordinance for CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) farms. Because the state repealed this ordinance, our county was faced with the decision to follow suit, or risk potential lawsuits and face the lack of funds reserved for enforcing the ordinance.

Missouri’s rural, open landscape provides the perfect environment for CAFO farms. With the ethical, environmental, and sensory risks and impacts as they are, the idea of repealing any regulations for CAFOs did not sit well in the tri-communities. Through the thick snowfall of our “second winter,” we filled and drove three vehicles to Memphis and offered our perspectives on the matter. We crammed into the small office, some of us standing, to make our case.

And though they unanimously repealed the ordinance, I was left with a sense of unity and camaraderie. We did our best. And that felt good.

As I crunched my way home through the snow, I remembered how, just a couple days ago, the earth was thick and slick with mud, the path to my house sucking at my feet. As I neared my house, I saw dozens of dark green stems peeking out of the ground, now sprinkled with white fluff.

The messy truth is that beauty inevitably emerges out of the muck, as from the complexities of community and the tangled web of politics. I suppose we just have to be patient, with eyes open, and be ready to meet it.


Prairie Johnson has begun traveling this spring, extending her experiences into the wider world. Here’s hoping she returns to us with her horizons expanded. In the meantime, she continues to work on the SubHub straw bale building project and is heading off soon to volunteer for a natural building project in Alabama.