Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dan at DR Blog Now a YouTube Channel

In order to broaden the audience for what's going on at Dancing Rabbit, I'm turning this blog into a YouTube Channel and website, Hardcore Sustainable. My hope is to educate people better about what I'm doing at DR and give them better hands on how-to information on sustainable living. I also would like to give people thinking about moving to DR a better idea of what life is like here.

It is my hope to turn this project into something that can generate income for me and for others in the village. Living in a small town far away from economies and people sympathetic to our mission and goals, it can be a challenge to build an economy.

Looking at how our Mennonite neighbors have built their economy here over the last 40 years or so, we can see the way our cultures differ and the challenges that creates for us here at DR. Mennonites started moving to this area from other parts of the country when their growing populations, and scarcity and increasing price of farmland, drove them to Missouri's much more affordable acreages. Since then the Mennonites have built a self-supporting, thriving economy. They have their religion to set the boundaries of their community and that community is a captive customer base that supports their Mennonite businesses.

They have a culture that values procreation and increasing population through reproduction. Economies depend on people to participate as customers and producers, and if there are abundant resources, the more people, the more the economy thrives. The Mennonite economy has been able to grow and thrive through their hard work and their constantly growing population. Even though there were few families here in the beginning, more were arriving all the time from elsewhere and all of those families were abundant with children.

As their population has grown they have built businesses that produce all the things their community needs to supply itself. There are wholesalers of meat, dairy products, processed foods, all made locally by Mennonites. There are furniture makers and other craft makers. They have retail businesses to sell value added products. They have service businesses in construction, repair, automotive supplies, and farming supplies. All of these things have a value beyond the Mennonite community and the Mennonites are happy to take business from outside their community. This outside market only makes their community economy stronger.

The population factor in building a healthy economy is no different for us at DR. The challenge for us is that the “population” we rely on for a customer base has to come from the internet and new members moving to DR. We can't rely on the locals to support our businesses. Why not? The long and short of it is that mostly they are either not interested in what we have to offer, or they are not willing or able to pay what it's worth.

We also can't rely on procreation to build our customer base. We do have children here and more being born from time to time, but given our concern for the impact of human population on the earth as well as the culture most of us grew up in, we are more comfortable with small families or with having no children at all. In order to get people to move here we have to attract them to a lifestyle that requires giving up a lot of the luxuries of the modern fossil-fueled society. Once they are here, they have to find a way to pay the bills, and that can be difficult.

We also live in a completely different economic paradigm here, one that largely lacks the main engine of all other global economic growth—fossil fuel. Under our covenants and other rules created in the interest of sustainability, we are not able to take advantage of things that most businesses take for granted: abundant cheap fossil fuel used in manufacturing, production, and transportation of products, cheap building materials, and chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Products that we would want to produce here, that value sustainability over affordability, are a hard sell locally.

If we were near a population center that valued the sustainable practices we value, which unfortunately we aren't, we would be able to tap into them as a customer base for the things we might produce here. There are some enterprises, such as Alyssa, Sara, and Teresa's midwifery business that serve the local community beyond DR. (It's ironic that a business we are not as likely to participate in (making babies) is something that we are exporting here). Not long ago we had a chiropractor living here, and she found abundant customers locally. There are some business sectors that have much more demand than supply. There is a deficiency in some of these high dollar services in the area because most people that offer those services would prefer to go where the money is--and it ain't in rural Missouri (our local dentist is in his 80s and it's uncertain who would be interested in taking over his rural practice when he retires).

But many businesses that have been started here that have NOT found their customer base over the internet, have struggled. I tried growing organic produce for part of my income but did not find a local market for it outside DR, and found the market at DR was way too small and in constant flux to support such a business. At local farmer's markets “organic” does not demand a higher price, and you may be competing with someone who just bought what they are selling at Walmart. Unless our population grows, given the lack of local interest in sustainable products and services, we are going to be dependent on the independently wealthy or the internet for the lion's share of our economy.

This is not to say that we can't eventually build a thriving economy mostly independent of unsympathetic local populations. There is nothing wrong with building our economy by trying to attract people with secure and portable incomes here, but it isn't easy.

We are beginning to realize that some of our greatest assets as an ecovillage are our knowledge and skills in sustainable living, and the model we've created for a new economic and social paradigm. There is no other place like Dancing Rabbit, and when people come to visit after seeing other ecovillages they say we are unique in our dedication to hardcore sustainability and practicality. We have over 30 natural buildings, the most of any one location in the entire Midwest, we have the only microgrid of any ecovillage, and the only microgrid in the US powered entirely by renewable energy. We also have the only car sharing group that comprises all vehicle usage of it members of any community in the US. And we have a thriving local currency that accounts for a large proportion of all economic transactions in the village.  Our biggest problem is that most of the country doesn't even know we exist.  I'm trying to help change that with this YouTube channel.

You can help by subscribing to my video updates, sharing links on social media, and by following my videos and implementing what methods and technologies you can in your life.  If  you need any help, don't hesitate to contact me through my website.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Farmers unwittingly adjust to climate changes

The Ohio wine industry has been getting more and more dependent on French grapes over the last 30 years. The vinifera, or French grape, the species of grape known to produce the world's best and snootiest wines, is very tender, which would make sense since it is adapted to a Mediterranean climate. But for the last few decades Ohio winemakers, and those in many other temperate regions, have been planting more and more vinifera to replace the good old American grape varieties they used to grow. American grapes, like Concord, the grape juice grape, and French-American hybrids are much hardier in the normal Midwestern winters—or what used to be known as normal winter. But American grapes are better known for producing juice or sweet wines, while hybrids have never been able to compete with the old French standbys in wine quality in the eyes of the Wine Spectator crowd.
An Ohio vineyard testing the limits
Regions like the West Coast have climates much like that of France, and it's in places like this where vinifera thrives. But before climate change began to bring milder winters (devasting floods and hurricanes) to the rest of the country, wineries were forced to look to American grapes, and to breeders to develop cold hardy French-American hydrids, in order to have productive vineyards to base a business on. Vinifera vines could not survive most Midwestern winters without a down coat, only questionably able to survive as low as -10 degrees F at their hardiest.

But as the climate has changed over the last few decades, the tender vinifera has crept into the locally-made wine market in the Midwest. It started out as a sort of testing of the waters, with a few renegades planting small vineyards and finding the grapes could survive most winters in the new era of 400 ppm. After a few were successful, they attracted the attention of others who saw dollar signs. Ohio wineries realized that their hardy native grapes didn't produce the kind of wine that demanded top dollar, and didn't produce what is the socially-accepted definition of good wine. So they scrapped their American vines and replaced them with the much more valuable (and vulnerable) French vines. It's unlikely that any of them suspected they were only able to grow the vines now because the climate was changing and the world was gradually warming.

All primary buds on these vinifera were killed. Secondary and tertiary buds sprouted. Many vines died back to the ground.
Then last winter, Ohio winegrowers were surprised by a sudden change in their mild winters. The warming arctic had pushed the polar vortex from its normal position atop the globe. Huge acreages of the state's vinifera vines were wiped out by the frigid winter. Those that did survive died back to the ground, saved only by a thick cover of snow that insulated their roots against the far below zero temps.