By Ben |

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 6, 2004]

Let's just say I misjudged the distance from Fairfield, IA to Rutledge, MO. I started getting anxious about the time before I was even in Missouri, but I called ahead to my destination and was offered a place to sleep in the barn that night. Encouraged by the prospect of not having to pitch my tent, and imagining at least three walls and some comfy straw, I pedaled on.

The sun set while I was in Memphis, MO, still several hours' ride from Sandhill Farm. I bought a hot dinner, put on an extra layer of clothing, turned on my lights, and set out in the dark. This was my first experience navigating by the stars, and it couldn't have been a nicer night for it: the sky was crystal clear, and my headlight was frequently the only light for half a mile. Since I was headed south, I watched Saggitarius pour tea while I rode. The road was hilly, but I had gotten my second wind over dinner and followed the painted stripe through twists and turns because I couldn't make out the fresh black asphalt in the darkness. I almost missed the turn for Sandhill Farm because my dying light wasn't strong enough to illuminate their sign. I straggled in around 10 PM and was directed to the barn, which turned out to have only two walls and a course gravel floor, but I made do.

In the morning everything looked much better. Sandhill Farm has been a commune for more than 30 years, producing 700-800 gallons of sorghum syrup for sale, plus honey, tempeh, 80% of their own food, and a variety of small crops for trade with neighboring farms. There are currently only 6 full members, plus one child, three interns, and a half dozen visitors like myself. (Most of the visitors had been there before, so they knew their way around.) Membership has been as high as 20 in the past. Members share income as well as expenses (and possessions, including cars), while interns are paid a stipend plus room and board. Everyone takes turns preparing meals and doing childcare; other jobs are divvied up based on personal preference. It's a very informal structure, but it works for them.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, in contrast, is organized as a set of co-ops. There's a co-op for the land, one for the phones, one for the cars, several for meals, and several for composting. If you or your co-op need something, you buy it from another member or co-op. I have the impression that money is always changing hands there. It's no accident that Sandhill and DR are so close together: DR was founded by Sandhill residents who wanted to start an ecovillage, and they got a lot of support from Sandhill. Now the support goes both ways, and they share dinner once a week.

At Sandhill, the emphasis is on producing viable food for themselves and for market, so they haven't experimented much with solar power or energy-efficient construction. The engines run on gasoline, the heaters on propane, but they eat very well! DR, meanwhile, is all about experimentation. There are people living in old silos and tents and mud huts and trailers and a two-story dormitory made of strawbales. DR has a common house that was recently completed and looks great, but it doesn't have the family feel of Sandhill's common house. There are currently 26 residents at DR and they're actively recruiting more, though new residents will have to build their own homes. I should mention that most DR residents are in their 20s, while Sandhill spans the whole range from 9 to over 60.

I spent two days at Sandhill, minus a morning and evening at DR, just at the end of the sorghum harvest. I helped with loading the cut cane from the fields onto trailers (good thing I had heavy boots!), sticking labels on bottles, stoking the fire, and bottling the finished syrup. So if you see a bottle of Sandhill Sorghum, I may have helped make it! I also helped a little with food preparation, washing dishes, etc. I moved to the hayloft of another barn for the second and third nights, which was much more comfortable. All in all I had a great visit at Sandhill and would have liked to stay longer, but the road was calling me... so off I went again!