By Kristin Davis
In the decade after Alyssa Martin ’96 graduated from Mary Washington College with a degree in economics and Spanish, life took a series of unexpected turns.
She left graduate school after a semester, moved to Colorado, and worked odd jobs before becoming a certified professional midwife.
She loved her calling, but not the toll it took. She worked all the time just to pay the bills, and it was nearly impossible to schedule time off. By 2006, she felt unfulfilled and disillusioned.
“I knew that wasn’t sustainable or how I wanted to live in the world,” Martin said. “I wondered if there was a way for me to find more balance in life.”
The answer was in a magazine article about a place called Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, a 280-acre commune in Rutledge, Missouri, devoted to sustainable living. Members live independently but agree to community rules, like building their homes using alternative techniques and powering them with renewable energy. They grow their food and own cars cooperatively.
Martin was intrigued by the possibility of simplifying her life, of living on less money, of having an opportunity to do things she enjoyed.
“My family at first was curious. One of my grandfathers was really worried. He called the state senator from Missouri to find out if there was anything negative about Dancing Rabbit, to make sure it wasn’t a cult,” Martin said with a laugh. “It’s not a cult.”
She operates a small midwifery practice, lives in a mortgage-free house she and partner Tony built from straw bales, cooks on a wood stove, and home-schools 8-year-old son Zane. She cultivates a garden that supplies much of what the family eats and fits in hobbies she once had no time for – knitting, skiing, and Ultimate Frisbee.
“My son lives in a community of people who all know him,” Martin said. “We don’t lock our doors. We feel very safe and comfortable here because we know and have a relationship with our neighbors.”
There are challenges, too – for example, solving conflicts in the 50-member community, where decisions are made by consensus. Martin is treasurer of the group’s vehicle cooperative and one of five members who make up the Dancing Rabbit Village Council, the community’s primary decision-making body.
And in these roles, in this life that is fuller than she once dared to hope, she leans on what she learned two decades ago at Mary Washington. There are the budgetary and long-term planning skills she learned in the pursuit of her degree. And small classes gave her the opportunity to think independently.
“I figured out how to work with a group of people to solve problems. I developed closer relationships with professors and felt valued and smart and capable both from them and my classmates,” Martin said.
She also worked as a student manager for two years at the Eagle’s Nest.
“It was a lot of responsibility. I could jump into that role at a small school. It gave me confidence.”