One of the first things we did here at Prairie Hill, once there were residents living (and eating) here, was to fence off a small compost pile up at the top of our site, near the upper garden. We wanted to keep our "garbage" instead of hauling it away, and let it turn into a fertile supplement for our land. What we found, over the months, was that access to this compost pile was more difficult than anyone wanted: up a steep hill. It discouraged some of us from using it.
We recently took a field trip to the Iowa City Landfill, where they have a wonderful composting section. Below, you can see a huge pile of partly-done compost being turned by the large machine on the right:
We saw a number of piles, each at a different stage of decomposition:
We learned that air ventilation is important to having a successful compost operation, as well as a mixture of ingredients: some wetter garbage from the kitchen, some drier grasses and yard "waste". Jane Wilch, head of the Iowa City compost program, gave us a tour through the composting grounds, and forwarded us much information to help us with our own smaller composting efforts.
And now, for the past several days, we have been using a new compost bin, built by several members with some plans using pallets, a low-cost and relatively easy construction. This bin is located just northwest of the common house, by the recycling and trash platform.
It has plenty of room for air circulation, a gate that makes turning the compost easier, and sufficient space for our community's kitchen and yard waste. And best of all, it's a short walk from any of our homes, with no steep path to get there.
Yesterday, after walking up the hill to dump our kitchen compost into the community compost pile, I took a stroll through Benton Hill Park. It was the best thing I did all day.
This is a 3.5-acre park with a variety of hackberry and oak trees, a pre-school playgound and a small shelter. There I was, alone with bushy-tailed squirrels, playful rabbits, sparrows, finches and fresh air, right in my own backyard. Benton Hill Park, founded by the city nearly 20 years ago, sits atop Prairie Hill Cohousing at the intersection of Benton Street and Miller Avenue.
I read somewhere that Iowa City has 50 parks. I am delighted that we see one of them when we look out our windows. It is one of the myriad benefits of living in the Iowa City Cohousing community. Having moved from Northern California six months ago, I was drawn by the idea of having a park nearby, but I didn't realize how easy it would be to be in nature.
We have enjoyed several two-mile walks around the lake at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, a five-minute drive from our home. And, in the past week or so, we have been exploring Willow Creek Park, off Benton Street. The winding and wide walking trails seem to be endless and offer walks across the creek on several small bridges.
This morning's walk there was glorious because of the warm sun and the canopy of trees brightened by yellow, red and orange leaves. And, we made a new discovery -- the oak sculptures created by Russian artist Valery Kovalev, who visited Iowa City a number of times in the 1990's, A plaque there explains that the five Willow Creek sculptures represent just a portion of the work he left here.
The most evocative of the sculptures is titled "Zoya," a tribute to Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya, a revered martyr of the Soviet Union, who gave her life fighting the Nazi Army during World War II. The sculpture was donated to the people of Iowa City by Khristofor and Marianna Agassandian.
We also came across a stone tribute to donors and volunteers who have contributed to Iowa City's Hospice program, situated in a shady grove also featuring rose bushes.
It's as if Iowa City's parks are calling to us to meander through and find our way to more treasures.
We are having a great time living and working at Prairie Hill Cohousing. We have helped others move in, planted trees and weeded by the hour shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors. And, we are learning that only minutes away, endless new adventures in nature are waiting.
A Second Garage Building Is Going Up. One day this week, Jim (yellow T-shirt and foreman of our construction team) was laying out the materials for a new garage on the ground. The next day he and Tom (grey T-shirt) were raising the structure. Here they are on the third day.
And here they are on the fourth day, which was in the 40's.
And by the end of the day, the building already looked like this!
Meanwhile, our Detention Basin, despite many, many inches of rain falling in the last couple of weeks, has been functioning well. We've watched with interest as several families of ducks have enjoyed the water. You can see in the background the mound of dirt for the excavation of our next building, a one-story duplex.
The duplex is going on this site, just below and to the south of the completed two-story duplex.
Here's a closer shot of that completed duplex. Barb and Del have moved into the south side, with the other side still available to a new cohousing member.
Here's a photo of our second completed two-story duplex. John has moved into his new home on the left, and the one on the right is as yet unsold.
The herbs and flowers in the new raised beds at the upper entrance of the common house are still going strong, but temperatures are due to get into the 20's this coming week. It's a good time for us to harvest, and also to plant trees and shrubs.
When we were in the planning stages of our community, we often talked about how great it would be to have at least a couple meals a week together in the common house. Only a few people to make a meal for all of us, and a relaxing social time at the end of the day. Since residents started moving in this past spring, we have had some potlucks, but our regular meals in the common house didn't happen until last week. Tuesday seemed to be a good day for a regular eating event, and our Tasty Tuesday offering has officially begun.
Three members members carried off preparation of the first meal, which consisted of two kinds of soup, two kinds of home-baked bread, apple crisp and ice cream. It was a hit! (See picture above) So last night the same three prepared the second Tasty Tuesday meal: rice with four stir-fry options (veggies and tofu, veggies and chicken, veggies and shrimp, and just veggies) with home-made fortune cookies for dessert. It was a hit too! At this point, it looks like this will be a continuing tradition. The initial three cooks have agreed to prepare one more Tuesday meal, and then are looking for other adventurous souls to take on the task.
We have a spacious and well-equipped kitchen, and once we start spreading the Tasty Tuesday preparation around among us, we'll all be getting experience with cooking there. Clean-up after the meal is also a great way to get acquainted with our kitchen, and both Tuesdays our clean-up volunteers worked smoothly and efficiently to leave the space ready for the next project.
The Prairie Hill Land Committee has been trying to figure out how to fund a garden shed. We have two tillers, a trimmer, and various other kinds of equipment, yet it has all been sitting out under canvas in the rain for the last several months. Clearly this is not a good long-term situation!
Then we had an idea. We are relatively close to the Hawkeye football stadium, and football is big in Iowa City. Since we have more parking than we need right now, we decided to sell parking spots for the fall football games. It took awhile to find an arrangement that all members felt comfortable with, so our final decision was to not allow tailgating, not offer bathrooms, and require that parkers leave the spot an hour after the game is over. With these stipulations, we were all willing to give it a try. This morning was our second game Saturday, and we made room for 52 cars! At $15/car, we are on the way to funding our garden shed, and having fun at the same time!