Thursday, January 26, 2017

Interview with a Long-Time Cohouser - Installment #1: FOOD

The folks of Iowa City Cohousing have had the pleasure of spending time with Sarah Ross over the past week. Sarah lives at Great Oak Cohousing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is considering the possibility of moving to our own cohousing community sometime in the future. She's been at Great Oak for 14 years and is enthusiastic when she talks about what it's been like to live in cohousing for that long. In fact, she says that if she ever moves, it would only be to another cohousing community.  I interviewed her this week and filled so many pages of my notebook that I've decided to post this interview in installments. This one is about Great Oak's common meals. Food is about as important as anything in people's lives, and Great Oak's practices around food are something we can learn from.

What It's Like: Sarah says that Great Oak has a robust meal program. They started with meals in the commonhouse five nights a week, but more recently changed it to four. Participating in these community meals is one of the most successful ways for members to interact. There is a team of people preparing the meal, a team cleaning up afterward, and a friendly social atmosphere during the meal itself. Common meals are a time to visit with others, catch up on happenings, and enjoy the children of other households. Parents get a chance to visit with adults as their children go off to play in the children's room after they eat.

Who Can Come: Anyone who participates in the cohousing work program (which means about everyone) is invited to join in the common meals. (There will be a separate post about how Great Oak distributes the work of the community.) Usually there are 20-40 people at any given meal. 70-80% of the members go to at least one meal a week.

Signing Up: A menu is posted ahead of time. Great Oak has an online sign-up so that people can check the menu and their calendars and then sign up to be at a given meal. That way the cooks know how much to prepare. There are different costs per meal depending upon age: free for the very young, a little more for bigger kids, more for teens, and more for adults. A member tallies up each household's meal bill regularly and sends it to the members.

What Kind of Food? Sarah says that in general, the food is very good and high quality. There are regular community discussions about the kinds of food people prefer, the menus, the quality (i.e. how much should be organic, meat and vegetarian entrees, etc.) and the quantity. Different cooks, of course, have their own specialties. One favorite is an inventive food bar so that people can pick and choose to put together their own combinations.

Celebrations: Although members decided awhile back that they did not need to have desserts at every meal, a special dessert is made for birthdays and other celebrations. On these occasions, all members (even those who did not attend the meal) are invited to come for the dessert/celebration after the meal.

The Core: Sarah says that mealtime is the core of how Great Oak cohousers connect. That makes sense. So as Prairie Hill members think about the future, much focus will undoubtedly be placed on our times together in the commonhouse dining room, perhaps eating from our gardens, certainly enjoying a variety of creative cooking our members come up with. It should be a food adventure!

Sarah camping on Isle Royale

Monday, January 16, 2017

Model of the First Stacked Flat (Fourplex) We Are Going to Build

Thanks to member John McGonagle, we have another model to see, this time of our first stacked flat building. We will have four of these buildings, three of them set into the hillside so that the upper floor also will have a walk-out entrance, one building all above ground so the top floor will be reached only by an inside stairway. There are four units in these "fourplexes", two on the bottom floor and two on the top floor. As you see on this particular building, there's a shared covered porch across the front, plus each unit has it's own private entrance as well: the lower two to the outside ends, the upper two on the back. It is so wonderful, especially for the people waiting to move into these units, to see these in three dimensions! Thanks, John!

View of the front (main south entrance with porch)

View from southeast

View from southwest

View from east

 View from west

North view, showing walk-out entrances on top level

Another straight-on view of top entrances

Friday, January 13, 2017


Here's what our land looks like right now: stakes all over the hillside denoting future places of excavation for sewer lines, water lines, electric lines, and whatever else one puts under the ground. It is somewhat exciting (if you've been waiting for a sign) but not nearly as exciting as what we'll feel when the holes start being dug!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Scale Model of our Future Commonhouse

View from the Southeast

View from the Northwest

In the first view above, you see the entrance to the lower floor which holds the common areas: large dining room, kitchen, lounge, coffee nook, activity room, laundry, children's room. As you drive into Prairie Hill, you'll look up to this view of the commonhouse.

In the second view (above) is the entrance to the second floor of the commonhouse, which includes four efficiency apartments (to be owned by members) as well as two guest rooms, the mailroom and office.

The commonhouse is one of the first two buildings to be built at Prairie Hill, for we place great value on the common features of our community. The existence of the commonhouse makes it possible for us to have smaller homes, not needing our own guest rooms, large areas for entertaining, etc.