Saturday, June 9, 2018

Learning to Live Together

So many living things make up our environment. Looking out my window here on our family farm, there is green everywhere. From the upstairs windows, waving leaves fill the scene with vitality and color. On the ground, grasses and other herbaceous friends cover the earth. And below that, there are billions of friendly soil microbes, earthworms, and all manner of unseen residents. Birds sing from their perches in the trees. A gentle breeze carries insects through the air. For an entire square mile this morning, here on the farm, I am the only human being. But my living community will change very soon. I'll be moving to Prairie Hill.

Out here in the country, it is easier to see the inter-relationships between all living and non-living aspects of the world. Everywhere there is diversity, every plant with its own niche, its own purpose. All living beings find ways to live together, even benefit from each other. There are vast webs of communication invisible to us. In contrast, people predominate in the city. And yet at Prairie Hill we want to live in a peaceful and respectful relationship with the natural world, the non-human world. Fortunately, we have many guides in this. Much has been discovered about ecological relationships. Intent and awareness can help to inform how we relate to the wider non-human world around us. At least in some circles, this kind of wide thinking is in vogue and we will feel supported and encouraged to live sustainably.

However, the most challenging aspect of community may turn out to be the relationships between the people living together, learning how to put our personal preferences aside sometimes in favor of the health of the whole. Our culture does not encourage us to think this way. In fact, we are a country of fierce individualists. We treasure our freedom. And our capitalistic economy emphasizes competing against each other for financial gain instead of cooperating. We're immersed in this worldview from the time we're born, if we live in the United States: individualism and competition. I know this has been true for me, even though my Quaker upbringing gave me views into other ways of seeing the world. I love my independence here on the farm. And I breathed in competition in school, in sports and in the family system from an early age. So here I am, preparing to live in a community in which cooperation is the accepted mode of relating.

I know cooperation is the right direction to be heading. Look where competition and individualism have gotten us! We badly need to find different ways of living. Surely if we can send people to the moon, can communicate instantaneously across the planet, we can find ways of living peacefully together. It has been done before, thousands, millions of times. We can get back to a healthier way of living. And so at Prairie Hill we are engaged in the process of finding structures that help us to think holistically. When an issue comes up for decision-making, not only do we think about our own personal preference, but also try to think about how this decision will affect everyone---other members, plants, animals, climate, the air, the ground, everything. It is not always easy. Sometimes we get bent out of shape because our personal pet project appears to not be embraced by everyone, and we have to back off. As we build community, we need to keep finding better ways to communicate so that everyone feels safe to express their opinion. There are challenges. But I have to say that though it is a bit risky to commit to getting along with your neighbors instead of pulling off in isolation, it feels so much better. We at Prairie Hill are committed to making this respectful cooperation not only work, but work beautifully. We're in it for the long haul.

Nan Fawcett

Thursday, June 7, 2018

June 20th Event: Introduction to Sociocracy

There is so much happening at Prairie Hill right now. With the first eight residents living in our new homes, and more to join us soon, our days are very full. We're opening our doors to the larger community with an opportunity that came along because Jerry Koch-Gonzalez is driving through Iowa City on June 20. We're coming out of the garden to put together an introduction to Sociocracy with Jerry, who is program manager for Sociocracy for All. He lives in a cohousing community in Amherst, Massachusetts and he says, "We are serious about spreading Sociocracy to give everyone the opportunity to share power in a healthy way."

Prairie Hill Cohousing has chosen Sociocracy as our governance system. Transparency, equivalence and effectiveness are valued and decisions are made in circles (committees). All voices are heard and decisions are made when there are no remaining "paramount objections," that is, when there is informed consent from all participants. Objections must be reasoned and based on the ability of the objector to work productively toward the goals of the organization. All policy decisions are made by consent.

Citizen Hive, an NGO in Sweden, uses Sociocracy and describes it is this way: "Sociocracy is a holistic approach for inclusive decision-making, efficient governance, and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of your team, project or organization. It fosters empowerment and an attitude where people feel encouraged to experiment, fail, and learn."

Other benefits of Sociocracy:
  • Fosters more trust
  • Encourages individuals to be accountable to the group's agreements, relative to available energy and resources.
  • Helps users evaluate what they do, identify their strengths and growing edges, and aply what they've learned to future projects and collaborations.
  • Focuses on solutions and helps transform potentially painful disagreements into creative opportunities that benefit the whole group.
For information about the June 20th Introduction to Sociocracy or to RSVP, email Michele McNabb,

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Progress on Many Fronts!

The theme for the last several weeks at Prairie Hill has been working together, and stretching ourselves thin with the work required. But the results are inspiring. For instance, our living room has been transformed by beautiful pieces of furniture, a rug, lamps, and expert skill in arrangement by some. We are now having meetings here, as well as just hanging out between tasks. It has a wonderful feel. It is beginning to feel like home.

On another front, we're developing the outside of our community, the land. Up on top of our site, there are more than three acres free of construction. It's a beautiful, high and sunny area, and we have fenced in a generous space for a garden. Already there are kale, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, squash and herbs up in the community part of the garden, and some individuals are also planting on separate plots inside the fencing. We've planted several fruit trees up there, and soon will be "heeling in" 125 small bare-rooted saplings from the state forestry nursery: 25 red oak, 25 white oak, 25 river birch, 25 nannyberry, and 25 redbud. These trees will be protected by the double fencing around our garden area: one sturdy wire fence, and outside that a tall 8' deer fencing net. When construction is finished, we'll have these trees to spread around our site.

Down by Miller Avenue, not only have we planted many flowering trees, but also a large bio-retention cell (see previous blog post). Below you can see that now the area around the cell has been graded, smoothed, and planted with buffalo grass, a deep-rooted alternative to regular lawn grass, not needing mowing. The bio-retention cell has now been planted with a variety of flowering plants that are hardy in both dry and wet conditions. Within the next few weeks, we'll be able to see them rising up over the sides of the cell and brightening the outlook to the east.

Now that our common house is completed, our guest rooms are available, thanks to a crew of dedicated members to set them up. Using contributed beds and other furniture, they are attractive and comfortable, and already several people have come to spend time in them. One guest room is called the Nancy Drew Room, and the other the Grant Wood Room. One of our members has taken on the responsibility for scheduling and organizing the guest room use, and some of our first visitors are shown below, visiting Michele from Denmark!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Val's Birthday Dinner

Val, who just moved to Prairie Hill from California with her husband John, celebrated her birthday with us tonight at Iowa River Landing. Val (dark hair) and John are in the left-hand corner here.

More pictures from Michele:


A New Water Feature at Prairie Hill!

Below is our bioretention cell, a project combining the planning of our engineer and the construction by Forever Green landscapers. It has been waiting for plants for the past several months. Now, finally, a rich variety of plants chosen to do well in this wet and dry location has arrived and a team of us worked together on Friday morning to get these into the soil, right before the rain last night!

About Bioretention Cells:
Bioretention cells are landscaped depressions that capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces to reduce water pollution and stabilize stream flows. Beioretention cells have an engineered and constructed sub-grade to ensure adequate percolation of captured runoff.

Bioretention cells can be used in most settings, including parking lots and residential areas, where soils don't adequately drain. They use plants that can tolerate a wide range of moisture conditions. Native plants are encouraged because they have deep roots and maintain soil quality and pore spaces.

 Craig watering the plants as they were ready.

 David, Nan and Donna getting the plants in their proper places.

David has just finished planting Queen of the Meadow, and is getting ready to plant the next one.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

More current photos from Michele McNabb

Donna continues to refine her front garden, utilizing a downspout to create a water feature.

Welcome mat in the common house

A plethora of chairs and tables for the dining area

Kitchen donations are coming in.

Marcia mapping out where the bio-retention cell plantings go

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I Feel 50!

 I don't know if it is waking up naturally to birdsong at 6:30 am, the glorious spring weather we have been having of late or what, but something in the air around Prairie Hill is certainly invigorating!

 Everywhere one turns, members seem to be spending time here. Attending committee meetings, giving tours to interested parties -- of which we have had a lot lately -- hauling compost or long lengths of hoses uphill to the recently tilled 50' X 50' common garden or threaded through a Common House window down to the street to water our young trees (outdoor faucets not turned on yet). Seeing Nan and Donna planting raspberry bushes and flowers around the site, or Barb and Del painting and installing bike racks in front of the Common House. Members dreaming of and selecting plants for their personal garden spaces, Common House residents waiting for their occupancy permits so they can move in. Planning and dreaming and making decisions. The energy level is palpable!

 From my vantage point up here 'on the hill' it's been educational to observe each day's incremental developments as a pair of duplexes go up right outside my windows, as well as seeing my future townhouse take shape. Such a lot of details that all must fit together to  make a whole. And that's the way our community is working: each one pitching in and lending a hand where needed. And we all sleep well at night!

Michele McNabb

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

More Windows, More Raspberry Plants & More Fun!

Now Upper Windows in new duplex

Raspberry Plants Heeled-In for Tomorrow's Planting

First Social Gathering in Common House Dining Room

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Looking Forward to More Fun!!

This post is by Marcia Shaffer, a current Prairie Hill Cohousing resident. The pictures are from several cohousing communities visited during the Regional Cohousing Conference in Colorado.

I attended the Boulder Cohousing Conference in mid-April. One of the workshops I chose to attend was one about having fun in cohousing, and a member of Nyland Cohousing gave the presentation. Nyland has about 135 members, which is one of the larger cohousing projects. Their entertainment committee had a budget of $600 a year. For each year they made a "save the date" list of 12-15 events that they planned to have. Here is a sample of the types of things they planned for: a lawn party, New Year's Eve party, game night in the park, cocktail party (adults only), pumpkin carving, Halloween parade, camp out, Easter egg hunt, Memorial Day barbecue, dessert potluck and game night, ice cream for breakfast, slip and slide (in the summer), Gong show and an annual camp-out in a beautiful park. This sounds like a lot of activity and works out to about one a month. To pull this off they would have one member who would volunteer to plan one of these events and the person asked others to help.

They also had a number of clubs. For instance they had a hot tub club. The community bought the hot tub and then the club members did the maintenance. They also had clubs for poetry reading and one that planned films.

Besides all of these fun activities there were more events. A real popular program was an evening of slide pictures of members involved in activities through the year. They also had house concerts. For these they invited musicians in for a concert and passed the hat. This included jam sessions and drum sessions. The community rated the artists and the artists rated the audience. In addition each year they had an art project for all ages. One year they made mandalas. Another year they made peace cranes. Another project was touch stones made of cement with symbols pressed into them. And of course they had political forums in the common house, inviting the wider community in.

They talked of the T2AO of fun. This meant that you need to have Time and Trust to have fun. Also you need A (to ask) and O (to offer). These two things meant that you need to ask for what you need. For instance one renter wanted more singing. Singing was a huge success. We are spending a lot of time in meetings planning our community right now but we need to look ahead to see all the fun we are going to have.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Living and Building Community

Below is an article from Johnson County Livable Community's recent newsletter. I can't manage to reproduce the nice graphics here, but at least here's the text. It is by Carolyn Dyer, ICCH board of managers, and edited by Sadja Pals, JCLC.

Prairie Hill Is Iowa's First Cohousing Community

After six years of planning, the first residents have moved into the Prairie Hill Cohousing community, located along Miller Avenue in Iowa City. By summer 2018, 16 homes will be occupied, five homes will be available for new members, and more buildings will be under construction. When complete, the community will include 36 attached, owner-occupied homes with various floor plans, green open spaces, and a Common House for shared activities. While first-of-its-kind in Iowa, Prairie Hill is like most of the 150 cohousing communities in the United States---it is developed by the people who will live there based on values important to them. The original members determined they wanted to live sustainably among people of all ages and of diverse backgrounds, and to share talents, resources and responsibilities for maintaining the community.

Sustainable living for Prairie Hill involves building super-insulated, modest homes that meet the Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. LEED, as defined by the U.S. Green Building Council, "provides a framework that project teams can apply to create healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings." Prairie Hill is also located so residents can minimize use of private cars and still easily meet their daily needs to reach the University of Iowa, downtown Iowa City, businesses, stores and restaurants. The nearly eight-acre community will be managed to conserve most stormwater on the land, and half of the property will feature gardens, an orchard, a prairie and open space.

This first cohousing community in Iowa has attracted members from the Iowa City area, many areas of Iowa, and several families from California.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Day by Day Construction at the Second Duplex Cluster

Photos thanks to Michele McNabb

AND, here's a shot at the end of day 2:

End of Day 4:

May 1st big progress:
 duplex progress

 landscaping progress

 And sidewalks!!

Wednesday, 5/2: Trusses are up!

Day 8: Roof has initial sheathing and windows are appearing:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day at Prairie Hill

 Donna compresses new soil around one of the trees
we planted last fall along Miller Avenue.

 Nan fills a bucket with compost,
to spread around the street trees.

 David shoring up the heaped earth around trees to hold rainwater in.

Littered hillside before trash pick-up today.

 Satisfyingly clean hillside at the end of the day.

Dan Miller, delivering Troy-Bilt tiller that
he and Margaret are donating to Prairie Hill!

For now, the tiller will reside on the porch of the first stacked flat,
just down the hill from the gardens.

Probably it won't be long before
we'll  have a garden shed at the top of the hill
 and can keep it there.

 One nice thing about having it on the porch
 is that it has the option of an electric starter,
 and the outlet is right behind Dan here. 

We can't WAIT to till up our garden plot with this top of the line machine.