Friday, March 30, 2018

Peach Pie and Future Orchards

From John Bowman comes the following tribute to the orchards of his childhood and the fruit trees to be planted on Prairie Hill:

When I was a boy of about five years old I loved following my Uncle Charles around his orchard on the ten-acre property he and my Aunt Margaret owned outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Uncle Charles was a man of few words, so I quickly learned not to ask too many questions while he went about his work among the apple, pear, peach and plum trees. Therefore, I didn't learn much about how to grow and care for them. But now that I am moving into the Prairie Hill Cohousing Community in Iowa City, I am determined to learn as much as I can about growing, watering, mulching and pruning fruit trees.

I loved that first bite into a crisp apple in the late Hoosier summer. One of my chores was to gather the fruit that had fallen onto the sawdust mulch around the base of the trees. I remember Uncle Charles explaining that we didn't want grass or weeds growing up close to the trees, because they would steal water that the thirsty trees required.

I also remember his cautioning me to be careful when picking up fruit from beneath the trees because snakes sometimes hid under the mulch. Unfortunately, I heard "steaks" not "snakes" and one afternoon Uncle Charles found me sifting through the woody mulch from his workshop and said, "Didn't I tell you not to do that, Johnny? You could get bitten." I was embarrassed when I realized he was talking about snakes, not T-Bones, which I had imagined proudly carrying into the kitchen for Aunt Margaret to cook for dinner.

I know there are some experienced tree planters in this community and I am hoping some of them have experience with fruit trees. And that they will be willing to take me on as a willing and eager apprentice.

I guess I'd better learn a few things about Iowa snakes, too, and if they are inclined to slither through the mulch of Prairie Hill orchards. I won't be searching for steaks. I've pretty  much eliminated red meat from my diet, opting for fish and tofu for most of my protein. And I'm also hoping someone in my new neighborhood is good at making apple and peach pies. I imagine that might be Carolyn, who I hear is a gifted baker. I'll bring the ice cream.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Prairie Hill and Dynamic Governance Draws California Couple to Iowa City

The following piece is by Val Bowman. She and her husband John will be moving into one of the common house apartments within the next month!

People ask me all the time why we're moving away from California and how can we leave Auburn? It has been a wonderful home for us. We have a beautiful community of friends here, many of them at the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists, which is five blocks from our home. We live in the foothills of the Sierra and we are close to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe and many other wonderful places. I usually answer that we have been longing to be part of a cohousing community for about a dozen years. We've explored many here in California and they have just not been affordable, even though we want to live in a community with people who are committed to sustainability and supporting each other.

We have a granddaughter and her family in Iowa City; Vanessa was the first to tell us about Prairie Hill and she invited us to consider it. We started exploring and liked everything we discovered about Prairie Hill and Iowa City. (I spent the first 12 years of my life in Keokuk, an hour and a half from there.) When we read on the website that the community would be adopting Sociocracy for making decisions, we were even more excited about making this life-changing move.

Sociocracy is based on the values of Equality (Equivalency), Effectiveness and Transparency. Another way to express that is to share as much information as possible with everyone when making decisions, to use tools that make meetings run more smoothly and where things get done, and creating an environment where all voices are heard and no one is ignored. That sharing of power is very important to John and me. It is a bit of a new norm and not always easy to do.

Sociocracy is also known as Dynamic Governance and I find the word dynamic particularly appealing because when John and I first decided to get married 38 years ago and were planning our future, we agreed that one of the most important pieces (besides being kind to each other) was to Keep Learning. And that is an essential piece of Sociocracy. When decisions are made, it is on the basis of 'safe enough to try for now." Feedback is encouraged and we can learn from what works and take it to the next level of action. This is a way for a community (and individuals) to evolve and continue to grow in a healthy way.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Today's Update from Donna Rupp

It's exciting to see the Barn Door has been hung between the dining room and the kitchen. Jim tells me it was a bear to put up. Well worth it, I would say. In the distance you can see the kitchen cabinets that have also been hung.

The siding is going up on the lower of the two duplexes. Since this picture was taken, the lower level is about complete! I really like the gray that John has chosen.

There's been action on the upper duplex this week, with back fill being placed around the foundation and gravel put on the interior, preparing for insulation and then the concrete floors. Only 1/2 of each duplex is spoken for yet, and from the top floors you'll have a spectacular view of the hills around the southern part of Iowa City.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Working Together - on Common House kitchen cabinets

When we can, our members cooperate on tasks on our work-site that not only reduce costs, but also give us the chance to put our own energy into the formation of Prairie Hill. An example of this is the three consecutive workdays focusing on kitchen cabinets for the common house.

We decided early in our planning to build the common house first, instead of waiting until all the residences were finished. We knew from the experience of other cohousing communities that waiting until the end sometimes results in no common house at all being built. The common house is a unifying factor in cohousing communities, and we have been committed to  prioritizing it, even though the homes would be less expensive without it. So our common house will be the second building to be completed, we hope in April.

We purchased the makings for kitchen cabinets from the IKEA store near Chicago, and one of our hard-working members has driven them in installments back to Iowa City when she's returning from visiting her daughter's family.

IKEA furniture comes dis-assembled, as you may know. So we needed to gain some skill quickly when we put together these many cabinets. We recruited some help from a friend who has done this before, for the first workday:

Following the instructions

Then we worked on our own for the next two sessions. Fortunately, we have a number of experienced woodworkers in our membership. So even folks like myself could find ways to learn and participate. Now our kitchen is full of cabinets waiting to be attached to the walls, and/or to have counters added on top.

It was hard work, sometimes frustrating when we couldn't get the instructions to work with the pieces we had. But we persevered (at least some of us!), and achieved a satisfying success. I know that whenever I work in the common house kitchen in the future, I will feel a strong bond with these sturdy cabinets. And working together created a stronger bond between us workers as well.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Four Happy Residents - Our First!

Over the weekend, our first four residents at Prairie Hill moved into their new homes, in the first building to be completed, a four-apartment stacked flat. Here they are on their front porch:

From left to right: Donna Rupp and Buddy, Craig Mosher, Marcia Shaffer and Michele McNabb & Sadie.

Marcia's home is an 800 square foot unit upstairs. Here's a picture of her sunny bedroom:

Craig also lives upstairs, in a 645 square foot unit. Here's a shot of him in his sitting room (below):

Donna lives downstairs in 645 square feet. She is a person with many talents, and did much work on the floor and on other amenities in her home. Here's a shot of her bathroom vanity, a piece she rescued and refurbished to its present beautiful state:

And last but not least, here's a shot of Michele in her temporary kitchen in the downstairs 800 square foot apartment. She will eventually be moving into one of the townhouse units when it is finished in April or May. In the meantime she is staying in this unsold unit in the stacked flat building.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Building a Caring Community: Iowa City Cohousing

Imagine you are arriving home at the Iowa City Cohousing development. Your first stop is the mail boxes in the common house to pick up your mail. You run into two friends and exchange stories from your day. Then you stop in the community kitchen to chat with three other friends who are preparing spaghetti for the group, using tomatoes and salad fixings from the community garden, while kids run in and out. As you stop at your car to pick up your heavy cloth grocery bags another neighbor offers to help you carry them up the hill to your two-bedroom flat.

As you walk and chat you hear excited cries from the community playground and the park next door where kids are swinging, climbing, and playing tag. You are discussing ideas for the Community Life committee meeting that night to plan a community workday to plant some more prairie---to follow the community permaculture plan and avoid use of herbicides. You smile as you see the solar PV panels on all the roofs generating electricity to power the all-electric community, which uses no fossil fuels.

This scenario describes life at Iowa City Cohousing in a year or two when we have finished construction. I am excited to have just moved into my new home here at Prairie Hill. It is a one bedroom flat in a four-plex building dug back into the hillside for energy efficiency. So just what makes this cohousing?

Cohousing is a type of housing development where we are:

  • Designing and building the project ourselves. There is no developer. So we can design, build and manage it to meet our environmental, cooperative and community values. Our buildings and amenities are laid out so we naturally run into each other, building community every day. We will have thirty-six households in twelve LEED eligible buildings---duplexes, town homes and four-plexes---on a hilly, nearly eight-acre site near downtown and campus. Water retention features capture storm water runoff.
  • Seeking diverse, multi-generational families and individuals.
  • Balancing the privacy of individual homes with building a caring community where we cooperate and support each other.
  • Sharing the land, garden, wood shop and common house spaces. Sharing tools and equipment. And sharing the work in the gardens and kitchen, shoveling snow, child care and committee work.
  • Using alternative transportation as much as possible: biking, buses and walking.
  • Making decisions by a type of consensus called sociocracy.
We are excited to be creating a new community of fifty or sixty people, specifically designed to help us live sustainably and build lasting caring relationships with each other.

I believe cohousing can help satisfy the hunger for community in our society today---where radical individualism often keeps us isolated and competitive. And I believe that resilient sustainable communities are one way of planning and coping with the challenges of global climate change---as well as the many other social, economic and political problems facing our society.

Craig Mosher

Monday, March 12, 2018

After a Long Hiatus, Back with the Blog!

I laid down the Prairie Hill blog many months ago for a variety of reasons. Our Facebook page had become so popular that it was thought there might no longer be need for the blog. However, a number of people have expressed a desire for the blog to come back. So here it is again! Certainly a blog is a format that provides the opportunity to expand on a topic, rather than a quick post. And I'm hoping that other members will write things to share here.

Here's a brief update on happenings at Prairie Hill. Our first four resident-members moved into their new homes this past weekend, after a long, long wait for construction to finish and especially for the city inspectors to finally sign off on certificates of occupancy. We trust that this process will gradually be shortened as we all learn in this ever-challenging development project! Another 4 buildings are under construction: the common house, the townhouses, and two duplexes. Here is a picture looking east from our land above the construction. The completed stacked flat is the red building on the left:

Here's a shot of the four townhouses (below) with a move-in estimate of late spring this year.

And to the left of the photo below is the common house, with the western-most townhouse unit on the right.

We'll have many more updates, photos and reports here. But let this be sufficient for now. More soon!