Thursday, April 25, 2024

Working and Cohousing!

Nobody says “I want to live in cohousing so I can work!” 
And yet, work is a part of every cohousing community. You live together, you work together. But what I’ve learned from attending conferences and reading list-serves, is that the definition and the expectations/requirements of “work” are different at every community. And you should probably ask about this upfront.

At Elderberry work actually starts with the Membership Process itself. It requires participation in at least one of our work days (which we have twice a month for 3 hours each). That’s because we want prospective members to know what we mean by “work” here. And we want them to know that we expect participation in our “work”.

The first Cohousing National Conference I attended I sat in awe as someone explained the impressive system their community had developed to keep track of every member’s work hours. They would credit or dock members’ money for hours worked or not worked. Wow!... We don’t do that at Elderberry.  

At Elderberry we do our best to make the point that we’re all in this together, and every work contribution each person makes benefits the community and… helps keep our assessments down.  

We also want folks to realize that it can actually be fun to work together.

I will never forget my first time at the annual work day at Bella Vista, our forest overlook. The jobs offered were “running a bush hog, driving the tractor, or chain-sawing”. Turns out there was another option — picking up rocks! You say, you’ve never done any of those things? Here’s your chance to add one to your skillset… or just pick up rocks.

Don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be Superman or woman to work here. Not everybody has the strength, the endurance or dexterity to do every job. But they can work on committees; they can bring snack to the other workers; they can research where to buy mulch; they can even write a blog!

Because Elderberry is rural and because we have a tradition from our very beginning of developing the buildings and properties ourselves, we tend to like to work outdoors together — on the landscaping, in the gardens, on our trails,

and even on local roads where we pick up trash!

Like all cohousing communities, we also have work indoors. There are regular maintenance jobs in the “Hive”* from vacuuming to washing windows to cleaning the bathrooms (sorry about mentioning that last one!) *The “Hive” is our Common House, which comes from one of our values of “Living in a beehive of activity.”

And speaking of a Beehive of activity, we have our own SWARM! It developed because our original Work Coordinating Committee was too dull. If you ask every single person at Elderberry what SWARM stands for, no one would remember, but I’m told reliably that it’s an acronym for Smart Work Assignment Resource Management. It’s a carefully organized stack of jobs organized by frequency. If you’re going to do a specific job, you take the card and put it back in the “Done” box when you’re finished. Not very high-tech, but effective. (FYI, SWARM does not keep records of who works or how much they work.)

By the way, saying “I’ve never done this before” doesn’t buy you anything. A big part of work here is learning to do new things. “Try it, you’ll like it!” may not always work, but at least you’ve learned a bunch of things.

Another way that Elderberry teaches folks is through our Repair CafĂ©.  

This was started by our Living Rightly on Earth group to encourage repairing rather than replacing items.  It has become a place where the folks who know how to do something teach the folks who don’t – like sharpening tools, repairing a lamp, tightening the rungs on a stool!

Elderberry’s Woodshop and machine shop (known as the Forge) are another example. The folks with skills will help others learn to use this equipment or maybe just find the screw or pliers they need.

So, I’ve learned some things while working and living here at Elderberry over these past 8 years:

+ It is a lot of fun working with other people.  

+ If you’re a Zen weeder or you’re fussy about the way the silverware drawer is arranged or there’s only room for one on the riding lawn mower, it’s also okay to work by yourself. 

+ If you’re the kind of person who gets uptight if someone doesn’t do their “fair share”, give it up.  Unless it warrants a community intervention, your irritation will only make you unhappy and probably won’t affect the person you think is slacking.  

Which brings me to—

+ Work because you want to help the community. Use your skills to make life better for everyone. Feel good about that! 

And that brings me to—

+ Whether you’ve done some jobs all your life or you never ever thought you would be doing this, you can learn something new. Really! And that is definitely good!

Monday, March 18, 2024

Amazing Benefit Dinner for Farmer Foodshare

Chef Netta Edwards and Daughter Amaranth

Over the past few years, a group of people from both Elderberry and Potluck Community Farm (adjacent to Elderberry) have been meeting regularly to explore ways to actively live our values.  The group is called Living Rightly on Earth, and one area of focus over the past two years has been supporting our local farmers.  Members of the group have visited farms and listened to the needs of farmers, volunteered at the Spring Forest farm, jointly joined a CSA, written letters in support of farm-friendly legislation, and more.  As part of this effort, we decided to do a benefit fundraiser for Farmer Foodshare, a wonderful not-for-profit whose mission is Fresh, Local Food for All.  They assist small farmers by buying their farm-fresh products and selling for them to places like schools & universities, grocery stores & co-op markets, and restaurants.  Surplus produce is boxed and donated to people in need. 

Hosting this dinner was a true community effort!  Community members helped in so many ways.  Vonda and Don helped before the dinner by being chef assistants for the food prep.  Others helped with menu design, set-up of the space, clean-up during and after the event, music, greeting guests, serving food and drink, managing invitations and donations, and loaning chairs, silverware and glasses (we had 37 guests.... we don't have enough of anything to serve that many!).  It all came together beautifully, and everyone enjoyed the evening.

The food was all donated or discounted from 14 local farms, and from Farmer Foodshare.  Chef Netta put together an amazing 5-course meal.


Before the dessert course, Hillary Bruce from Farmer Foodshare gave a short presentation about all the great things the organization does, and Mary presented her with the donations we raised from the event.  After our expenses, we were able to donate almost $5,000.  It was a lovely night of great food, and great generosity on the part of all involved--- Netta & family, volunteer helpers, farmers and donors.