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organic community meals: $108 per person per month  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Once upon a time, around 2006/2007, I lived in a community of about eight people.  Sometimes as high as 11 and sometimes as low as 7.

I have many stories to tell of this amazing period. 

Today's story is going to focus on the food for this IC.

We had a chart where folks would sign up to cook two meals a week.  Every breakfast and dinner was a community meal.  14 meals per week.

Anybody could go shopping for the community.  Just put your name on the receipt and put the receipt into the jar.  All food was shared.  About once a month, the receipt jar was opened and it was figured out who owed some and who got some money back.  The food bill was divided by the number of people in the house - even steven.

All food was organic.  (once in a long while there could be something that was not organic, but was determined to be really close)

I think the lowest cost was about $104 a month and the highest was $112 a month.  $108 seemed to be the average. 

The upside was that you cook only two meals per week, but you eat 14 meals per week.  People were expected to wash their own dishes, and cook-of-the-meal was expected to clean the kitchen, although most people chipped in a bit here and there.

One time there was a house meeting and somebody said "we all buy almond milk, but one person in the house buys soy milk and drinks heaps of it - maybe that one person should buy their own soy milk and it should not be part of the community food bill."  After a bit of discussion, the conclusion was that this same person could drink gobs of almond milk, but prefers soy milk.  Soy milk is cheaper.  If the community continues to buy soy milk for this one person, we actually save money.  That was the only time that there was any concern about the food bill (until the vegan arrived - but that's another story for another day).  I think everybody was very pleased with the overall system, how well it worked, and how inexpensive it was.

I saw something somewhere else that reminded me of this and I thought "I should post this at permies before I forget."

The main point I wanted to convey:  I think $108 per month per person for all organic food is an awesome price.  And why go out to a restaurant when there is a much better meal at home?  And visiting with a good size group at the table was really great. 

 
                        
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That sounds fantastic, Paul. Thanks for sharing that!
 
paul wheaton
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Eventually, somebody joined our community ... I'll say her name is Kelly (not her real name).  She came from a community where food was shared, but there were constant arguments about food.  She was so happy to hear that we didn't have arguments about food and was excited to join. 

Then she promptly initiated arguments about food.  She wanted it to be cheaper and was very demanding that the whole community had to adopt what she said.  She missed some of her cooking times and later refused to sign up for meals because she was too busy. 

This was frustrating to be sure, but manageably so.  Until "Jackie" (also not a real name) moved in.  Jackie was a militant vegan and demanded that the food bill be split a different way - without use of the consensus process.  Jackie and Kelly joined forces and ... the IC did not survive. 

So for four or five months, the food stuff was fine and had no issue.  And was cheap. 

As I look back, the root of this problem was that these two people each had a lack of respect for most of the rest of the people in the community.  They each signed up for what was there, and then wanted things changed.  They did not wish to follow the procedures or to persuade others to their way of thinking, but to bully their way into getting what they wanted.  After all, most consensus systems are actually run by the most dominant personalities because others just want to get on with their lives without all the hassles.

So, IMAAOO, a wonderful thing was destroyed by a combination of consensus and bullying.

But still, one good thing came out of it:  we were able to buy all of the organic food we wanted and managed to have excellent meals for $108 per month per person.  Now that we know this, it puts a lot of value on the value of community meals for others. 

It seems that the going rate for food for most folks is about $500 per month per person (when you include in eating out). 

 
Robert Ray
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Yikes 500.00 a month per person. I'm closer to 150.00 per person.
 
travis laduke
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How did 2 people out of 7 or 11 cause the IC to not survive?
 
paul wheaton
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travis laduke wrote:
How did 2 people out of 7 or 11 cause the IC to not survive?


I think it all started with one person saying that the food bill will be divided a different way.  She had just arrived.  her idea of consensus was that everybody would concede to doing her things her way or else she would get angry, cry, get hysterical ....  most people in the house were glad to sacrifice a perfectly good thing in order to gain short term tranqulity.  Since I found poor behavior less than persuasive, I tried to find a smooth path for everybody despite the hysterics.  But this woman apparently needed to control the whole group and switched to a tactic of taking the hysterics/crazy to ten times greater. 

Our society tends to reward crazy people for crazy behavior.  People just want the ickiness to stop - so they will do whatever the crazy people demand.  Then the crazy person makes all decisions for the group. 

What the group really needed was a way to quickly expell the crazy. 
 
Richard Kastanie
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I live in a community of 60 people, and there is recurring drama around the kitchen, and what gets purchased with the kitchen budget. However it is still generally functional because our system is not consensus based, a kitchen manager (or team, two or three people can run as a team) is elected by a vote. all the managerships are up for vote in June, and whichever person or team gets the most votes is the manager for that year, unless they resign or leave, or they do a bad enough job that a vote or petition passes to remove them as manager. The vote works so that you can vote either yes or no for any person/team running, or a write-in, so if there's three people running and you thought two of them would do a good job but not the third you can vote yes for the two and no for the other one, or if you don't want anyone running to have the job you can vote no for all of them. Actually, most manager positions in a given year have one person/team running uncontested, although kitchen manager is probably the most likely to be a contested election of any position, because of the strong opinions involved. With some managerships, we actually have the opposite issue, nobody wants to do the position.
 
Suzy Bean
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Paul talked about this story in his podcast on intentional community: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/310-podcast-037-intentional-community/
 
ellen kardl
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Complicating the issue, what do you do when there are children in the community?

I spend about 500 a month on food during the non gardening season (one person, vegetarian), some for cats/dog/hens though. Easily. So even if people were buying meat in this $108, I'm still think I was getting off REALLY cheaply and not complain.
 
ellen kardl
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The main issue I see is that in a situation like this, you have a new person coming in a trying to change an established way of doing things. Rude and pushy. TELLING, not asking. I think that has to be addressed before accepting a person into an established community. Maybe like a graduated drivers license : )

Three high-drama strikes and you're out?
 
                                  
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I spent the last five years living in communities, a different type of community.....it was a paid community! Living close quarters on a private motor yacht with 10 people.  Crew would come and go and everything would be dandy.  We spent year after year having a ball traveling the world, visiting exquisite places from ever corner.  we didn't have to pay bills or tax, do laundry, cook, chores and we got paid over $1000 a week plus tips! 

We had structure on the boat,  a Captain.  we would work in a hierarchy but after hours we were all family but we still knew our place. we respected our captain so when we were away from the boat out of uniform we still respected and treated him like the evil leader. 

My point is that...
for the most part everyone loved being there, sure we were getting paid good money, but there are plenty of other boats if you really didn't like the vibe.  the only time we had problems was when someone  vegetarian came aboard and tried to change the way things were. 

Also i should add we were on a watch roster.  each day we took turn of being in charge of locking doors, turning lights off, taking trash out and cleaning the dinner dishes that the chef generated.  everyone does their own dishes but the big dishes we took turns in every night.  it seemed to work for the most part, it just took a constant reminder every couple of months from the captain, people would start slacking and leaving dishes around.  but every couple of months we would have crew meetings and problem solved.  if you didn't complete all your watch duties you would extend your weekend watch.

Not quite the community you intended, just a different perspective. 
 
paul wheaton
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msellenk wrote:
Complicating the issue, what do you do when there are children in the community?


My thinking is this:  kids eat about ten meals a day.  And between what they eat and what they waste, the amount of food is about the same as an adult.

 
ellen kardl
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Good point about the waste, agrees with my experience as a parent. It could be a point of contention with some though.
 
paul wheaton
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Not quite the community you intended, just a different perspective.


Very excellent point!

 
paul wheaton
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msellenk wrote:
Good point about the waste, agrees with my experience as a parent. It could be a point of contention with some though.


Yes.  Very ... human.


 
T. Joy
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Whoa, kids eat 10 meals a day? Them some hungry children, I must say. My 10 and 4 year olds certainly do not eat that many meals nor get anywhere near the amount of food an adult consumes, especially not a hungry man working physical labour. As for waste, mama (or equivalent) can prevent this by serving more than one very small portion as required and being creative with left overs.

I just spent a month at an ashram where we all paid a fee for our intensive course which included meals. The kitchen requisitioned what it needed, planned meals around whatever staples there were and portioned out the fresh and people ate what was served. 2 meals a day, if you wanted more you could purchase snacks from the shop or drive into town to buy whatever. We were working hard, by the time meals rolled around we were good and hungry and there were very few complaints. Kitchen staff rotated (a few select people) and staff for basics (chopping, washing up, etc) were assigned to whomever. The rest of the residents were responsible for other daily chores (cleaning bathrooms, floors, etc and gardening).
It worked for a month, I could see it working for longer.
 
Suzy Bean
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Paul also talks about this living situation in part 2: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/322-podcast-042-intentional-community-part-2/
 
Fred Winsol
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I think the vetting process and how to transition newbies into an IC are important.  Several posting here talk about 'vegans' upsetting the IC... maybe it's just certain people that happen to be vegans? 

I think the most successful ICs set boundaries with a LOT of communication and consensus.  Within those boundaries ... anything goes.  Kinda like a beautiful picture that is framed. 
 
paul wheaton
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I think that trouble makers can be vegans or omnis or .... other.  And absolutely awesome people can be vegans or omnis or whatever. 

 
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