Sunday, November 28, 2010

A "From the Farm" Thanksgiving — Craig Jensen

One night in August, a fox snuck into our barn and carried away many of our turkey chicks. It was an early and excessive thanksgiving for the fox family, but a major setback here at The Meeting School. New birds were ordered and the staff and students (with the help of dogs, cows, and guinea hens) stayed on alert. The new birds have done well, but we’re still expecting a smaller-than-average Thanksgiving turkey on the table.

At The Meeting School, we celebrate the fall harvest with a “from the farm” Thanksgiving. We serve our turkey as well as our roasted root vegetables and our mashed potatoes. We stuff squash and press cider, we bake pies from our apples and pears, and we invite our families and friends to sit down at the long wooden farm tables that make up our dining hall. Sharing food, and sharing the work of growing and preparing it, is an essential part of The Meeting School’s unique learning experience and there is no better display of this than Thanksgiving. Farm raised turkeys, slaughtered here and cooked here by a staff and student team, are the traditional focus of the table. I know that our current farm coordinator is thankful that the birds have sized up enough to show well, but my own food-related thanks this November are still set on our tomatoes.

Our greenhouse is a small, slant window design, built onto the south side of the boarding house that is also home to our community kitchen. When I returned to The Meeting School in August I began reclaiming this favorite space. I started new greens and began moving others inside. I’ve transplanted in leeks and herbs and flowers that will extend our season and enrich our community meals. But the highlight has been the sprawling tomato plant that continues to bud, and flower, and fruit even now in the second week of November. The greenhouse is unheated but has a very warm bank from the building behind it. When I began tying up the plant in August it was just a leggy and ambitious start that had not been moved outside. It was slow to fruit, but has really been producing some quality tomatoes. It seems very possible that we’ll have fruit ripen on the vine that we can add to a Thanksgiving salad. Incredible!

In my experience, the way we grow, cook, and share our food can really define a community. Sharing food with friends at The Meeting School helped me realize my call to farming and convinced me to live in community. I am looking forward to growing food and growing community in Belfast soon, but until then you are all invited to visit us here in southern New Hampshire.

What motivates a family to join? — Abby Gilchrist

We joined Belfast Cohousing for many reasons. We have lived on a farm half an hour from Belfast for the last seven years. Over that time, we have worked on it — completely renovating, and making the old farmhouse really efficient, fixing up the barn and other outbuildings, starting gardens — basically we have made it into the farm that we always dreamed of having. But, since having our two children, we realize how often we are in Belfast and how much time our children spend in the car. We have also found that we are isolated on our farm, having to schedule times to see any of our friends who live just a few miles down the road. With just the two of us and our two young children, it has also been difficult to find the time to do any serious farming, and we have had to cut our flock of sheep way down to a much more manageable six.

The more we thought about it, Belfast Cohousing seemed like a great choice for us. Only two miles out of town (a five minute drive), it offers us a wonderful mix of community, farming, gardening, woods, nature, the ocean, and convenience! Now we can enjoy having agricultural animals and the related chores, but not be tied down by them. Sharing the work with others allows us the chance to have more freedom in our schedules.

The children will be able to run out the door to play with their friends within sight of many community members. We feel it’s important for our children to be around many other children and adults, and this interaction will be very easy in our community — the homes will be in close proximity, and all connected by walking paths throughout the community. The common house will be a wonderful gathering space with a few shared meals a week (and we will only have to cook or clean-up once in a while!). We also picture many craft projects spread out on the tables in the afternoons, spontaneous plays put on by the kids, and sitting in the living room talking with friends while children run back and forth between us and the children's playroom.

Of course, the community aspect is the main reason we have joined the project. While we can see the many benefits that there will be when we move in, our family has already experienced many of them. Support and friendships, as well as help with projects like pickling beets. And perhaps there will be a big work party at our farm this weekend to help with our move! Coleen and Elizabeth have already given us a chance to leave our children with someone they know while we have had a few dinners in town.

Another reason we decided to join the community is to minimize our eco-footprint and impact on the environment by driving less, sharing resources, and living in a home that reduces heating costs by 90%. And did we mention what a wonderful, cool town Belfast is? It has a wonderful co-op, a very active downtown library, art galleries, a variety of music gatherings, and community theater. So, we are moving. It is sad to say good-bye to the life that we had dreamed of for so long, but exciting to be moving forward toward this new dream of ours.

The Bella Luna Common House — Steve Chiasson

The weekend before Thanksgiving, at the instigation of our super-motivated Boston-based contingent, a bunch of cohousers from Maine traveled south to help “Plaster Boston” with posters and brochures, tapping this significant market in an effort to uncover ten more families — TEN! — for whom Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is the perfect fit. We know they’re out there. We just need to find each other.

The caper was well planned. We all arrived at North Station around 1:00 and sprang into action, jazzing up our standard marketing posters with dayglow pink and green stickers — “Sustainability, Community, and Affordability!” “Only ten units left!” “One BR units starting at $150,000!” “A fraction of Boston prices!” “Super energy-efficient!” All true.

Our team leaders equipped us with lists of businesses plotted on Google maps, stacks of flyers, tacks, tape and directions to Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain, where we would regroup for dinner at the end of the day. Four teams fanned out to comb four sections of the city, looking not just for places to hang posters, but also for any businesses that might allow us to put up a display or host a presentation. It was an ambitious undertaking. And I had misgivings from the start…

Let’s just say I’ve had some seriously unpleasant experiences involving asking complete strangers for favors, dealing with noisy, fast-paced environments, and getting lost in Boston. Even with Jim, Bill, Sarah and Atkins (Sarah’s service dog) by my side, I felt a slight heaviness in my gut as we headed up the street toward Boston’s North End. At a corner coffee shop near North Station, Bill and Sarah headed off on their own while Jim and I inquired inside. The folks in the shop gladly let us post our materials, supplied the name of the manager, and came over to study the flyer as we were on our way out. So far, so good. At our second stop, Jim slid into a neighborhood laundromat while I crossed the street to another coffee shop. No room for posters there, but they did have space for brochures next to the door. The manager even cleared out some old materials to make space for ours. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad.

Back outside the coffee shop, I squatted on the sidewalk and scanned the printed list Jim had previously given me for the name and address of the shop I'd just "postered." Boston Commons Coffee. Check. I looked up, but didn’t see Jim on the street, and so I assumed he’d finished postering the laundromat and had moved on to the next business on his list. OK then. I had a map. I had a cell phone. I knew how to proceed. Feeling somewhat emboldened, I decided to strike out on my own.

First I pinpointed my location on my Google map and headed off toward the next business on my list. At the next intersection, I opened the map to double-check reference points and street names. Hmmmm. The major street directly in front of me was not identified on the map. I walked a few blocks in either direction and still did not find any other streets I could identify on the map. In short, I was lost in Boston. Again! With a map!! Fighting off my upset feelings, I decided it didn’t matter. I could just walk up and down the streets in the immediate area, simply moving block by block looking for any place of business where I might leave materials.

I walked past rows of upscale restaurants, too intimidated to walk through the doors. A couple of pastry shops with lines of patrons stretching out the door were clearly too busy to even speak with me. A butcher shop? Wrong clientele. A small organic grocer looked promising, but I could find no place inside where materials might be left. Same with the gelati shop. I hung a poster in a dingy laundromat and plowed on, struggling now with quickly growing feelings of discouragement. When I found myself leaving the neighborhoods of shops and entering a sort of warehouse district, I turned to retrace my steps only to discover that I now truly had no clue which way to go. On top of that, I was getting cold. And my back, which I’d injured at work earlier in the week, was becoming seriously painful.

I hunkered down against the wind and pulled out the large Boston map Jim had given me, ”Just in case.” It might as well have been in Greek. The streets were too numerous and densely packed, and many were not identified by name. Having no idea where I was, I had no point of reference. I stared at it in dismay. I could have gotten my phone out and called Jim. I could have asked a passerby for directions. I could have done any number of things that involved rational thought, but the reality was that I was completely in the thrall of discouragement, despair and self-recrimination. Blinking back tears, the most coherent thought I could seem to muster was simply, “I’ve got to get back to North Station,” and I started walking.

Fortunately, my choice of direction was sound. Soon things started to look more familiar, and I came out upon the broad avenue that runs down toward the Zakim Bridge and North Station. Now that the worst of the crisis had passed, I felt calmer. I sat on a curbside bench and took out my map and my list of businesses for one more look. Still nothing made sense. The brief thought that I might just resume systematically canvassing the neighborhood vanished in an eyeblink when I realized that daylight was waning. No way was I going to let myself be caught out there in the dark. It was 4:00 o’clock as I rose and headed down two blocks to North Station for a 5:30 rendezvous with the members of my team. I had three businesses listed on my sheet, and felt miserable. A wimp. A total failure.

I spent the next hour and a half watching commuters and Bruins fans come and go, sometimes standing to knead the knot in my back, sometimes sitting with with my head in my hands, staring at the floor. I was in this position when Jim walked up. I was immediately comforted by his companionable compassion. It made absolutely no difference to him that I had only three names on my sheet. Nothing could have mattered less. What mattered was that we were there, together. I almost felt like crying again, this time for completely different reasons.

A short time later at the restaurant, Lindsey gave me a hug and a look that clearly said, “I care about you. ” Denise offered to swap seats so I wouldn’t have to sit apart from the group. From the far end of the table, James noticed me kneading my back and came over to apply some on-the-spot massage therapy. It was heavenly. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of a busy Boston restaurant, two dozen members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage sat together, sharing a meal and stories of the day. That evening, the Bella Luna restaurant in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts became our Common House. Looking at those familiar faces around the table and hearing the laughter and conversation I realized that for the rest of my life, unless I consciously choose to, I will never, ever have to be alone in this world. I love these people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Day at the Fair — Jeffrey Mabee

Judith and I went to the Common Ground Fair on Friday this year. It was a cold, cloudy damp day, an amazing contrast to the next day which was sunny and hot. I love the cool, wet days. It reminds me of fishing in Alaska. Anyway, I love the sheepdog trials and made a beeline there while Judith wandered over to the Energy and Shelter area. It is a marvel to watch these dogs and their handlers. I wondered if we should have one at cohousing to make sure the children don’t wander off! After the show I met up with Judith, and as we strolled through the energy displays, I was delighted to find that I felt free of the need to figure out what systems we would be using in our future home. I felt grateful that so many intelligent and thoughtful decisions had already been made on our behalf and that we can look forward to being cozy, warm and energy efficient without making another decision! We will not have to cut down another tree or burn another gallon of oil if we are judicious in our use of electricity. We don’t need to decide what kind of construction we want, what roof type, what kind of windows and doors, what type of insulation etc. What freedom!

From the vast array of lunch possibilities, we chose a veggie wrap and sat down at a picnic table. A couple from Rockport, MA came along and sat with us and we immediately started a conversation about cohousing (perhaps because of my tee-shirt). They were very interested in our project. We talked them into checking out Belfast before returning home. We love Belfast and it is easy for us to be enthusiastic about it. Then another couple sat down with us. They were from Martha’s Vineyard and had been receiving our newsletter for some time. We had many things in common and I could see how well they would fit into cohousing. It was a good example of how we never know where we might bump into a stranger who will become a future neighbor. And that’s a reason to wear your t-shirt and carry BC&E cards and brochures wherever you go!

It was a good day at the fair. I went there thinking this could be the last time we need to do our booth. I left the fair thinking we would always have a presence there and that there will always be people interested in our way of life. We might even need our own tent considering all the exciting projects we will want to share with these thousands of like-minded people at the fair!