Our meal sharing systems

MoJo, Matt, Steve, Kat, Lee and Maria at one of our shared meals on the front porch.

Over the years we have had varying degrees of success with sharing food. We have tried out a number of approaches from everyone buying their own food supplies to sharing most ingredients. We have tried both an incentive system and one based on taking turns cooking.

Nov 2012 Update: Our latest attempt at an organized shared meal system started in May 2012 and so far so good, We typically have three or four delicious community dinners per week, plus the sharing of smaller meals, snacks and treats. Usually there are leftovers. We have made some significant changes to the how we share. We now buy all our food ingredients out of a shared housefund of $230 per person per month. This fund also has been paying $35 per dinner to any of us willing to cook.

Starting this month, we are trying a slightly different way of rewarding people. Whatever is left in the house fund at the end of a month after paying for food and cleaning supplies will be distributed evenly as an hourly rate among those who recorded time spent cooking and cleaning.

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New vision: simple vegetarian living • spiritual practice

Introducing a new type of shared living that started  here May 1, 2012.  Update Jan 31, 2013: Third floor west-facing room available Feb 1st ($450 + $230 housefund). Or $190 per week. A housemate of ours took a last minute trip to South America. Another housemate is going on vacation. Her room is available until March 26 or so.

There are five aspects to the new vision:

1. Learn and experience a healthy vegetarian lifestyle. 

We want to support those who want to try a vegetarian/vegan diet and can benefit from living with other new and seasoned veggies. Up to three bedrooms will be for shorter term (up to one year) new vegetarians, and the rest will be for experienced vegetarians who are open to helping the new people. There will be documentary nights and shared cooking of dinners where you are encouraged to help out and learn. There may be cooking classes or just learning through osmosis.

2. Inviting spiritual practice. 

This will be up to everyone living here to co-create: but we are aiming to have a weekly sharing event that includes meditation, devotional chanting, movement, etc. There will also be time to resolve any interpersonal tensions that come up. We also anticipate having some yoga, dance, and music jams happening in the house – both spontaneous and planned.

3. Home cooked meals will be included!

Every week there are 2 or 3 dinners (feasts) and several smaller meal preparations. Those who cook receive some money back from the house fund. Even at times when there is no meal, there are often leftovers or it can be a chance to cook on your own or go out for dinner. We have a house fund that will pay for purchases from farmers’ markets, Karma Food coop, an organic delivery service, ONFC buying club for bulk grains, etc.

4. Environmental focus. 

We are looking for people who care about the environment and are willing to avoid plastic packaging and products, open to fixing things instead of buying new, and not wearing/using chemically scented perfumes, cologne, soap/shampoo, etc unless very natural.

5. Simple all-inclusive price. 

Depending on size and room features, rents will range from $355 to $470 and will include all utilities, high speed cable internet and house phone for outgoing calls. In addition there will be a monthly house fund fee of $230 that will cover groceries, house purchases (kitchen equipment, garden plants, etc) and will pay residents who want to cook and clean. The total cost will be around $650 but less for those who actively participate.

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Sunday community dinners

Frequently on Sundays in 2009, one person cooked a big vegetarian feast and we invited people to come over for a community dinner. Usually guests were asked to bring something to contribute to the meal. The person responsible for cooking received $25 from our house fund. It can be a good chance to try out new vegan recipes.

In December 2008, Colleen and Du Fei generously provided an enormous Chinese-style feast with dozens of dishes. These two lived at the house for only two weeks but we became good friends with them. They have since returned to China.

Grape abundance

Back in Spring I wrote about having to prune our Concord grape vine by breaking several of the buds off with my thumb nail.

I wrote: “…one advantage of pruning just the buds, is that you will end up with a thick network of branches that will help block raiding raccoons from reaching the finished grapes that hang down from the vines.”

It worked. The grapes became ripe in early September and were visited by hungry racoons nightly. They ate a bunch and dropped some, but because of the thick mat of vines, many of the grapes that hung down were too hard for them to reach. The same was true for the birds. We were able to harvest grapes whenever we wanted up until mid October. I know someone who cuts all his grapes off early on and composts most of them to avoid the inevitable mess caused by the coons. Our neighbour, Josee lost his grapes to racoons last year, so this year he also cut his very early.

This pruning adaption has allowed us to share the grape abundance among all our furred, feathered and human friends.

Not Far From The Tree – picking local fruit

In September, I joined a really cool Toronto group called Not Far From the Tree. They harvest fresh fruit from people’s backyards. The group is made up of volunteer gleaners. Everyone benefits: the tree owners who get a share of the harvest and their yard cleared of falling fruit, the volunteers who get exercise, social interaction and a share of the bounty, and homeless shelters who are the main recipients of this free harvest. The program is also very good for the environment as it supports locally-grown produce – you can’t get more local than a backyard tree. Eating this way avoids agricultural pesticides and herbicides as well as the fuel for long distance shipping.

John (who lives at the house) and I went on a couple of pear picks this Fall. We were assigned to a huge tree with an enormous bounty of fruit. At the end, our share amounted to over 50 pears each. I climbed high into the tree and took the following photos.

Picking pears

John picking pears with Shannon and Jen, two other volunteers

Hellen bravely climbs up to pick up another heavy bag of pears.

Helen bravely climbs up to get another heavy bag of pears that I am about to hand her.

A couple weeks later, we picked another pear tree. This time I recorded the count: 12 large bags (and one bucket for the owners). Together they weighed about 250 pounds (over 110 kilograms). I estimate we got 1150 pears from that single tree. There were still a lot more that we couldn’t reach and others that weren’t ripe enough yet. And before we arrived much fruit had already fallen. The owner reported that a small branch weighted with pears had come crashing down a few days prior.

Pear bounty. On the left are the tree owners. I am in the center.

Our team of gleaners including the tree owners on the left. I am in the center. We picked this pear bounty in just a few hours with the help of the blue tarp in the photo. With a person holding each corner, it was held suspended below the tree while I was high up in the canopy shaking branches.

Fruit trees produce a lot food using very little land. Years ago, I researched how much land it takes to feed people. I wanted to know how the land footprint compared between vegetarians and meat-eaters. If you divide all the agricultural land in North America by the population it comes out to about 3.5 acres per person. But it turns out that vegetarians can subsist on a fraction of this amount.

Picking pears this Fall really proved to me how true and important this is. Just a few trees can produce more food than you could possibly eat in a year. Other plant foods such as potatoes and grains are also very productive. Eating low on the food chain frees up farmland that can be returned to wilderness. It also means less soil erosion, less dams, less pesticides and less energy use.

In addition to pears, Not Far From the Tree has picked apricots, apples, elderberries and grapes. So far this year they have picked over 3,003 pounds of fruit that would have otherwise fallen to the ground.