Heathcote Community is a pretty special place to live, with many unusual blessings. Friends and visitors often gush about our community dinners. Six nights a week, most of the community comes to the Mill for a shared meal. Each community member signs up to lovingly cook about thrice a month. That way, the work is light and people usually cook their particular vegetarian specialties, making the Heathcote cuisine legendary!
A few years ago, we gutted the first floor of the Mill to open up the space as we add members. We renovated and expanded our dining room and kitchen areas.
We wanted more members. So we brainstormed about recruitment and we meditated on our intention, picturing the people arriving. They did!
Since that time, we’ve gone from eight adults and four kids to sixteen adults and six children living on the land. I imagine the economic downturn helps our population explosion, with people who’ve considered Intentional Community for years, finally pursuing that adventure.
Now, long ago when we were fewer, dinner cleanup was a drag. We always had the agreement that whoever cooked for the night didn’t have to clean. But some cooks have simple ways and some cooks, well, they use every pot in the place, open twenty-seven cans and fling food on every conceivable surface. We would rotate a couple of members to clean, who were sometimes at it for hours.
Then it was proposed that we try having all eaters except the cook clean up. This seemed like overkill to some, awkward to others, but we consensed to try it.
At first, I found it way overstimulating, having eight or more adult bodies in our tiny, pre-renovation kitchen. Whenever I could snag the dishwashing job and face the wall, I would. I want to be a good girl and do what’s expected, but I’m not one of those personality types who thrives on chaos.
Folks soon found that, like our communal dinners themselves, the cleanup had become a group bonding experience. People would continue dinner conversation, sing songs, gather consensus around where things belonged in the kitchen and what do do with plastic bags–”I still can’t believe we actually wash these!!!”
And our renovation certainly created some elbow room, smoothing out the chaos. That is, until the people we imagined showed up, picked up dish towels and asked, “Where does this thingy go?”
Our dining room tables used to host cooperative jigsaw puzzles, slow chess games, kid art projects, and so forth. Suddenly it’s, “Where can I sit? Who’s stuff is this? Can we make an agreement about kids’ stuff in common areas? I have some feelings about this…”
And I’m back to wishing for a cleanup job that faces the wall. But I stand there, on a team of four waiting to dry and/or put away dishes. I look around to see two dishwashers at two different sinks, one rinser, two or three dryers, three or four put-awayers, two sweepers (only two brooms), a cloud of bodies spooning leftovers into containers, labeling and dating them, and a few newbies standing on the edges, trying to figure out how to cut in and steal the ball.
The chaos is made more delicious with the addition of the Heathcote kids to dinner cleanup. They have spent years building their own community in our Open Classroom program. After several years of using consensus to create kid systems to cook and clean up their own lunch, they understood the take and give of community. When some adults expressed concern/resentment/pissiness that kids just ran off to play after dinner, the kids problem solved and offered an agreement that kids would do twenty minutes of cleanup each night. Their presence has been heartwarming, distracting, loud, hilarious, usually effective and generally a wonderful gift.
Lately, I’ve been counting twenty-three and more bodies at dinners. I’m curious to see what will bubble up as we co-create the systems that work for our growing community. Open Classroom went from three to five students this year. We needed to create new structures for everything, waiting for our new students to buy-in to our problem-solving consensus. What will the adults say? Should we go back to shifts of cleaner-upers? I already hear folks saying that we have too many eaters for one cook to feed. Cooking teams?
The delicious problems of success. In the meantime, outta my way! Hippie Chick with a wet dish!