Subject: Common meals - mandatory participation?
From: Susan Coberly (
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2014 10:23:56 -0700 (PDT)
In response to Wolf Creek's post on Coho listserve re their consternation
on finding people don't want to participate in common meals,

We here at La Querencia/ aka Fresno Cohousing [beginning move in Sept 2008]
have had an increasingly rocky road with our common meals program. Sorry in
advance for the opus...

Our Participation Agreement requires each able bodied adult to cook once,
clean twice month [currently]. [there is no definition of adult, and we
have a few adult children living here with their parent(s) who do not

Cook teams are 2, can be 3 or more depending on the complexity of the menu/
size of the turnout. Clean teams are 4, sometimes we have to call for
cleaners amongst the attendees. Eating common meals is voluntary. Choosing
a date/ day of the week up to the cooks [we initially, and periodically,
have considered specifying set days of the week, but each time have decided
not to in order to give greater flexibility to cook teams.]

We have changed our process several times. Originally the cook team also
cleaned.  After the first actual common meal, those cooks advocated to have
a separate clean team (a cook can also clean if s/he wishes), and the
policy was changed.

Then, because we suddenly had some families move in, each with a lot of
small children), we made the cost per resident child free including age 10,
and made the meals 1/2 price for resident children 11 thru 12 [price
different for non-residents/ guests].

The cost is the cooks' cost divided by attendees [with caveat that most are
adults, some are 1/2 price]. The cost cannot exceed $5.50/ adult *unless*
the cooks pre-announce when posting the menu sign up sheet [and hopefully
by email] that it could be more; if not announced and the cost exceeds
$5.50, the amount over the limit is the cooks' gift to the diners.

Cooks get credit for their expenses against which they eat.

After a long discussion session at our first annual retreat [very large but
not 100% community participation], we changed the policy to provide the
ability to call/organize a potluck as a "cook stint," and the ability to
"pass" as a cook twice a year "during busy times." [the policy needs to
be changed to add if ill or recovering from surgery, although such a person
could ask to be taken off the list temporarily because not able bodied,
people seem loathe to request this status, and I received a comment that to
require people to ask for a change in status, or to respond to a
personal confidential inquiry from the committee liaisons whether they
wanted to be taken off the list temporarily was demeaning.....]

After a hectic 2013 Cinco de Mayo common meal, the first cook stint to
2 new residents who allowed people to add on even an hour before the meal,
we changed the policy to allow attendance to be limited in number - if
specified on the sign up sheet [and reminded cooks that the policy said and
continues to say that whether cooks add folks after the deadline is their
"call"]. [Number suggested to be limited to 24 diners, posted on sign up
sheet and ideally by email announcement].

The common meals committee decided in February 2014 to *not* send out the
stats of cooks/cleans by email [the "atta boy" email thanking those who met
the minimum requirement(s), sent to all residents] because we heard
rumblings/rumors that it made non-participants feel guilty.

We have sent out reminders that a common meal doesn't have to be fancy or
complicated, could be a baked potato bar, ordered-in pizza and salad,
dessert / ice cream social....

Participation has steadily decreased.

People say they are busy. Some have suggested the community reduce
committee / weekly chores participation requirements and then maybe
they could cook/clean @ common meals.

We have 28 homes.  One can cook with a housemate/ spouse/ significant
other, or find someone else to cook with; we have a few "singles." [I am
single [and before my husband died he was not able-bodied] so I send out an
email with a date and a tentative menu, asking for a sous chef, and have
always been gratified by the quick response(s); sometimes the result is a
completely different menu or date...].

The cooks select the date and the menu, post the meal and menu [sometimes
menu is ToBeDetermined and later augmented with the actual menu] on the
Google calendar, send out an email to all residents a week ahead of the
date with the menu, and also a week before post the sign up sheet with the
menu in the Common House, with the deadline for signup [24 hrs before the
meal is a common deadline].  We allow people to sign up for a place setting
[free] so that people who want to attend the common meal can do so with
their own food, for dietary or other reasons.

People get a pass on participation on everything [committees,
chores, common meals] for the first month after moving in, to give them
time to get organized and catch their breath. [I still have some unpacked
boxes after almost 6 years of moving in, but that's just me.]

In June 2014, the most recent month for which the committee has stats, we
had 40 adults listed on the participation grid [one is a college age male;
two adults really aren't able-bodied but refuse to have their name taken
off the list; 1 couple recently had a baby and have a toddler who needs to
be supervised while parents cook so frankly I don't count them, and 1
couple was in the throes of moving out so that a buyer could take
possession at close of escrow]. Some roommates and college graduates/
working adult children are not on the list. June 2014 we had 5 common meals, and one potluck [goodbye for the
family moving out]; 2 adults ended up cooking twice in June.

A neighbor and I are co-liaisons of the common meal committee.  We and the
committee as a whole are anguished. We love the common meals as an
opportunity to get together [yes, as Katie M says, the heart of cohousing]
and don't want to change the policy to make it even more lax!  [suggestions
have been made that we disband the program for a year, have quarterly
potlucks, and  and hold discussions of whether and how to continue.]

We have high hopes of some of the new families with young children who have
recently moved in and hope that their enthusiasm will pull the 35-45 year
olds as well as some of the more senior of us back into the program.

Susan Coberly
La Querencia / Fresno Cohousing, Fresno California

Also, the Program Committee for the 2015 Coho/US conference in Durham, N.C,
May 29-31, 2015, is hoping for a workshop/ some discussion/ presentation
regarding common meals, as well as other cohousing fundamentals. See below
- I am not sure the links will work... If not, visit
2015conference  - or you may email conference [at] .

"Coho/US welcomes proposals to lead sessions at the national conference. As
a community-design process and as a way of living, cohousing encourages the
development of valuable skills that support community, foster sustainable
approaches, enhance lifestyles, and encourage civic engagement. This
conference will seek to advance those skills both within our communities
and outside our cohousing circles to grow our movement.

Cohousing residents, professionals, and others involved with cohousing and
aligned movements are invited to present sessions. *Submit proposals to
lead conference sessions here <>*.
Deadline for submission is October 1, 2014.
Conference sessions will be of three types:

   1. *Pre-conference Intensives (1/2 day or full day).* Potential sessions
   might include project management training, building our research network,
   developing facilitation skills, urban cohousing case study, and creating
   senior cohousing.
   2. *Core Curriculum (90 minute)* sessions will focus on creating and
   enhancing cohousing communities. The intent is to cover the essentials; we
   encourage new ideas and approaches. Sessions might include building and
   bolstering community; marketing & membership; conflict resolution; getting
   the work done within built communities; design process; green building;
   group process; meal systems; and more.>/li>
   3. *The Next Generation (90 minute)* sessions will highlight our theme.
   Potential sessions might focus on evolving our definition of cohousing;
   learning from our children of cohousing, and what we can offer them;
   re-energizing existing communities; emerging trends in cohousing such as
   urban affordability, rural “agritopia,” community approaches to aging in
   place, retrofit and non-traditional approaches; and fostering
   cohousing-aligned alternative communities. Visit for our theme outline.

*Panel Sessions* – some sessions may lend well to a panel structure. If you
are willing to participate as a panel presenter, rather than leading a
session, please let us know by emailing conference [at] with your
Special Gatherings

In addition to conference sessions, there will be opportunities for special
gatherings to network and share experiences. If you would like to host or
help organize a special gathering, either one suggested below or a new
group, email conference [at] with your ideas. We are currently
considering gatherings for

   - Children of cohousing
   - Rural cohousing communities
   - Cohousing research network
   - Partnership for Affordable Cohousing
   - Communities celebrating 20+ years

Questions? Ideas? Visit or email
conference [at] "

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.