Like with pretty much everything else here, I am just scratching the surface of the whole co-op idea. I am currently a member of two co-ops, am forming a third, and will soon be out of one of those co-ops.
We have been eating in Skykitchen for a few months now, minus our trip back east, but we are moving soon and will have our own kitchen. I have been a part of the grower’s co-op for this growing season, though I missed most of the formative meetings. And I have been talking with some other parents about creating a homeschool co-op for this school year, though we haven’t figured out what exactly that will look like yet.
My Thoughts on Co-ops
These are all very new experiences. Obviously, this is not really the way that things are done in mainstream society. What I have always been used to is the idea that the nuclear family is pretty much responsible for everything. And when I say nuclear family, what that often means is the mother.
The idea of a co-op is that by sharing resources as well as work, it is more sustainable. Why have three kitchens and three ovens and three refrigerators and three different houses all cooking their separate meals when you can all share one?
From what I’ve experienced so far, I have seen many benefits and drawbacks to the co-op method.
There is less work, but also there is more. So I now cook only once a week, but on the days that I do cook I probably spend up to six hours in the kitchen. That includes clean-up, lunch the next day, and maybe a food preservation project or two. But when you divide that out by the days of the week, it looks kind of like I am spending an average of an hour a day, which might be pretty close to what I’ll do when we are back to our own private kitchen. But then again, on the days that I don’t cook, I am absolutely free to do what I want, or have to do, until dinner.
There is lots and lots of compromise. You can’t always get what you want, and, depending on how you define need, sometimes you can’t get what you need. One of the reasons why I am looking forward to eating on our own again is that the kids have probably eaten rice and cheese for almost every meal for the past few weeks. Yes, this is our fault for not forcing them to eat what is served blah blah blah. But after years of making kids do what they don’t want to do, and having twenty five of those kids in the same room at the same time and I was the only adult making them do those tasks, I am pretty burned out on being a hard-ass. So I only cook once a week, but I also don’t get to choose what I eat on the other six days.
You’re always kind of measuring how much work everyone does. For the grower’s co-op, we have a spreadsheet where you log your hours. The idea is that everyone will keep track and just make sure that we all put in the same amount of work. But it is literally impossible for us all to do the same amount. Some people are busier than others, some work faster, some just don’t care as much about the grower’s co-op as they do about other commitments in their lives. So you put in what you can and what you think you should, but you never quite stop measuring.
Time is spent in different ways, but it is still spent. Once we get the homeschool co-op up and running, it will be a few days a week (or a few afternoons, depending on what we end up doing) when I’ll have no kids and time to get a lot of work done. But until that happens, there are meetings and phone conversations and emails. If it were just me doing the homeschooling, I wouldn’t have any of that free time during the school year, and I would be planning all on my own. Much more time lost. But I also wouldn’t have any emails or phone calls with myself.
It’s a really great way to get to know people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Once you’ve done all that compromising and talking and washing of pots and pans, there is also lots of time to talk and hang out and get to know people. When we go back to eating on our own, we won’t have a dinner party every night anymore. And I really like the other parents in the homeschool co-op; every time that we meet to talk about scheduling or compensation, I get to know them a little better. When we were out weeding the onions in a night-time work party, we were also talking the entire time.
I’m going to miss eating with Skykitchen, even while I am thrilled to eat whatever I want, and I think that I will seek out the co-op experience more here. Even if it isn’t always easy.