Servant Leadership in Cooperative Business: Stirring It Up at East Wind Nut Butters

originally published in Communities magazine, issue #175, Summer, 2017

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East Wind Community is a founding member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) in the hills of the Ozarks. East Wind Nut Butters, founded in 1981, is equally owned and operated by the members of East Wind Community and is currently its dominant source of income. East Wind Nut Butters produces peanut, almond, cashew, and sesame seed butters. East Wind Community is composed of 73 members who live on over 1000 acres of beautifully forested land.

Here I am again, sitting at a desk dazed by a big bright monitor. Scrutinizing spreadsheets. Writing emails. Staring at the weather. How did I allow this to happen? I came to East Wind to get away from all this, didn’t I? That is what I thought I wanted, at least. Of course, everything besides the familiar humming of a computer and the ringing of phones is different.

After graduating from the honors business school at Indiana University in 2012 I didn’t have many plans. While my friends sought higher education and high paying jobs I had little interest in either. Disillusioned with the state of the world and the society I grew up in I came to desire an alternative to what I was observing on a daily basis. Three years and some Google searches later my discovery of IC.org led me to schedule visitor periods at East Wind and Twin Oaks.

In March of 2015 I made the two-day bus journey towards southern Missouri to make my intrepid first visit to a fully income-sharing community. A month before, my year stint as a secretary for a small family business ended when I decided to pursue this incredibly different path. That tiny amount of time spent in the office workforce of America proved to be invaluable in the role I was soon to fill.

Nearly immediately I fell in love with East Wind. The land, the people, the sense of opportunity and promise. After visiting East Wind and Twin Oaks for “official” visitor periods and checking a number of places in between I knew that East Wind was where I wanted to be.

I lived and labored at East Wind for about seven months as a “working guest on the waiting list.” Essentially this meant that because the membership of East Wind was at its legislated full capacity of 73 people I had to wait to become a member. Benefits such as having a room, receiving a $150 dividend each month and full medical coverage did not apply to me. However, I also was not beholden to the rules concerning working for East Wind’s dominant business: East Wind Nut Butters. All members who wish to receive their monthly dividend must work a set number of hours (the “Industrial Quotient” or simply “IQ”) each week. This number is determined by the General Management Team of the business and ranges from zero to eight. I was not required and in fact was discouraged from working IQ hours during my time as a working guest.

For a young man looking to learn about food production and homesteading this could not have been a better arrangement. East Wind’s weekly labor quota is 35 hours. These hours can manifest from gardening, cow milking, building maintenance, cooking, cleaning, working in the business (“IQ” hours), and a plethora of other things that community values as useful labor. Without the burden of having to work in the business (I worked just three factory shifts in the first seven months I lived at East Wind) I was free to pursue passions known and unknown. Gardening, woodworking, cow milking, cart building and maintenance, and food processing consumed both my mind and body. I could not get enough and learned more practical skills than I had in my 24 years prior.

This time was precious. Finding friends. Bonding with an amazing new partner. Coming into my own as an adult. Easing into the idea of East Wind being home. My existence was relatively carefree and I was grateful to have found such a special place. Not being a member meant that no serious responsibilities fell upon my shoulders.

Often, while sitting at this desk in front of this ridiculous screen, I am reminded of my college days. Listening to Ratatat, Beethoven, anything nonlyrical really and reading, studying, analyzing. Except this is an actual challenge. This is the real world. Decisions with consequences. Responsibility and accountability to oneself and others. No grades, just results and outcomes. I am a manager. I am an entrepreneur. These are the roles I play at East Wind. A business with three million dollars in sales a year can’t exist long without a group of people taking on particular niches and holding such positions to maintain stability and continuity.

An active sales manager and a vision of where the business was heading were desperately needed when I first began working in the office for Nut Butters. Everything else was already in place. Delicious and nutritious nut butters made fresh in daily batches. A production team composed of experienced and talented individuals working together to manufacture tried and true, simple and wholesome, one- and two-ingredient products. A meticulously managed warehouse full of almond, cashew, peanut, and sesame seed butter. An established regional brand with an impeccable food safety record.

East Wind Nut Butters was doing everything right in terms of producing high quality staple foods, but its major failing was in being sluggishly responsive to an increasingly competitive health food market. In 1981, when the business was founded, all-natural and organic peanut butter was a true novelty. Look at your grocery store shelf today and you’ll see that today’s market is saturated with more nut butter brands and varieties than ever before. All-natural, organic, claims of “Superfood!,” etc. abound. It’s easy for a small brand that relies on word of mouth and that barely advertises to get lost in all the marketing noise.

One of the first decisions I made after being elected as the General Manager and Sales Manager of Nut Butters was to change our label vendor. Going with a smaller, more local printer reduced costs significantly and also made changing the labels less of a hassle. East Wind has always relied on the quality of their products and word of mouth to maintain business. I liked that the advertising budget was incredibly minimal. I don’t like the idea of “selling” someone on something they don’t need. However, marketing nutritious staple foods to the general public is sufficiently palatable to my ethical standards. Making clear on our labels why East Wind Nut Butters is different than the other brands was a top priority. “Single Ingredient: 100% US grown Valencia peanuts.” This phrase would have meant very little to me two years ago. Until recently I was unaware of the fact that most peanuts are imported from China and India and that there are many different varieties of peanuts. The nice thing about US-grown Valencia peanuts is that when you roast and mill them they make a nice, thick, nutrient-dense peanut butter. With Chinese peanuts there is a need to add things like palm oil, hydrogenated oil, excess salt, and sugar to make the peanut butter something a person might actually find tasty, though still not something a health-conscious person would want to put in their body.

Making slight changes to our labels is a relatively small decision in the grand scheme of things. What about expanding business? A larger facility and new products? Radically changing the business model? These are all considerations that any entrepreneur thinks about. When to scale up. When to drop products and when to introduce new ones. All of these bigger decisions have a context. Context is of the utmost importance for any business. I am one of 73 equal owners in this business. I am not a Silicon Valley cowboy with angel investors and a dream. Keeping a level head close to the Earth is my top asset. Any big project needs to be thoroughly thought out in the full context of East Wind. More than that, it needs to be effectively communicated if it is ever to become a reality.

If you want to make a major organizational change and have this change be effective you need to communicate clearly to those who will be affected. Such an effort cannot be a top-down, out-of-the-blue affair. Constantly eliciting feedback and figuring out the priorities of a community of 73 people takes a lot of time and energy. Communication attempted by an individual to an entire community can be difficult and it is in this realm that I still have much to learn. Patience and planning are prerequisite to any ambitious endeavor in this setting.

East Wind meetings can be boring by their very nature. No one intends them to be, of course. They require a lot of deliberation, and involve long spans of waiting to speak. The standard meeting, in which we rotate through single speakers talking and everyone else listening, is not the most efficient way of discussing a multi-faceted idea. Redundancy and tangential lines of thought quickly dampen any sense of momentum. On occasion, I am reminded of how I felt during Occupy Bloomington circles.

Typically, less than a third of the community is in attendance for community meetings. All meetings must be proposed by a member of the community and 10 percent of all members must sign the proposal to get the meeting scheduled. At some points in the year there will be no meetings “on the stack” and weeks go by without having an “official” community meeting. At other points there is a lengthy list of issues—policies on how common spaces are used, an idea to repurpose a defunct building, policies on pets—and very consistent weekly meetings. Many meetings see less than a third of the community participate. Not everyone cares to spend an afternoon talking about things that may not affect their lives much.

The most contentious issues and votes are the most well-attended. Budget meetings and membership votes pique plenty of people’s interest, but even for these I’ve learned to expect no more than half of the community to be in attendance. The format of the meeting, the weather on the day of the meeting, and the location of the meeting have a significant impact on how many people attend and how productive the meeting is. The meeting format at East Wind that has become commonplace is by no means set in stone and those with the energy and the will find more creative ways of percolating their ideas through the collective East Wind conscience. Exploring this art can be vexing. I have come to believe that the commune setting is the ultimate teacher due to its all-encompassing scope. How can humans live with each other? What type of society are we shaping? How are we to live?

Such considerations are rarely given much time or energy in the majority of the corporate world. Really simple ideas like growth and monetary profit dominate. By ignoring the living Earth and the interests of others it becomes possible to make decisions that are close-to-optimal through that limited lens. It’s easy when you look at numbers on a spreadsheet and all you have to do is maximize profit. Clearcut rainforest and cheap palm oil, abused workers and cheap imports—if you don’t see these things and don’t think about these things then it is easy to go about your day in a society that rewards you for your “success.” The ability to deny is a strong evolutionary trait. It exists within all of us. It can allow us to make sense of this world. It can allow us to make sense of this world in the worst ways. Feeding into these habits is a culture founded upon endless growth and destruction; a culture of convenience and consumption; a technoutopia of iPhone cults and pick-your-own realities created by a web of social media platforms.

Forgive my digression. Where I came from, what I was born into reminds me of what I wish to avoid passing down to succeeding generations. My motivation is in building something; building upon an inheritance that many lay claim to. We stand on the shoulders of giants. My contribution to this legacy, whether footnote or volume, remains to be seen. The manner in which I manage East Wind Nut Butters defines me, both externally and internally, whether I like it or not. Respect for a job well done is accepted awkwardly. Scorn for a mistake, typically self-inflicted, is not taken lightly. The trap of thinking that my work in the business is, in isolation, my most important role in community is an easy one to fall into.

The delusions of grandeur that consume my ego at times are not always useful. A solid block of manual labor working in the garden or a grounded conversation with a fellow communard soon alleviates the problem. For this relief I am grateful. Ambition that is constantly checked is potently transformative. This has been my experience at East Wind. Leaders here are servants, and servants are leaders. I am one of many and in this I find comfort. We live to serve. It sounds religious or like a corporate tagline, but the sentiment is sound. Serving each other. Serving your landbase and watershed. Serving the living systems that allow for your existence.

What is it to lead in community? It is subtle. It is pronounced. It is the patience and foresight to wait for the right time and let energies flow organically. Generally, people want to help and people want to make things happen. For the biggest projects it is a matter of anticipating the roadblocks and the bottlenecks and eliminating or reducing them to maintain high participation and morale. My two years at East Wind have been sufficient to accumulate a small amount of wisdom on the matter. Two more will bring a greater grasp. Everything in due time.

As I sit here at this desk listening to Washed Out and finishing up an email by click clacking on the keyboard I take a break to stare out the window and ponder possible futures. I have never experienced such optimism and passion for life. Total engagement. This weird and wonderful place, this income-sharing commune has provided the environment, the proper context, for my potential to become kinetic. Where am I? Where is East Wind? Where shall we head?

Sumner is a 26-year-old white male attempting to live a moral life in an age of decline. He desires to create and build. Gardening, cow milking, maintaining East Wind’s fleet of hand carts, and dishwashing are some of his favorite labors. In his downtime he plays various card and board games or spends time with his lovely boyfriend. On nice sunny afternoons you will find him and his friends along East Wind’s mile of Lick Creek. Recently, he has become enthralled with birding and taking pictures of our avian friends. By the time this article is published you should be able to see some of his bird pictures, amongst many others, on the eastwind.org website.

 

 

Servant Leadership in Cooperative Business: Stirring It Up at East Wind Nut Butters

Spring Garden Update

from the East Wind Community blog, May 8, 2017

Spring in Ozark County has arrived with the thunderous roar of hail and heavy rain. The rainfall has caused a record shattering high water crest for Norfork Lake and has heavily damaged a number of bridges including Tecumseh Bridge which is only a few miles from East Wind. Some plants and trees have sustained hail damage, but the bigger issue has been the long periods of overcast and rain that don’t allow for sufficient sunlight and warmth for good growth as well as making it more difficult to work in the beds and prepare for transplanting all the summer crops out of the greenhouse. May is usually the busiest time of the year in the garden and hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants will need to be transplanted in the coming week.

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Veteran Garden Managers Richard and Petey are leading up the 2017 season. First visiting East Wind within one month of each other these greenthumbs have been members for just under a decade. Richard has held an affinity for identifying trees and observing plants since he was a child. Petey has a passion for holistic gardening and a fondness for the living world. Sharing a desire for nutrient dense homegrown food this duo, with the support and help of many other East Winders both past and present, established the Lower Garden and effectively doubled the size of East Wind’s gardens. In combination with the seventy foot hoophouse  built in the fall of 2015 East Wind’s vegetable production has increased greatly in the last five years. Homegrown tomatoes are now available year round (including canned, of course). Homegrown potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, okra, sweet peppers, and strawberries are all available at least six months out of the year.

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This season’s garden plan is similar to last season’s in terms of amounts grown. The hoophouse has early slicer tomatoes, three varieties of heat resistant broccoli hybrids, Romanesco broccoli, early cauliflower, and a number of cabbage varieties in the ground and beginning to bear fruit. Cucumbers and sweet peppers are also coming along. Lettuces, arugula, and salad turnips have been produced continuously via succession planting through the Winter into Spring. The hoophouse’s crops were completely protected from the 3/4 inch hail East Wind experienced recently.

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Out in the Main Garden and Lower Garden peas, carrots, beets, turnips, lettuce, potatoes, garlic, onions, bush beans, cucumbers, zucchinis, and parsnips are all in the ground. The first strawberry of the year was picked in mid April and the expanded patch promises to be very productive this season once we get some warmer and dryer weather. Richard is pleased to find that chestnut trees he began planting in 2010 have started to produce. The onion patch is located in the Lower Garden this year and transplants of onions planted in late Fall out of the hoophouse are off to a strong start compared to onions started late Winter in the greenhouse. Unfortunately, during the heaviest storm water saturated the ground of the greenhouse and this was just enough for one table of tomatoes to fall over. Only one or two plants were destroyed immediately and many are damaged, but the survivors should recover just fine. The increasingly erratic climate in this warming world is one more thing that needs to be expected and planned for.

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All in all it looks like another great garden season for East Wind. Petey is excited to have more storage areas like our new dry storage building (blog post coming soon, stay tuned!) and a small climate controlled insulated storage room. More produce, more storage, more wholesome food throughout the year. The enjoyment of gardening goes hand in hand with the enjoyment of eating fresh picked homegrown vegetables. A big thank you to everyone who helps out in the garden!

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Post and pictures by Sumner

Spring Garden Update

Choices at Living Energy Farm, Part Three: Agriculture

Growing Food on Trees at LEF
Growing food on trees is by some measures the most benign form of agriculture. Trees have huge root systems compared to annual plants. Orchards sequester carbon, build lef-acsoil and have no erosion. And fruits and nuts taste good! Since we started LEF, we
have been trying to build or capacity to grow food on trees, and to figure out what works and what does not. We realized that a lot of the plants we wanted to grow will
not work in the new age of polar vortex oscillation. We have shifted to more cold resilient trees. We have also struggled to do so many things at once. Now we have an
orchard intern, Conner, who brings a most welcome energetic approach to life at LEF. Welcome Conner. We look forward to harvesting fruit this year!
Agricultural Choices at LEF
Now we’re in the final stages of finishing the house, which is an exciting time. We’ve been postponing other projects until basic infrastructure was done. Once the house is done we can hopefully build a few other smaller buildings we need (shop, greenhouse, root cellar). We hope to improve our food self-sufficiency. And we are working to connect with other groups to spread LEF’s ideas to other villages around the world.
Part of our expansion of food production will include bringing in a few farm animals. We’ve had more than a few visitors come out to the farm and ask (not in these exact words), “If you’re a farm, where are the animals?” Diets based around animal foods are so deeply ingrained in American culture that many people see farming as mostly about raising animals, without much thought about the plants that support them. At LEF, we believe that buying industrial GMO grain at the feed store and feeding it to animals isn’t a whole lot better than eating GMO grain ourselves (environmentally, it’s worse). We do like eating eggs, so we have been wanting to get some poultry; but first we needed to grow the grain to feed them. And we did, last year, grow a bumper crop of Florianni flint heirloom corn. We’ve been eating a lot of it, and we’ll use some of it to feed a small flock of ducks that we plan to get this year to supply us with eggs, meat, fertilizer and entertainment.
But what about grass-fed ruminants? We don’t plan to incorporate these animals into our farm any time soon, for two reasons. The first is that we don’t have much grass. Our land is a mixed hardwood and pine forest that was clearcut 6 years ago and is just starting to recover. (We did experiment with feeding goats out in the recovering forest, but the project consumed much more time than it was worth.) Clearing land for pasture and hay fields would be difficult and energy intensive, and we barely have enough  cleared for annual crops and orchards, which take much less space than pasture
and hay.

The second and more important reason is we want to demonstrate farming techniques that canfeed people sustainably with less land. For us this means growing food on  trees, annual crops, and small scale poultry. We recognize that agricultural choices are always local, and grazing animals will always be an indispensable part of food production in lands marginal for agriculture, particularly for some indigenous cultures. But in land such as ours where rainfall and fertility are sufficient to support a plant-based diet, we believe it is better to feed people with less land instead of more. And while it is true that a well managed pasture can build fertility, well managed annually cropped farmland and orchards can do this as well with the use of cover crops, fallow periods and minimum tillage, with much more food produced per acre, and without the methane emissions of ruminant animals. Our goal at LEF is to create a model of sustainability that can be applied globally. The reality is that cattle, especially grassfed, can only be produced on a scale to feed the wealthy.

Our daughter, Rosa, is 5 years old and more than anything in the world, she loves wild animals. We have read her stacks of books about conservation and saving endangered species. Over and over the theme comes up of habitat loss. The sad reality is that animal life on earth, once stunning in its diversity, is now almost entirely made up of humans and our domestic animals. Globally today only 2-6% of terrestrial zoomass (weight of land animals) is wild; the rest is humans and our domestic animals, two thirds of which is cattle and other ruminants. The number one reason for loss of wild animals is land being converted to pasture and grainland to feed animals. Ninety percent of rainforest loss is directly attributable to expansions in animal agriculture, beef in particular. The planet Earth is now facing its sixth mass extinction in 4.5 billion years specifically because of our predilection to eat excessive amounts of meat. That is an incomprehensible theft from our children, from all future generations. So even though we eat wild animals sometimes at LEF (particularly the deer and rabbits who like to eat our vegetables and seed crops), when Rosa asks what we can do to help wild animals, we tell her that we eat mostly plants — and encourage others to do the same — so more land can be left wild.
Choices at Living Energy Farm, Part Three: Agriculture

Winter meals and the vegan guest

by las Indias

In las Indias, cooking is felt to be a service and a creative personal expression. It is the everyday way of showing the others how you care for them. Around one o’clock someone, the first who are tired of work or have already finished the tasks they wanted to do during the morning, volunteers for going shopping and preparing lunch. We prepare the table with a tablecloth and we start every lunch with a little ceremonial toast. Lunch is meaningful. We spend more than two hours enjoying dishes and wine -usually from different parts of Spain- and conversation. And then we come back to the office.

But we are six, we often have visitors and guests, and we don’t have a big kitchen. That means we prepare small dishes and delicatessen as aperitifs and, if the «fresh ingredient» of the day is a light one, we will have to prepare a second dish that is scalable and powerful, specially during winter. For example, we cannot cook more than a big fish in the oven, but yesterday we bought a beautiful fresh hake of one and a half kilogram, so while Mayra prepared it for the oven we prepared our famous tuna sauce in the pressure cooker and I blanched in some tuna sirloins. Meantime the rest of us set the table and prepared some small aperitifs (homemade cheese carried from parent’s home, partridge pate made by a friend, spiced black Aragon olives…). You can imagine it. We use to say «without celebration nothing remains», and we try to make every day a memorable one.

And then imagine someone appears who says they are a vegan.

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**The vegan guest**

When our friend GPaul was on his way to visit us the first time, he received creepy stoic advice from Danish communards: «You are vegan, be careful, you will suffer in Spain». There is some truth in it. In popular bars and «food houses», it is almost impossible to eat vegan. Spanish traditional food is full of fish and the «iberian pig» is more holy for the most of the people than any particular invocation of Virgin Mary.

Paradoxically traditional Mediterranean cooking is full of dishes that are objectively vegan. The problem is locals don’t recognize them. When they receive a vegan at home, they look for processed vegan food (tofu burgers, etc.) they would never eat, or specific «vegan recipes» on the Internet. These recipes come from English and German books of the seventies and the eighties. Let’s face it: few people come to Europe looking for traditional English or German cuisine and it happens for a reason.

We also know many vegans have a kind of martyrdom vocation which allows them to eat Mediterranean Summer food during the whole year: toasted bread with olive oil and vegan pates, humus, gazpacho, ajoblanco (a gazpacho of almonds, without tomatoes), boiled vegetables lightly fried in a wok… but if you go to the street with this in your stomach during Madrid’s winter, you will probably freeze before the bus arrives.

On the other hand, as you probably noticed, we are not vegan, but lunch is about sharing. The arrival of vegan visitors means to cook vegan convincingly enough not only for the newcomer but also for your fish eaters, pork lovers, and cheese fanatics too.

So, let’s look for help in the indiano traditional cookbook and let’s prepare some Mediterranean cuisine winter menus… vegan friendly.

**First Menu: On ancient revolutions**

The Revolt of the Comuneros (=communards) was the first Iberian bottom to top democratic movement. It set the cities of Castille against the coronation of Emperor Charles Habsbourgh (Charles V in Germany). It put an assembly controlled urban democracy up against the Imperial regime that was coming with the new dynasty. It finished in 1521 with a big battle -a massacre- in the town of Villalar, where thousands of revolutionary free peasants and bourgeoisie, badly armed, found the Imperial professional troops managed by the main nobles of the kingdom.

Villalar passed into popular History thanks to a famous «romance» of the battle preserved as folklore until today. But also because of its lentils. They still cook them with a simple recipe we improved with a honey touch.

– Wine: Caballero de Castilla, Ribera del Duero

***First dish: Leeks with ajoaceite***

We wrap the leeks in aluminum foil one by one. We put them in the oven at 180ºC for some minutes. We open it and we put them on the plate. We serve it with the company of a little bowl of «ajoaceite» sauce.

Ajoaceite means «garlic and oil». It is an strong and bitter vegan alternative to «mahonesa» (a sauce from Mahó in Menorca, whose name in English became «mayonnaise»). To prepare it, we put in the blender a clove of garlic without its heart, a bit of salt and half the juice of a lemon. Usually we make it with extra virgin olive oil, but sunflower oil produces a lighter result. While mixing them we slowly add oil until it curdles.

***Second dish: Communard lentils***

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The night before, we put the lentils (around 1/2 kg) in a big bowl with water. Before cooking we will drain them.

We will use a pressure cooker. We stir fry three onions, cut in julienne strips, with olive oil. When they become transparent we add generous powdered nutmeg, salt and two glasses of oloroso or if we haven’t got oloroso, white wine.

Then we add the lentils and we cover them with 3/4 of lemonade (made just with water, honey and lemon juice) and 1/4 of white wine. We close the pressure cooker and leave it around 30 minutes (depending on the pressure cooker, the time changes). Finally, once opened, before serving, we will mix the result with the juice of half a lemon.

**Second menu: On abundance in poverty**

Chickpeas have been the life jacket of popular classes since the Roman times. Chickpeas were one of the first domesticated plants 8000 years ago in Anatolia and they never abandoned the Mediterranean sea. There are even Latin treaties on its, supposed, medical and moral properties. And the Spanish classic literature (Cervantes, Quevedo, etc.) is full of references to the «olla», the medieval stew of chickpeas that is still the basic winter dish in many Spanish regions. Nonetheless chickpeas were complemented since Renaissance times with potatoes, the only American treasure European working classes of the Empire could enjoy for centuries.

Our second menu will have two dishes: a very traditional one, «Poor person style potatoes» and Indiano chickpeas, a dish that is also rooted in tradition but with our own style.

– Wine: Peñamonte, Toro

***First dish: «Patatas a lo pobre»***

We cut five big potatoes in slices and we salt them, three onions in julienne, two peppers in strips and four garlic cloves in small cubes.

We stir fry in a big pan with very low fire, the garlic cloves in something around a half to a quarter of a glass of olive oil. When they are lightly toasted we give life to the fire and we add the peppers. When they lose their rigid look and the skin starts to separate from the pepper’s flesh, we add the onions until they become transparent.

Then lowering the fire, we add a little spoonful of hot paprika and the potatoes, mixing all with care. When potatoes take the paprika color (red), we add a glass of white wine (better if «oloroso» sherry) and put a frying pan top on, letting the vapor to go out through the valve.

It will take a around 25 minutes. We stir it carefully with a wooden spoon every 5 or 10 minutes and we serve the result with a topping of fresh parsley cut in small squares.

***Second dish: Indiano chickpeas***
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We let chickpeas (around 1/2 kg) rest in a bowl full of water during the night and before cooking we drain them.

We fry with olive oil three onions cut in juliennes. When they are transparent we add two little coffee spoons of sweet and sour Paprika (usually «de la Vera», the best Spanish denomination, from «la Vera» county, in Extremadura) and immediately (there’s nothing worse than burnt paprika) 5 small juicy tomatoes. When the tomatoes are cooked, we will add three or four big spoons of soy sauce (depending on how salty you like them), two glasses of white wine (an «oloroso» sherry would be perfect) and we will blend it all. Then we cover with grape juice and water (50/50) and we close the pressure cooker, cooking them for about 45/50 minutes.

**Third menu: On the first workers strike**

The first workers strike in Spain is documented in the XVII century. In those days, tuna became more expensive and the ship owners decided not to allow the fishermen to take a piece of their captures for making their stew. In its place they would receive a salmon. When the fishermen tried to make their traditional tuna stew with salmon… it did not work, the flesh was too soft for stew and the result was clearly unsatisfying. So they stopped working until they were allowed to use their own fished fresh tuna. It was a big strike, the first remembered by Iberian History.

Indianos prepare a tuna stew of our own. But it is not bad at all for vegans… if we don’t use tuna but, in example, hearts of chives and small carrots. It is powerful, so it really doesn’t need a first dish, but just a little more of (vegan) aperitifs, like home made asparagus pate, artichoke pate or olive -green/black- pate. We will serve it with a wine called «Privilegio» (=privilege) just in order to give this very cheap menu an ironic taste 😀

– Wine: Privilegio, Ribera del Guadiana

***Heart of chives and small carrots stew***

We stir fry two big peppers and three onions in olive oil in the way we did in the recipes before, this time using sweet and sour paprika «de la vera» and 6 tomatoes before blending it all.

Then we add 1/2 l grape juice and 1/2 l of white wine and 3 big potatoes cut in little cubes. We add salt, a big spoon of honey, three spoons of soy sauce and we cook the mix in the pressure cooker for 20 minutes. We blend the result, we add the carrots and the hearts of chives, and again close the cooker and cook for another 10 or 15 minutes.

**A good meal**

The important and most valuable part of preparing a meal together is priceless and cannot be found in the market. In this post, we added History and popular culture to learn how to transform Nature in the most productive way, with the less consumption of resources. We shared our little ceremony: every day a different one of us dedicates the work of the day to the meaningful things he/she considers the day have to be dedicated to, with a toast. And we enjoy our senses, being with the other indianos and our guests, and conversation: body, feelings and reasoning. And of course, we can share it with with our guests, vegans or not, too… even during a cold winter day.

Some notes:

Every menu here cost less than US$1.25 per person wine included.  Communal living is really more productive than an individualistic one in a very accountable way.

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In Spain, lunch is the more important meal.   If people had to lunch out -as the majority do in Madrid- their quality of life will worsen -as they cannot share it with their families- and if they have to have lunch in a food house or a restaurant they will never pay less than 7 times what it costs to us…

For people thinking about making an urban community, making good cooking of any kind (vegan or not) can be really affordable…  We hope for American readers maybe this will make cooking itself and eating legumes a little bit more attractive.

We think that spreading cooking-culture is a big front in the fight against social decomposition. An NGO we met in Gijón (North of Spain) discovered that their program with the most social impact (and they do all sort of things) was when they created an industrial kitchen where they cook every day with migrant families. The original goal was to avoid the health consequences in kids from processed food and poor nutrition (many of them come from the Dominican Republic and Colombia where apparently low income workers and disclassed people have adopted the American industrial food culture). But their revolutionary achievement was to encourage the families to have lunch or dinner together. Just reimplementing this small institution not only changed their health levels, but also improved the achievements of the kids in school, reduced drug use and  alcoholism, etc. Since these migrants come from Hispanic countries, not only the language but the deep culture is the same, so the meals in every house opened them to neighbors, interchanging dishes, having coffee together… so, this NGO started with cooking but ended creating community feelings with more depth and extent than any program designed for confronting xenophobia and racism in troubled neighborhoods.

Here we have food markets in every neighborhood more like an American «farmer market» than to a supermarket, but they are always open and they are a lot cheaper than supermarkets (supermarkets are adapting now, distributing local producers and promoting them). So the majority of people eat what you call «real food» and have a discipline of family lunch or dinner that could turn out to even be oppressive if your couple’s parents or yours insist in extending it to the weekend every weekend (family lunches are really more like an unending assembly with friends visiting, table games, football matches, etc.). Paradoxically this institution of «dining with parents and brothers/sisters and visiting friends» has made the difference during the crisis in Spain, Portugal and Greece. In Spain, better productivity of real food cooked at home and extended family model allowed close to two million families, with kids and no wages nor income because of unemployment, to eat everyday thanks to the, usually small, pension of the grandparents.

The good side of all this is that the pride of community and family, as the basic institutions of society, grew. And with it an egalitarian community like ours changed a lot in social perception from something «odd», distrustable, associated with cults in the catholic imagination; to a healthy way of living and working happier and a model/lab for learning from and playing with. The bad side is that traditional culture pride also fed nationalisms of all kinds because people associate traditional culture with welfare and surviving and identify cultural challenges as attacks. The sad result is by first time in our memory Spanish left, specially the new left, is nationalist… and that is sad and dangerous.

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Winter meals and the vegan guest

The Community that Dines Together, Aligns Together

by Valerie Renwick, Originally published by the Fellowship for Intentional Community in Communities Magazine

Ah yes, the community meal table. Communal dining can be a glorious bonding experience, as members recreate the feeling of an earlier era when the tribe gathered at the end of the day to share the fruits of their bounty. On the other hand, it can also bring out certain aspects of the cook’s personality, as sure as Myers-Briggs. Here is a sampling of the “Cook du Jour”.

“Le Chef”  —  Before joining community, this member ran their own French restaurant. They know that presentation makes the meal, and people ooh and aah over their concoctions. Their cooking is generally well-appreciated, with the exception of people who like their green beans other than dripping with butter.

“The Ethnic Specialist”  —  Thai, Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian-it’s a geographical whirlwind as each week we’re whisked off to another exotic food locale. The underlying theme: more spice is twice as nice. Bland is banned, so it’s peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich night for those with sensitive palates.

“Food as Art”  —  This member doesn’t see any reason why their creative, whimsical side needs to be left at the kitchen door. Tofu sculpted to resemble a recent guest or a Thanksgiving turkey, a rainbow salad including beets, carrots, peppers, kale, blueberries and grapes, or a cake in the shape of a body part-their creativity knows no bounds on the serving table. (Results may vary, depending on actual cooking skill)

Dinner on Zk deck.

“Agit-Prop Cuisine”  —  When politics and food collide (think Chairman Mao with a measuring cup). All-vegan-all-the-time, no refined anything, no profit-mongering corporate ingredients to be found in any dish. The heart and mind can enjoy this meal, but the stomach may stage it’s own protest….

“Locavoracious”   —  A lighter-hearted version of the above, this cook sources their food from within 100 miles, or better yet, 100 yards of the communal kitchen. No flora or fauna are exempt, and dinner may include what you previously thought were weeds growing beside the porch or the groundhog that was last seen invading the garden.

“The Mess Hall”  —  Prior military, cafeteria or summer camp experience informs this cook’s style. Mass-produced and designed to appeal to the masses, these meals are heavy on the mac-and-cheese, gravy-laden entrees, and all things carbohydrate.

Regardless of style, as we sit down to a meal together in accordance with our own community traditions–be that thanking the cook, saying a prayer, or simply digging in–we can appreciate that the simple act of sharing food is an important part of the “community glue” that holds us all together. Bon Appetit!

Valerie Renwick has eaten more than 13,000 communal meals over the course of her membership at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia.

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The Community that Dines Together, Aligns Together