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Co-op Profile: Outdoor Environmental Club Co-op

This article was originally published on Feb. 9, 2015.

Lola Davis’17 dipped her hand into a large ziploc bag of pepper and sprinkled a handful over a hefty pot on the stove. Taking a spoon, she sampled it and added another handful. “This will be good,” she said.

Her cooking partner, Hatheway Rawlinson’15, took over stirring. It was a few minutes past 6 p.m. on a Tuesday in the Outdoor Environmental Club’s house. Two bowls of spinach and cabbage salad, tossed with balsamic, waited on the counter.

Cold air drifted to the kitchen as people began to flood into the house. Rebecca Taylor’17, Kate Atkinson’15 and Emma Koeppel’16 sat in the living room, peeling off layers of coats and heavy backpacks and waiting for tonight’s meal to be ready. After a few minutes, a stack of mismatched plates, bowls and silverware appeared on the table, and the kitchen became crowded with people serving themselves.

Everyone settled into a spot in the living room, either on the floor or on one of many couches. “It’s like potato oatmeal, in the best way,” Atkinson, Residential Assistant of the house, said, after conversation turned to the creamy potato dish, something of an invention by the cooks.

OEC Co-op began the fall semester of 2011, after house members were inspired by Big Spoon Dining Co-Op, the oldest and biggest co-op on campus. In the beginning, the co-op participated in a vegetable share, buying produce from local farmers, but that format has since been discontinued.

The cooking format has stayed mostly the same, though the group is of course always in flux each semester. Atkinson does remember that the Co-op used to eat at a table, and meals used to be extensively planned out; it was also more expensive. Last semester, the total cost for each person ended up at $80, but members pay in stages, and they generally start at around $40.

The co-op is not just house members; this semester, the co-op consists of eleven people, and four of them live outside of the house. The co-op invites friends (or anyone) to apply to join if there aren’t enough people, since not everyone in the house always joins. Two house members are in Big Spoon Dining Co-Op this semester, for instance.

Attendance is pretty consistent, though occasionally someone might not show up because of an obligation. Skylar Miller’17 and Emmy Newman’17 had plates saved for them, as they had Chelonia rehearsal. And no seconds until everyone has at least had firsts.

For many, the co-op is about an intentional community. Ari Cocallas’16, who applied to join this semester, found eating in Commons “really overwhelming” and wanted a break.

“Family dinners are a comforting concept for many people,” Atkinson added.

Many also see the co-op as an opportunity to gain important skills. Mooney feels she could start her own co-op after Beloit. And for Cocallas, she particularly enjoys the time for experimentation. “It’s about being healthy. I really want to eat well, and I really enjoy cooking which is something that I want to get better at in general,” she said.

Though a comforting atmosphere, the co-op — and house in general — has had some issues with the smoke alarm. Security has had to come in a few times to turn off the beeping. And since some of the non-house members do not have a key, “There’s always the anxiety that someone won’t be in the house to open the door,” when she goes to cook, Cocallas added.

The cooking schedule changes each week; to decide on the schedule, members write their name or initials on a chalkboard next to weekdays in the kitchen usually every Friday. Two people cook each day, typically from 4-6 p.m., and the cooks are also responsible for cleaning afterward, which might last till about 7:30 p.m.

The changing schedule differs from models of other campus co-ops like Big Spoon Dining Co-Op and Vegan Co-Op. “It’s fun to get to know someone by cooking with them,” Taylor, who doesn’t live in the house, said. Mooney also appreciates the laid-back vibe. “Cooking is therapy for me, a lot of the time. It’s really nice to forget about everything for a few hours,” she said.

Koeppel goes shopping, typically on Sunday, at Woodman’s or Piggly Wiggly. During the warmer months, she also tries to frequent the farmer’s market for local ingredients. The co-op tends to buy ingredients like milk, cheese and olive oil in bulk.

According to Mooney, the co-op can go through cooking “phases,” where they might eat soup a lot, or have bread every day. She says she’s “never made the same thing twice,” and takes pride in the meals she and her cooking partner plan out over the weekend. Most of the time, though, “we just work with what we have.” The improvisational approach can also work well, “because a lot of the time it feels like Chopped or some other cooking show. And when you throw together something legit, it feels really good,” she said.

After bowls are scraped, the group stayed around to talk a bit before people started to disperse for evening activities and homework. Back in the kitchen, Rawlinson began to soak the pot in the sink and stack up the dirty dishes.

Members of OEC co-op include: Kate Atkinson’15, Bethany Clark’16, Ari Cocallas’16, Lola Davis’17, Emma Koeppel’16, Emmy Newman’17, Skylar Miller’17, Emma Mooney’17, Wilson Neal’16, Hatheway Rawlison’15, Rebecca Taylor’17

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