Pass the Beans!

By Ben von Mehren & Ryann Murray

“Pass the beans!” An excited exclamation rises out of a flurry of “Can I haves?” and “Could you passes?” The Arcadians are hungry!

Two of our community members have just spent two hours in the kitchen putting together a lovely meal, accounting for everybody’s dietary restrictions and preferences. What you might not know, however, is that a lot more went into this meal than you may think.

Each day, two Arcadians are assigned the honorable duty of preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the group. After a busy day of class, sauna bathing, canoeing, swimming, and just general tomfoolery, 4:30 p.m. rolls around and the preparations begin. The cooks take stock of the vegetables, most of which are sourced locally from Kent Family Growers in Lisbon, New York. We aren’t wasters here! If some lovely, lovable spinach is wilted, we are sure to use what we can and compost the parts that seem…rather heinous. It’s time to get cooking. Start the stove! Wait a minute…there are no sinks?

Even though just two Arcadians are responsible for making dinner, it takes a community to keep things running smoothly on a daily basis. A prime example is water filtration. Our off-the-grid, solar-panel-powered lifestyle doesn’t include running water. Instead, the community is responsible for gathering lake water and filtering it through a gravity filter every day on a rolling basis. This thankless job, like many others around Arcadia, isn’t glamorous, but it must be done to keep us hydrated, healthy, and happy.

As the cooks get into the swing of things, community members filter in and out of the kitchen to compliment lovely smells or offer a helping hand. The low-stress environment provides a space for cooks of all levels to feel comfortable and confident while pushing their culinary comfort zones. Made a mistake? Grab a friend, because Arcadians are always willing to jump in and help.

A meal is forming. Our food can take us across the world, whether we decide to cook Asian stir fry, Indian curry, or American hot dogs. Our assistant director Amanda Colley says, “Food provides the opportunity for people to get a glimpse of other people’s cultures.” No challenge too tough, no bridge too far, if it ends up a little funky…we’re still going to eat it.

Dinner’s ready! The cooks sound the dinner bell and holler out an echoing “Diiinnerrr!” It doesn’t take much volume to alert the village; the solitude of Arcadia lets most noises travel freely across the village. A line forms at our foot-pump-powered hand-washing station, as the hungry Arcadians get ready to feast! As per tradition, each dinner starts with a quotation selected by the chefs, who then introduce each dish that they worked so hard to create. Thereafter, conversation includes topical chitchat, ridiculous jokes, and our personal favorite: appreciations. Appreciations are a structured opportunity for Arcadians to express thanks to their fellow community members, ranging from small acts of kindness to greater moments of bonding. And, of course, the cooks get a plentiful helping of thanks as well.

As dinner winds down, each Arcadian is responsible for scraping their scraps into the compost and helping the cooks clean up by sweeping the floors and storing the leftovers. The cooks then prep the dish line, which consists of three bins: one hot and soapy, one hot, and one cold with bleach (just to keep things extra-sterile). Remember, no sinks! The water in each bin is heated with a prepare blaster, then emptied through a drain and into a bucket. The soap we use for dishes, handwashing, and bathing is biodegradable and perfectly safe to dispose of in the woods. It is the cooks’ duty to wash all the dishes, including those that have piled up throughout the day in the appropriately named “Bin of Fun.” After the last dish is washed, the cooks are honorably discharged from the kitchen.

This kitchen has been used by nearly every Arcadian since it was built after retiring the kitchen yurt about 15 years ago. Their legacies live on in the systems we use to cook and clean and in everything from the traditional quotation reading to favorite recipes left behind. This kitchen has seen hundreds of students grow and transform. For the past two decades, so many Arcadians have filled it with lore, laughs, and lovely smells. We are but one community in a long line of unbreakable bonds to be blessed with the plates and forks, pots and pans, and enduring moments that bring us all together.