Mutual Aid Projects

How to Start a Community Kitchen

Community kitchens give people the opportunity to get together to share the cost, planning and preparation of healthy meals. At present there are about 42 community kitchens in Vancouver. Members usually meet twice a month, once to plan four or five entrées and to organize the purchase of food, and once to prepare the meals. Since a licensed kitchen is not required, groups meet in homes as well as church basements, Neighborhood Houses and community centers.

You've heard about community kitchens (CK) and are interested in getting involved with a kitchen in your neighborhood. Where do you go from there?

Basic Steps for Starting a Community Kitchen

1. Create a small poster/flyer

Poster/flyer should briefly describe a community kitchen and encourage interested participants. Neighborhood houses, community centers and local gathering places are good spots to display your poster. Some people even advertise in local community papers to attract members. Don't forget to include your name and contact number! Word of mouth is also an effective form of advertising. Tell all your friends and acquaintances about your interest in forming a community kitchen. Before long you'll have enough cooks to get started!

2. Call a First Meeting

Once you have four or five interested people, call your first meeting. Host it in your home or meet at a public place in the community. Most community centers or neighborhood houses will accommodate these types of meetings at no cost. You may want to present the community facility with general information such as the single page - What is a community kitchen . This will help them understand what your group is trying to achieve and who knows, they may even be interested in playing a supportive role even after the initial meeting. If you live in an area that has a CK coordinator, invite him or her to your first meeting. Alternatively, you could invite someone from an already existing kitchen. It's always helpful to have someone with direct CK experience that will help your group discuss the more challenging issues surrounding communal cooking.

3. The First Meeting – Guidelines

The first meeting allows the group to make decisions about their planned time together in a community kitchen. It is suggested to use the checklist as a general agenda to guide your group through this important meeting. The checklist is a good tool to print out and give to each participant so you can go through it as a group. It is also recommended that someone from the group volunteer to record the decisions made and the questions that will require further discussion. Copies of these minutes should be made available to all members of the group.

After this first meeting there will have been tasks delegated that would include securing a place to cook. In Vancouver there are many different hosts of Community Kitchens. The following list may give you some ideas on who to approach in your community when you are looking for a kitchen site. All but two of the community kitchens running in Vancouver are able to use the kitchen facility free of charge. Some of the sites that host community kitchens are:

  • community centers

  • neighborhood houses

  • church kitchens

  • apartment or co-op common kitchen areas

  • high school home economics rooms

  • single room occupancy hotel common kitchen areas

4.The Second Meeting - Recipe Selection and Groceries

Recipe selection can be done a week in advance, a month in advance or the day before cooking. After a while some groups feel comfortable enough to choose recipes for the next cooking during the present cooking. What is important in recipe selection is that everyone in the group brings forth recipes that meet the group's needs and desires that were discussed and agreed upon in the first meeting. Encourage group members to bring favorite recipes, recipe books, grocery store flyers and other relevant information on food sales or seasonal foods that could be included. Remember that cost and seasonal availability will work hand in hand with each other. Keep in mind the length of time each recipe takes to prepare and cook or bake. Make sure that you don't overbook the stove top or oven space.

Grocery Money:

The group will need to make a decision on how they want to handle the finances. It may take a few cookings to find the payment method that works the best for your group. Some groups working within a budget will agree to bring their set amount of grocery money each time they recipe plan. It will then be handed over in good faith to the grocery shopper(s). There may be someone in your group who will be unable to contribute any money at all. In this case, perhaps the participant can contribute something else towards the cooking group. Anything from garden produce to frozen meat to child minding could be welcomed as participant contribution. Other groups handle the finances with a reimbursement method. Whether these groups have a per person or per portion budget in mind, they have 2 or 3 people buying all of the groceries. The cost is divided up once they meet to cook and all shoppers are reimbursed.

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society wholeheartedly supports community kitchens. Presently they support over 35% of the kitchens running in Vancouver. If your kitchen feels in need of food support, and you live in the Vancouver, Burnaby or New Westminister area, call the Food Bank's Distribution Manager at 876-3601 for more details. If you live elsewhere and you have a food bank that serves your area, give them a call and speak to them about supporting your community kitchen initiative.

Other kitchens have received donated food support from local retail or wholesale food distributors. These donations reduce the food costs to an amount that is affordable to the group.

5. The Shopping

Once your group has selected the four or five recipes that will be used for the next cooking session, you have to decide whether you need to double or triple the recipes. This would depend on how many portions each person requires. Once this is determined you are ready to organize the shopping list and choose the shoppers. There are different ways groups deal with this procedure. Here are a couple of examples that have worked well for kitchens:

a. Create one master list of ingredients needed for all of the recipes. Divide the list up so each person in the group buys a portion or have a few individuals take turns buying all the ingredients. The grocery list portions may be divided by food group to make it easier.

b. Create one list per recipe. Keep in mind there will be overlap with ingredients needed. Designate one shopper to be responsible for the ingredients for one or two recipes. Most groups either have one or two designated shoppers. Many groups have participants take turns to do the shopping. Whatever the case may be, shopping should be done as close to the cooking time as possible.

Storage of perishable items is often an issue which makes shopping close to cooking time important. Please be sure that the ingredients for your community kitchen recipes are being stored safely and at the appropriate temperature (refrigerated if necessary) after their purchase. You may even find some ingredients are available from someone's garden or cupboard.

Save all your receipts to make life easier when it comes time to divide the cost of food or just to keep a general accounting of cost per portion etc.

6. The Cooking

Most groups cook together every week, every three weeks or once a month. Since cooking together means menu planning and shopping, groups who are making five meals to bring home often find it too much to cook once a week. They would rather cook a large amount of meals and cook less often. The majority of groups who cook once a week are sharing a fabulous meal together at that time. Little, if any, cooked meals are taken home.

Regardless of how many meals your group is cooking at any given time, meal preparation and sharing is a rewarding group activity.

Your group is gathered in the kitchen and ready to go. Establishing a few basic steps will not only increase the group's effectiveness and success rate but will also increase the overall level of knowledge and skill within your kitchen.

1.Get your group to read the recipes out loud. This might seem obvious but many people are in such a rush to get their hands dirty that they never actually go over what they are about to do. Familiarizing the entire group with each recipe will allow you to clear up any problems ahead of time. How many times have you poured the cake batter into the pan but forgot to turn on the oven?

2. Divide up the tasks. Determine who will be working on what recipe.

3. Prepare work stations. Gather all the ingredients, utensils and cooking/baking equipment that will be needed for each recipe and set up an area for which to work. For example, if you have a recipe that requires use of the stove, perhaps it might be convenient for that person to work on the counter space right next to it. Do you have all the ingredients?

4. Lastly, each participant should be urged to read over the recipe again in order to have the information fresh in their minds. Don your aprons, wash your hands and let the cooking begin!

[From "How to Start a Community Kitchen"]


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