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I was recently back home in Switzerland and came across this beautiful community concept called Tavolata. It is geared mostly towards older people (average age 74) and is providing a platform for people to strengthen their social ties in a phase of life that can be isolating. The idea is simple and powerful: groups of 4 to 8 people meet once or twice a month to cook together, share food together and enjoy time together (in the US you would probably call this a potluck). In 2016 they had over 150 registered Tavolata circles happening across Switzerland, and I assume it’s even more by now.

Their seven rules are powerfully short and useful for many other community formats:

1. We are self organized
2. We meet regularly
3. We define binding agreements within our group
4. We eat balanced and delicious food
5. We share the work and costs and we make sure that give and take are balanced
6. We don’t pursue commercial interests
7. We define a contact person for the larger Tavolata network

The stories shared on the Tavolata website show how the groups come together and how some of them have been meeting up for years, becoming a core part of these people’s lives.

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The concept of Tavolata (Italian for table) dates back to a legend from the the Middle Ages, according to which Sicily was facing famine due to a severe drought. The people prayed to their patron St. Joseph for rain, promising that if their prayers were answered they would prepare a banquet in his honor. The rains did come, starvation was avoided and the banquet was prepared. Italians still honor St. Joseph by preparing a banquet table (tavolata) each year on or near his March 19 feast day.