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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Day in the life of…

I’ve always thought that my responsibilities as a student were far greater than even I could imagine — until I became not only a student, but a resident at the student housing cooperative known as the Domes, aka a “domie” (at least for a day).

When I visited the Domes on a Friday afternoon, there were residents outside working on homework, as well as some finishing up the week’s tasks on the grounds. It can be easy to take the upkeep of a living situation for granted when the outside of various dorms and apartments around campus are maintained by landlords or UC Davis Student Housing. But a significant amount of work goes into maintaining the Domes, which includes a four acre plot of land that bears rich soil and a diversity of plant life as well as environmentally-sustainable dome-shaped housing structures. In fact, all of the upkeep is done by Domes residents.

The Domes, located off-campus on Orchard Park Drive, have been undergoing renovations for the past several months after being temporarily closed last year. Applications are currently being accepted for residency for the upcoming Spring and Fall quarters.

I spent most of the day with Ellie Pearson, a sophomore sustainable agriculture and food systems major, and we worked on some final touches in landscape design around her dome. There was some weeding, watering, and raking to be done and I helped rake and transport the dead leaves and weeds to a green waste pile.

While this was a very small task, it was some good hard work nonetheless. It’s been a long time since I’ve maintained any landscape whatsoever, and this work was very self-fulfilling.

“It’s very efficient for space, not using unnecessary material,” said Anne-Marie Litak, a senior English major. “Whether it’s planting or making murals, it’s all fulfilling and project-oriented.”

There are different committees that handle different aspects of the property, including maintenance, compost, gardening, treasury and even a bee committee, which is responsible for taking care of the hives, and a chicken committee that’s in charge of the coop, especially once it gets hens.

“We want to take the responsibility on because we want to do it. We want to gain skills in sustainable agriculture but also in construction,” said Domes resident Rasheed Hislop, a graduate student in the International Agricultural Development group and head of the garden committee at the Domes. “The positions are voluntary, based on what is needed and what residents want to do.”

Each committee meets every Monday to discuss updates on what has been done and what is left to do as well as propose possible additions to the Domes or changes in certain methods of maintaining the grounds.

To take a break from the garden, we went to check on the bee hive and the form of irrigation Domes residents practice called hugelkultur. It’s a process in which dead wood that would otherwise be disposed of is buried for sufficiently raising garden beds, enriching the soil and offering longer periods of growth.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned at every turn when residing at the Domes. While continuing some landscape design, Pearson told me about the Davis People’s Free School, which started last year. It offers classes at the Domes to anyone in the community. Subjects range from yoga to gardening.

“There’s also a couple of courses happening through environmental engineering and landscape design,” said Veronica Pardo, a graduate student in community development. “Engineers are drafting a conceptual design for a new structure on site to house residents. It will have earthen components so it would have some elements of roundness to it, but not a dome.”

I walked into three of the domes and was instantly in awe of how spacious and differently designed each one was. Every dome has a wall which hosts the kitchen and bathroom as well as a loft that can be reached by a ladder. However, with this standard layout, residents have freely customized the inside and outside of each.

“All the domes were made from the same mould,” Litak said. “Each one has a standard size but all the interior set-ups are different and unique.”

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights there is a vegetarian potluck dinner that is open to the entire UC Davis community at the Domes’ common area. I went to my first dinner on a Wednesday night and to say it was a feast is quite an understatement. Most of the food came from the gardens, and an additional comfort came from a solar panel which heats the floor through a water heater.

All meetings, meals, and events are held in the “commons” dome, which is freely open to anyone wanting to host an event, fundraiser, workshop or to simply study. This is also where applicants for residency in the upcoming Spring and Fall quarter come to get acquainted with domies.

“We want to make the Domes more available to students from different studies and backgrounds,” said Sheryl Sensenig, a senior agricultrual and environmental education major. “It’s a lot more than one type of person, it can cross many different majors, colleges, and communities.”

Seven domes are almost finished being renovated and there are a large number of applications being accepted for the Spring and Fall quarter. Apply online at https://docs.google.com/a/ucdavis.edu/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dGxUWVhsLTBEVFVfQWt2MGRoMk1iTnc6MQ. The deadline is March 13 for Spring quarter residency and May 1 for Summer/Fall residency.

DOMINICK COSTABILE can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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