To dorm-room and apartment complex dwellers, the grassy pathways to the Baggins End Domes and the clotheslines hanging across Tri-Cooperative bedrooms seem like a remarkable way of life.
Both residences are cooperative communities which practice sustainable living. They follow Student Housing’s established practices, and are open to only UC Davis students. The Tri Co-ops are three on-campus houses across from the Regan Hall Circle which each rents out to 12 to 14 students. The 13 polyurethane-insulated fiberglass Domes are slightly farther from campus, and are home to 26. Both communities are now accepting applications for potential residents with an interest in cooperative and low-impact living.
“[Sustainability] is a concept that we’re really trying to work into our daily lives,” said Hillary Knouse, a fourth-year Spanish and education double major and Tri Co-op resident. “Some of the ways we do that are more attractive than others. There are cool things like gardening and getting food from our own gardens, and then there are things like, we don’t typically flush the toilets when there’s only urine in them.”
Both the Tri Co-ops and the Domes raise chickens and bees, and Knouse said that many of their sustainable practices are related to cyclical concepts — like using compost and the nitrogen in the chicken’s feces to fertilize the gardens.
Elli Pearson, a third-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major and resident Domie, however, pointed out that the definition of sustainable living varies from person to person.
“One thing that I can say across the board is that people here are very dedicated to eating non-processed foods. Nothing is a rule, but our dinners are always very healthy and always home-cooked,” Pearson said. “We like to grow as much food as we can, and people are interested in fermentation and baking their own bread. There’s a very distinct food culture here.”
According to Katherine Kerlin, public information representative from the UC Davis News Service, low-impact living is not the only prominent aspect of life in the Tri Co-ops and Domes.
“The Tri Co-ops look for students who will agree to live in a cooperative environment, [this involves] sharing chores for household duties, gardening and sharing meals,” Kerlin said.
Tri Co-op residents create a list of chores every quarter, covering everything from sweeping and raising the chickens and bees to taking care of finances.
“People pick things that they’ve either done before or that they want to learn about,” Knouse said. “That’s one of the really cool things about this community — chores are usually a really cool learning opportunity.”
One chore that every Tri Co-op student handles is cooking. Cooking in each house is handled by two people each night.
“It’s a lot like having a family dinner,” Knouse said. “Every day at 7 p.m., I know there’s going to be dinner.”
Like the family dinners, day-to-day living at the Tri Co-ops is highly social with a lot of people in relatively close quarters.
Knouse said that even with 14 people in the house, it’s easy to just close her door and have some alone time. If she’s feeling social and needs people, however, it’s a simple matter of going downstairs to the kitchen or living room where people are almost always around.
Socializing with each other is a large part of community living, according to Knouse, and one way residents encourage bonding is through house trips.
“Once a quarter we will decide on a trip. Usually it’s an overnight thing, and over the past years I’ve gone camping in different places like Point Reyes and Sonoma County, and stayed in a hostel in San Francisco,” Knouse said.
Like the Tri Co-op residents, the Domies also eat together and throw parties, and many of their day-to-day requirements are quite alike.
“Similar to the Tri Co-ops, [the Domes] attract students who are interested in living in a cooperative environment,” Kerlin said.
According to Pearson, living in the Domes is a pretty significant time commitment with four main responsibilities.
“One is that you have a cook night once a week. So four nights a week people will cook dinner, and you’re supposed to cook on one of them,” Pearson said.
The other chores include work parties, where all the residents get together and maintain the property, basic chores like collecting rent or caring for chickens, and lastly attending meetings every other week to discuss things like events and parties.
Pearson said that the community is a very social place as well.
“Dinners are always a social event — friends come over, and also people who are just interested in the community [attend],” Pearson said.
She also stated that there’s a lot of skill-sharing between residents, which can be seen through cooking, gardening and building things.
“What we’re most interested in is working in the gardens, growing things and doing creative projects,” Pearson said. “And there’s a lot of room within the chores to take on a project that interests you — if you are really excited about bee-keeping, that could be your chore.”
The main difference between the Tri Co-ops and the Domes seems to be in the property itself, rather than the social and low-impact way of life. While the Tri Co-ops are houses with living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and approximately eight colorfully decorated bedrooms, the 13 Domes house only two students each.
Inside, the white semi-spherical abodes are surprisingly spacious, with a living area and work space on the first floor and a loft up above. In some, the loft is divided into two bedrooms, while other domes have a first floor bedroom and a single-person loft.
Though they provide different styles of sustainable living, both Knouse and Pearson agree that that cooperative living is far more social and interactive than typical apartment lifestyles.
“One of my friends moved in with me after living in an apartment — she felt like she never saw her roommates,” Knouse said.
Pearson also lived in an apartment for a year, and though she was close to her roommates, she said it was still too isolated of an experience.
“I didn’t know the names of the people who lived next to me, above me or below me. There’s no sort of interaction that occurs there,” Pearson said.
Knouse and Pearson also agree that the social aspects are their respective communities’ highest benefits.
“I think that living here, I’ve identified how to cohabitate — how to live alongside other people and get used to all their ticks,” Knouse said. “I’ve learned how to work with other people and not take things too personally.”
Pearson also maintained that living cooperatively teaches communication skills, which are invaluable in and beyond college life.
“I think a majority of problems stem from miscommunication, and living here you learn how to communicate in a really productive, experiential way,” Pearson said.
The Tri Co-ops are currently accepting applications for this coming spring and both locations are accepting applications for next fall.
“The most important thing for [the Tri Co-ops] is that we get to know our applicants,” Knouse said. “There’s a requirement of coming over for two dinners and a garden party. Applicants come by and we see A) do we get along with you and B) is this a community that you’re interested in?”
Knouse stated that this is important, since not everyone is cut out to live with 13 other people and urine in the toilet.
According to Pearson, the Domes are looking for people who can commit to a long-term residence, as a lot of knowledge needs to get passed over when students leave.
For further information on the how to live in the tri-co-ops for the upcoming year, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-754-1310.
NAOMI NISHIHARA can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Full disclosure, Elli Pearson is a columnist for The California Aggie and Hilary Knouse writes for the The California Aggie’s food blog.