In the kitchen of a co-operative house in North Oakland, Jeremy Blanchard sautées squash and zucchini in a cast-iron skillet. He greets a roommate who has just come from work and helps another search for the best spot in the house for wireless Internet access. On the wall is a bulletin board titled “Gratitude,” where pieces of paper spill out of envelopes, each dedicated to a house member, with experiences they’re thankful for.

The kitchen and living room of Roots and Branches.

The kitchen and living room of Roots and Branches.

Jeremy Blanchard lives in a seven-person co-operative house in North Oakland titled “Roots and Branches.” It’s one of hundreds co-operatives and intentional housing communities in the Bay Area. Roots and Branches was founded three years ago as a spiritually-themed co-op. House members are likely to engage in discussions about God, spirituality, and life, and one room of the house is dedicated to meditation. Blanchard has been subletting a room at Roots and Branches since April, and is searching for a building to start his own co-operative house.

Clothespins with each house member's name on them are to identify dishes left behind in common space.

Clothespins with each house member’s name on them are to identify dishes left behind in common space.

Co-operative houses are defined by a community of people living together, usually in a large house with many rooms, sometimes even across multiple buildings. Co-operatives might center on a particular theme, have a shared food plan, or require house improvement hours or attendance at monthly house meetings to discuss house issues.

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The “Gratitude” bulletin board.

The goal, according to Blanchard, is an increase in connection to your housemates and resource sharing, and a decrease in cost of rent, food, and other life expenses. “We just don’t need ten lawn mowers,” he explains. To him, living with people you love and get to have experiences with is better than living alone and leaving the house to seek social engagement. “We’re human. If there’s anything we do, it’s love connecting with people,” Blanchard says.

Jeremy Blanchard stands in the room he's subletting at Roots and Branches.

Jeremy Blanchard stands in the room he’s subletting at Roots and Branches.

A few miles away, Anna Szendrenyi comes home from work to the co-operative where she lives, a beautiful Victorian house in South Berkeley. The Farmhouse is a 16-person co-op focused on events and workshops for the community. Even though the house was only just established in April of this year, it’s already a flourishing space to showcase local art, and community events are in the works such as donation-based yoga, gourmet meals, and concerts.

Anna Szendrenyi's room at The Farmhouse.

Anna Szendrenyi’s room at The Farmhouse.

Every member of the house pays into a shared food system, and house members take turns cooking dinner for the rest of the house Mondays through Thursdays. Everyone eats at a huge dining room table made, appropriately, out of farmhouse benches. The house has an extensive garden that they hope will reduce food costs even further.

A double room at The Farmhouse.

A double room at The Farmhouse.

Every member is expected to make some sort of house contribution. This goes along with the house’s other theme of being a “do-ocracy.” “If you have a project, do it,” explains Anna. That way, she says, everyone can bring their own personal talents and interests to contribute to the house. For Anna, living at the Farmhouse provides daily inspiration. “It’s more engaging. You get to live with fifteen people doing awesome things in the world.”

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One Response

  1. Katherin

    I’ve been insterested in Co-housing for a while, how do people start this process? Especially if they already have families?


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