October 22, 2001

Experiment from '70s still working

By Beth Miller/Enterprise staff writer

Within a Davis student housing area, the residents maintain a large compost pile and chickens wander around their pens - and the living situation does not violate student housing rules.

The Domes at Baggins End is a cooperative student housing community on Orchard Park Drive, where the 28 student residents eat meals together, work in gardens and meet every other week to decide how to spend money and to plan activities. They grow their own food and herbs, raise chickens for eggs and maintain the land and their dome-shaped homes together.

The 14 dome homes were built as a student experiment in 1972, and each houses two student residents. Each contains a kitchen, a loft, a bathroom and a common area. They are made of fiberglass and polyurethane foam on a typical concrete foundation.

Since the first student residents designed their own domes, each layout is different.

Domes residents apply through the UCD Student Housing Office, but the current residents choose which students move into the area. Residents said they never have trouble filling vacant dome space.

There are 14 men and 14 women, 14 undergrads and 14 graduate students. All decisions are made by consensus, according to resident Alison Alkon.

"The consensus process is a really important part of what we do here," Alkon said. "About 80 percent of the time almost everyone is on the same page - and the rest of the time we sit through very long meetings."

The residents operate gardens through organic farming methods, which includes rotating crops and growing nitrogen-fixing plants, such as beans, that they mix back into the soil instead of harvesting. They use compost instead of fertilizers, and they grow plants alongside the gardens that attract helpful insects to protect the garden plants from harmful insects, so the residents do not have to use chemical pesticides.

The "domies" hosted an open house last week and offered visitors tours of their homes and the grounds they operate. They are finalizing plans and paperwork for a straw-bale greenhouse on the property made almost entirely of recycled materials.

The residents grow carrots, cabbage, herbs, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and other vegetables in the gardens, and they tend to mulberry, apple, orange, cherry and apricot trees on the property. They also keep chickens and rotate daily the responsibility of feeding them and collecting eggs.

Some of the garden space on the property is used by the UCD Experimental College and other groups interested in sharing the land and farming methods. The students also maintain a native grassland area, where they plant grasses that grew in the Central Valley before people and cattle took over. The grassland area also serves as a weed buffer between the street and gardens and protects the plants.

Each Domes resident pays $164 per month in rent. UCD Facilities Shop Services Manager Doug Ryen said the cost of on-campus residence halls is difficult to break down into monthly room payments, but he estimated that Domes students pay about half of what dormitory residents pay.

Michelle Early, a Domes resident, said the students pay rent to the University of California regents, but the money goes into a pot that they later draw from for expenses. Early, who has lived in the Domes for more than a year, said she was shy and had trouble speaking to large groups before she moved into the community.

"I think there's a lot of social skills that you develop living here," she said.

- Reach Beth Miller at bmiller@davisenterprise.net

October 22, 2001