[Pictures still to come, once I receive them from the person who loaned me her camera!]

Saturday I visited a cohousing community in Nevada City. A few years ago I drove by the development when it was under construction and it didn’t look very appealing. Now, however, with plants and people in place, the development has turned into a community, and was very appealing. Our visit was on a monthly workday, so there were lots of people about, mostly in teams of two or three, working on various projects. After an introductory talk, our hosts asked if there were any questions. My hand popped up and I asked about gardening. I was promised a visit to both their garden and chicken pen.

Raising food in a cohousing community garden is actually very common. People interested in cohousing usually have environmental concerns, often expressed in energy efficient homes, solar electricity and sustainable production of healthy food. (For more information on cohousing communities, completed and in-progress, look here.) While they rarely produce even one quarter of their own food, they usually produce some of it. Cohousing isn’t for everyone, but it does provide a model for how neighbors can cooperate to produce food together.

For example, raising livestock, as any farmer will tell you, is an every day, day after day responsibility. I’ve thought of doing it myself, as I would love to have fresh eggs and occassional meat. But, at present I can’t commit to the day to day responsibilities of raising livestock. But, if neighbors cooperate in raising livestock, then this allows flexibility that is much harder to obtain when doing it all yourself. The cohousing community I visited Saturday allows for this flexibility by sharing the responsibility across a number of people. With a moderate-sized flock of chickens, they also can provide a significant number of fresh eggs for the community.

In addition to the chickens, the community currently has a garden and some young fruit trees. The garden isn’t especially large right now, although over time I wouldn’t be surprised to see it expanded. With all the plants now in place in front of homes and an emphasis on composting, they have an opportunity to quickly enhance the soil quality in their garden and to produce significant amounts of their own food. They also have apple trees, pruned to remain small as fruit “bushes” lining the fire lane that runs through the community. (Fruit bushes are simply trees that are pruned to keep them small, allowing much easier maintenance, less wasted fruit and much denser plantings. See here, here and here for more information.) In a few years, they will not only provide lots of apples, but an aesthetically pleasing corridor along the lane. In addition, they have already cleared a small patch of land on an adjacent hillside for further use in food production, possibly as an orchard. There is also a beekeeper in the group, who may install some hives.

Thus, by combining the knowledge, interests and talents of a diverse group, they are slowly moving towards having a regular supply of healthy home-grown food for their small community.