Sunwise, Davis

I guess kind of a theme for our stay in Davis was short visits to communities involving cooking/meals/dinners/etc. We had wanted to visit Sunwise since we had arrived in Davis, and because we knew we were taking off soon for Seattle, we arranged to come over for a dinner. We had sort of read about Sunwise on the website as well as the Davis wiki. Oooh I almost forgot, if you ever decide to travel to Davis, or just want to know more about the place, you have to check out Its basically a collaborative guide to the town. There’s information about intentional communities, the local bike cooperative, how to score free food, information about the Davis People’s Free School, Food Not Bombs, etc. Everyone mentions it and it was described as the “most complete wiki for any town in the US.”
Anyhow, so we were invited over to Sunwise for dinner, and like any good hippy dinner guests, we figured we’d need to find some dumpster bread to bring over to contribute. Luckily, there’s a place in Davis called the Village Bakery which throws out copious amounts of bread. We had been there about a week earlier and Rachel had gone inside and asked whether or not they had any old bread they were trying to get rid of. They told her that they had already donated all of it. Of course, i skipped the asking and went straight to the dumpster. There was a very large black trash bag full of bread. Not a bunch of loaves strewn about the dumpster, but one big bag of nothing but good looking bread. Go figure, I guess they donated the bread to the hungry dumpster foundation. Anyways, so we knew that the Village Bakery threw out good bread, so we headed over there before dinner and grabbed a couple big bags of bread to bring over to Sunwise.
Tony, Rachel and I biked over and, after some confusion about directions, arrived sort of in the middle of dinner. It was a little embarrassing, but all of the housemates were very nice and they hadn’t waited to start dinner for us, so it wasn’t a big deal. One of the housemates had cooked some very delicious polenta and greens and sweet potatoes and we broke out some delicious focaccia and sat down to eat. There were probably 6 or so people around the table. Most were about our age, post college and in graduate school or in fairly professional careers. There was also a mother her young(ish) child–6 or 7 maybe. The conversation was pretty light, mostly spurred on by the 7 year old. She showed us all how to make dragon faces with our hands, although I think I would be pretty hard pressed to remember it now. At the end of dinner there was a VERY delicious carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and blueberries. Definitely not vegan, but absolutely tasty. We also got some chances to ask questions about Sunwise.

Sunwise is part of an entire neighborhood co-housing project that was started in the 70’s called village homes. We were told that there are about 250 houses that make up the neighborhood. There are bike/walking paths and community gardens, and originally, I think the whole neighborhood was designed with an open/no fences plan. We were told that since the 70’s, property values in Davis have soared, and most of the houses now are occupied by single families who have since fenced themselves in and everyone else out. Apparently, Sunwise was started by ex-students who had lived in coop houses connected with the school and who had wanted to keep that community when they graduated. Now its the last housing cooperative left in the neighborhood. But what a house they have. The tour we got was short, but they have so many cool things going on. First, like any good co-op tour, we start in the kitchen:

All of the essentials, and a beautiful warm feeling as well. There’s also another pantry-like space where they’re brewing kombucha and have all sorts of canned food stuffs staring out at you from their jars. We then went up to the upper levels where all of the rooms are, and our host took us into her room, through her lofted bed area (yes thats right, lofts in a bunch of the bedrooms) and onto the roof. They have solar hot water and electricity, and we got an amazing look out onto their gardens. Gardens isn’t really a good word for it; it was more like a small farmlands adjacent to their house. Apparently each person has a set of “chores” for the month, and among them are gardening and taking care of the chickens. This apparently works for them, although it seems like gardening in that land could very quickly become a full time job. It was nighttime, so we didn’t get a very good look at the plants and such, but apparently they have a bunch of winter greens and cover crops at the moment, and a number of chickens. Yummm…..

Sunwise is a member of NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation). I recommend you check out the website if you’re interested in more information, but its basically an umbrella organization of cooperatives. In some cases, NASCO actually owns and helps manage the house. Zami, in Santa Cruz, also was a member of NASCO. People at Zami had talked about having some trouble negotiating with NASCO, to the point of worrying they were all going to be kicked out and their house basically wiped clean, but in Sunwise people had mostly good things to say about NASCO. They require that people living in the house make %80 or less of the median income in the area and no one can stay longer than 7 years. The rent is also much cheaper than most of the other living situations in Davis. The idea is to allow as many people as possible to experience cooperative living at Sunwise. Its a very interesting system, but I can definitely imagine the drama of having lived in a place for that long and knowing that you would be required to leave after a somewhat arbitrary period. A number of people had apparently just moved out after 7 years so it was a particularly relevant rule. There are so many cooperative houses and spaces in Davis, though, that it felt like the people that left were able to find similar homes nearby.

We were able to stay and chat for a while after our tour, but it was pretty clear that this being a weekday, people were ready for bed. We hung out around long enough for one of the members to give Tony a little mother Kombucha (I think they’re called Scobi?) to create his own at home. The house was definitely the kind of place one could get really comfortable in and maybe never leave (or at least for 7 years), but we knew we had to make it to Seattle in a couple days and couldn’t linger too long here. I have a feeling we’ll be back eventually.


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