The Daily Illini

Urbana co-ops provide enriching community living experience

People living at the Greenhouse co-op eat dinner together every night from Monday through Friday. They talk to each other about the day and care for one another.

People living at the Greenhouse co-op eat dinner together every night from Monday through Friday. They talk to each other about the day and care for one another.

Jeannette Yan

Jeannette Yan

People living at the Greenhouse co-op eat dinner together every night from Monday through Friday. They talk to each other about the day and care for one another.

By Isabella Arquilla, Staff writer

While many students eat dinner in the Ikenberry dining hall or alone in their apartment, students living in cooperative housing eat a freshly cooked meal surrounded by their fellow housemates every night.

A co-op can be described as a community where all members agree to take part in the general upkeep of the house including cooking, cleaning and weekly meetings to make house-related decisions.

Chelsea Birchmier is a graduate student in LAS living in Greenhouse, a co-op at the corner of Green and McCullough streets in West Urbana. She enjoys communal living because she likes the idea of sharing resources and doing things together as a group. For example, the 11 members of the house take turns cooking dinner for each other.

“I think it makes living more convenient and more fun and also just to have an automatic group of people that are there for you if you ever wanted to spend time with anyone,” Birchmier said.

Each member of the house is responsible for cooking dinner for the entire house once a week. In the Harvest House, dinners are always either vegetarian or vegan.

“Living in a vegan household, I come home every night and, if it’s not my night to cook, I just walk in and have a freshly prepared meal that I know is going to be different than anything I’ve had that week,” said Clare Darnall, junior in ACES.

Darnall, who has lived in the Harvest House since the beginning of the semester, chose this particular co-op because the house has strong values centered on environmentalism.

She said all of the house’s energy comes from wind energy, and they take part in composting and recycling.

“It’s just sort of a focus of our house, trying to minimize our impact, which is really easy with 13 people living in one house,” Darnall said. “It definitely reduces the guilt because we work really hard and we make the decisions that we make because of that.”

Decisions related to the house are voted upon as a group. Darnall said the house has meetings once a week, so decisions are made through a democratic system. One of these important decisions is voting an applicant into the house.

When someone is interested in joining the house, they first have dinner with the current occupants. Members ask the applicant questions to get a feel for their beliefs and to see if they would fit in.

Darnall realized she wanted to live in the Harvest House when they kindly welcomed her into their home for dinner and asked questions that interested her.

Living in cooperative housing requires each member to take equal part in both meal planning and chores as well as other aspects to upkeep the household environment.

“It really relieves a lot of stress knowing that you have a certain set of duties. Those are your duties and you do not have to worry about anything else,” Darnall said.

She takes out the compost every week and, in return, Darnall knows everyone will do their share. Someone will take out the trash, someone will clean the living room and someone else will clean the bathrooms.

Birchmier said by living in a sort of community that facilitates group living, it is more fun and convenient than living in an apartment.

Living in a co-op is usually much cheaper than an apartment. In addition, there is much more freedom to make the space your own. Co-ops are typically pet-friendly and members can customize their rooms. A member of the Harvest House even painted their room kiwi green.

Ted Kim is a Ph.D. student in LAS and M.D student in medicine who lives in Greenhouse. He said living in a co-op is a great way to meet people with an assortment of interests from all different walks of life.

Kim has lived in co-ops other than Greenhouse. What keeps him in these intentional communities is that there is a desire to improve everybody’s living situation through spending time together and having dinner like a family.

“The social aspect is really important, but also the aspect of learning new skills is really cool,” Kim said.

Many co-ops have gardens in which residents grow fresh produce. This is just one example of the way that the house provides an enriching opportunity to learn something new while simultaneously providing for the house.

“It’s intentional,” Darnall said. “That’s why they call it an intentional community because you know that the people you live with want the same things that you want: … having happy roommates, doing happy things and letting their passions free.”

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