My visit to Higher Ground Cohousing
I love the idea of cohousing, and am inspired by each individual community's design. When I heard about Prairie Rivers' plans to build Winnipeg's first cohousing community, I knew I wanted to learn more. Not just about Prairie Rivers, but about some of the other communities out there.
I love the uniqueness of each community. Some are designed as elevator buildings, nestled into a corner of an urban city centre where residents rarely have to use their cars, and can enjoy yoga studios and cafés located just down the street. Other communities are rural, expanding over farmland from which residents enjoy community harvests and the tranquility of country living.
On a recent road trip to the West Coast of the United States, I got to visit Higher Ground Cohousing in the heart of Bend, Oregon. And what a beautiful place it was!
Almost four acres are owned and shared as common grounds with natural old-growth trees, two small meadows, walking paths, a few rest areas, a fish pond and man-made waterfall, a playground, a sauna, and a hot tub. I got to use the zipline that’s set up for the kids, and had a blast!
The original farmhouse became the common house and it was later expanded to include a spacious kitchen and dining area. They use it on a weekly basis for community potluck meals. The common house also has three suites. Two of them are rented out and the third one is used as a guest room. The renters have their own bathrooms and a small kitchen.
This particular cohousing community is unique in its origins. Usually, cohousing communities are planned in full. The community members collaborate on plans for a full neighborhood of anywhere from 15-35 households, and all move in at the same time. Higher Ground Cohousing was less traditional. The land was purchased by just four families in the nineties and they built their own homes. They then opened up their property to more families and the community gradually grew to 39 households. This contributed to each house having its own unique flavour. Private homes have anywhere between 1000 and 2000 square feet.
Higher Ground Cohousing also features extensive gardens with fenced plots, a hot house where they grow tomatoes, a fair-sized nursery, and an orchard with apple and pear trees. I got to indulge in their ripe raspberries. Mmmm! I asked about how they organized the gardens and such. They have a garden committee where interested members pay about $40 a month. These households put in extra time and effort, and get to harvest the veggies and fruits for their own use.
Doug shared with me that some bees had been swarming around someone’s house, so he and another member captured them and placed them in a beehive. So now they have honeybees and will eventually have honey!
One of the members came to to the common house to do some renovation work and I got to chat with her for a while. Most cohousing groups agree upon how many hours of labour each member household should contribute to the community. At Higher Ground, they have regular work days, and residents participate in these at least four times a year. It was late and the tour was coming to an end. Doug asked me if I had a place to stay. I didn’t. He suggested I use their guest room, as it was not occupied. Yes! I was so relieved. I didn’t have to look for a place to stay that night. The suggested payment for my stay was a mere $20. 😊 Doug helped me bring my things in and made it comfortable. Doug and I shared a meal together in the common house dining room. We talked about many things and got to know each other. I had a lovely time. As the evening progressed, other community members came to the common house and I got to see them interacting. I was invited to join them for their potluck dinner the next day, but due to time constraints, I had to decline. It was a lovely gesture on their part. I finally retired into my room, feeling quite blessed. What a great place to make new friends!