Cause for all

Housemates serve as examples of low-impact living

GREEN HOUSE<br>Max Kee tends to the garden in front of The Cause’s communal residence on Fourth Avenue in Chico.

Max Kee tends to the garden in front of The Cause’s communal residence on Fourth Avenue in Chico.

Photo By Brittni Zacher

Enrique Zepeda rides between two worlds.

Every morning, he guides his new Trek bicycle past the Toyota Corolla he abandoned in his driveway three weeks ago, and he pedals off to work. Two and a half miles later, Zepeda arrives at his job site, where he swaps and rotates tires on SUVs.

With a livelihood in the car culture and a lifestyle counter to that culture, Zepeda is clearly a black sheep among his co-workers: “They tell me, ‘Only hippies do that,’ when I ride into work.”

At the end of his day, Zepeda heads home to a room in The Cause, an ecologically minded cooperative located on Fourth Avenue in Chico. Here, life moves at a different pace. The milk comes from goats, the eggs fresh from a hen coop, and every last commodity is either turned to compost, put to reuse or meticulously sorted and recycled.

Zepeda has been in residence at The Cause for more than 10 months, and the low-impact challenges of the household have taken root in his life. “It was weird [at first]—but after I thought about it, it started to make sense,” he said.

“I used to shower for 20 minutes. Now I think about how much water I save by showering in five.”

Not every conservation measure of The Cause has been easy for Zepeda. The house practice of “letting yellow settle” in the toilet was his first hard awakening to an eco-literate lifestyle. “At first I was like, ‘What the hell?’ “ Zepeda said, laughing.

The residents of The Cause live with ecological intention. They consider their home a living demonstration of how to revive urban land by turning waste into a resource and neighbors into networks. They see themselves as part of a growing demographic of college students who realize the importance of being community members helping to make a difference.

Max Kee broke ground with The Cause three semesters ago. Along with several friends, Kee began renting the property from his mother and set to work building garden boxes from the land’s invasive trees and constructing vermiculture bins with lumber salvaged from an abandoned performance space.

“We looked around and started making educated decisions and asking what was the next step,” Kee said. “As soon as we started taking action and getting the ball rolling, it only got easier from there.”

REUSABLES<br>The Cause puts recycling into action in the back yard by repurposing cast-off items.

Photo By Brittni Zacher

These days, from the fire pit to the “bike manger,” every inch of yard space seems put to purposeful use. Everything vaguely appears to have once been something else in a different lifetime.

“Some screws, some hooks and a tarp are the only things we actually purchased to landscape our back yard,” Kee explained.

Beside the greenhouse, several compost bins neatly line the back fence, processing the kitchen and hen coop’s food waste back into topsoil.

“Compost ties us back to the land,” Kee said with a smile. “We take care of our land because we see what comes out of it and we are eating off our ecological footprint.”

The Cause relies upon a healthy relationship with Chico State and Chico’s growing network of sustainable-minded businesses in developing examples of living locally. Those efforts have yielded recognition and additional support.

At last fall’s This Way to Sustainability conference at the university, The Cause received the Jack Rawlins Sustainability Award, which includes a $6,000 grant. This will become what Kee refers to as “seed money” for establishing a financial lending service to practice what’s known as microlending.

The Cause’s Solution Oriented Lending program will invest in socially and environmentally sensible home improvements, Kee explained. This will assist low-income households in achieving energy efficiency by providing loans for the upfront costs for everything from CFL light bulbs and Energy Star appliances to, eventually, windmills and solar panels. Repayments on SOL loans will be placed back into an account for future projects and different households.

The microfinance lending model was founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. At the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, the urban poor get financial access to goods and services. The Cause has modified Yunus’ concept on a local scale with the goal of cleaner communities.

A home-energy audit from Chico State’s Green Campus program will assess each house’s energy footprint and establish a purchasing plan for low-impact technology. Kee intends to make The Cause his “beta test” for the larger program.

Out behind Zepeda’s red Corolla, an old set of 50-gallon drums overflow with rainwater diverted from the roof. Next to the catchment system, a grapefruit tree is flourishing.

Looking up to the hen hiding amid its branches, Kee mentions how all the low-hanging fruit has recently been plucked and juiced.

“What we offer the community is a simple model,” Kee said. “It’s one that says, ‘Yes, this is possible, and yes it’s worth doing.’ “