Sustainable Chrysalis Co-op faces opposition but remains focused on positive community impact

The Boulder based Chrysalis Co-op on 16th Street is a lavender labyrinth of rooms. The home hosts 13 individuals, one child, two cats and the door is always open.

Chrysalis Co-op is a community-oriented group whose traditions may be threatened by new county ordinances but continues to focus on serving its hometown by creating a sustainable home.

The co-op was founded in 1996 and is one of three legal co-ops in Boulder currently facing backlash from the community. The Boulder City Council is in the process of drafting a new ordinance for co-ops in response to concerns about occupancy and public disturbances, according to the Boulder Bulletin.

“I think they have a different idea of what co-ops are, and a house aligned with cooperative living values versus just a bunch of people crammed in one house to party…this is one of the quietest places I’ve lived in actually,” said an anonymous spokesperson for Chrysalis Co-op about their opposition.

On Oct. 4, the Boulder City Council held one of several ongoing meetings to hear testimony from co-op and country residents, and discuss the terms of the ordinance draft.

The council plans to cap co-op occupancy at 12-15 individuals depending on the size of the home and to restrict co-ops from forming within 500 feet of one another, according to the Boulder Daily Camera. This has serious ramifications for the Chrysalis Co-op which can house up to 16 members.

“Right now it’s actually one person who lives in each room…the current cooperative ordinance is asking for 400-square-feet per person…so we’d have to cut the house in half as far as how many folks live here,” said Brenden Nackerman, a 25-year-old member of Chrysalis.

Despite contentions between the co-op and the community, Chrysalis continues to make a positive impact on Boulder by living sustainably. The house does this by reducing its environmental impact through food and energy consumption, and waste production.


In order to cut down on food waste, the Chrysalis Co-op has formed a partnership with Boulder Food Rescue. Boulder Food Rescue is non-profit organization that collects food waste from participating businesses and redistributes it by bike to approximately 40 recipients throughout the city, according to their website.

“Sometimes I feel guilty about being a BFR beneficiary,” said Nackerman.

“Why’s that?” asks a guest.

“I feel like there are folks that need it more than us, maybe,” replied Nackerman.

But the co-op is a tier four recipient which means they often receive less nutrious foods, such as un-sold pastries, than tier one members.

In addition to consuming food “waste,” the co-op buys what they can in bulk to reduce costs and excess product packaging. Products are also purchased from local producers whenever possible in order to reduce the carbon foot-print of transporting foods long distances.

At home, the co-op has converted their front yard into a garden where herbs for cooking and vegetables such as kale are grown for immediate consumption.


The Chrysalis Co-op, like much of Boulder, manages their waste by sorting between trash, recycling, and compost. However, they expand upon this practice by composting bathroom waste such as used tissues, q-tips, some feminine hygiene products, and even condoms.

They also have their own compost in addition to the municipalities for garden fertilizer.

Water from the shower is sometimes collected in buckets and used to flush the toilet. Soon the house hopes to install rain collection barrels in order to water their garden.


30 percent of the energy used by the Chrysalis Co-op comes from solar panels located on the roof of their home, Rush said.

The co-op was the first member of the Boulder Housing Coalition, a non-profit community housing development organization, to install solar panels. Energy Outreach Colorado, City of Boulder ClimateSmart Solar Grant Program and Xcel Energy Trust all awarded Chrysalis grants to cover the cost of installing the panels through the coalition, according to their website.

In addition, only two members of the co-op own cars, significantly reducing the home’s fossil fuel use overall.

The group plans to continue to advocate for cooperative living arrangements and engage with their community to create positive impact.

“In Boulder, if the whole neighborhood organizes to get bus passes, it’s way cheaper than purchasing on your own.” said Somer Stapleton, as 23-year-old member of the Chrysalis Co-op. “We helped our neighborhood do that.”

Audio Story

Audio Transcription 

[Intro Music]

[Narration] Cooperative homes have been causing controversy in Boulder since their inception. As recently as October 4th, the City Council held a meeting to discuss an ordinance that would allow co-ops under certain conditions. The debate was so energized that the discussion has been tabled until another date. On the Saturday following this meeting, I attended a pot luck at Chrysalis Co-op, one of 3 legal cooperative homes in Boulder. I did this in order to learn about their sustainability practices and the individuals living there that so many seem to contest. When I arrived the door was open so I walked in. I was greeted with smiles and shown to a long wooden table in their kitchen filled with food.

[Mickey Rush] Almost all of this food was donated, or sort of rescued. It would otherwise be wasted, um, from Whole Foods.

[Narration] Brenden Nackerman, a member of the co-op, reads aloud some hand written food labels for each dish.

[Brenden Nackerman] I like this one it says, BFR salami, eat at your own risk, smiley face.

[Narration] After some introductions and small talk, I let some residents listen in on my audio recording. “Is that really how I sound?” is everyone’s general reaction. Eventually, Mickey Rush agrees to sit with me on the porch and discuss the co-op’s values and sustainability practices.

[Mickey Rush] So, we have three standard values as a house. Those are community, personal growth and sustainability. And so that, um, I think in my experience what separates a co-op from a group of people who just live together is that you have these really stated values that are shared by the entire house and that’s, um, what’s made really clear if you’re applying to live here is that these are our values and, um, you know, we’re really working hard to live those out on a community scale.

[Narration] These values are just what the co-op is advocating for and trying to communicate to Boulder residents at City Council meetings

[Anonymous] It jut seems the opposition has more of a fear based mind set. This is mine, I worked hard for it, and I don’t want someone threatening, you know, my quiet time. But I think they have a different idea of what co-ops are and what that versus, a house aligned with cooperative living values versus just a bunch of people crammed into one house to party, college kids. Which, this is one of the quietest places I’ve lived in, actually.

[Narration] Nackerman offers me a drink and takes me on a tour of the house and grounds.


[Nakcerman] Yeah, so this is where the bulk of the rooms are. So, right now it’s actually one person who lives in each room. Um, which is about 200-square-feet per person. Um, the current cooperative ordinance is asking for 400-square-feet, like 300 or 400 hundred per person, so we’d have to cut the house in half as far as how many folks live here. Um, our max occupancy is 16 people, we have 13 right now.

[Narration] But even as advocates for sustainable living practices, house members admit there are difficult aspects to committing to the lifestyle

[Rush] There’s definitely a general atmosphere in our house or sort of social pressure maybe that you should really consider air drying your clothes before you stick them in the dryer, because that’s really our main driver of, um, electricity consumption, is that dryer.

[Narration] As the night continues more friends arrive, a band begins playing and a group mediation is conducted. Eventually I slip out the back door during a quiet moment. I can’t help to think that anyone who contests the co-op hasn’t stepped foot through their always open-door.

[Exit music]


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