The History

Fertile Ground has been a community space for 20 years. Karen Nelson and Gail O’Sullivan began their residency at 311 9th Ave SE in 1998. Building on the heritage of the mighty Josephine Wisniewski who lived here 50 years prior, they began to create a space where community could flourish. While it was their residence and a B&B, they also hosted many classes, workshops and parties for the community. Since 2018, the B&B has closed, but the community space still remains.

The Present

Karen and Gail want to give this space to the community in perpetuity so that it can continue to nourish and console those that visit or reside. The best way they’ve found to maintain the work is to put the property into the Thurston Housing Land Trust and convert the house into a Cooperatively Owned Home. These are two separate tasks each with multiple steps and enormous hurdles. If you want to know more about our opening for a roommate, click here.

Land Trust

The Community Land Trust model functions across the country (and world) as a means for making housing affordable over the long haul. In our community, we’re grateful to have the Thurston Housing Land Trust who has agreed to receive the Fertile Ground property. This will legally separate the property from the house, and thereby reduce the cost of the building. The newly formed cooperative entity will purchase the house at a reduced cost and pay it off over time. People who may have previously only rented rooms, can now have a share in homeownership with the ability to earn equity and make decisions about their environment. In the Community Land Trust model, this opportunity is paid forward to the next owners by the use of a Ground Lease which specifies ways to keep the costs from inflating over time.

Cooperative Housing

The house will be divided into 5 equal shares. Through the bylaws of the Fertile Ground Housing Cooperative, co-owners will know exactly how the organization functions. All the particulars of expectations and benefits will be transparent from the beginning in order to assure the best possible fit for the co-owners, the cooperative and the mission. These details are in our Draft Bylaws which are not ready to be shared yet. Gratitude to the Northwest Cooperative Development Center for their steadfast coaching and facilitation. See Roommate page for info about a test drive opportunity.

The Mission

Fertile Ground’s mission has always been “demonstrating urban sustainability on a neighborhood scale” and in a less official way: "to be the change you want to see in the world." (Gandhi) So, the creation of this Housing Cooperative fits inside our larger mission. The major focus of The Commons at Fertile Ground, a 501(c)(3) non profit is creating an EcoDistrict in the Downtown corridor. Work is being done with partnerships with The Evergreen State College and the City of Olympia to move the needle toward sustainability in a number of vital areas. (see We also do tours and field trips for students of all ages and rent out community meeting space in our EcoHouse. We see this Housing Cooperative as one more way to demonstrate urban sustainability and we hope our learned experience can serve others as they follow a similar path to home ownership.

The Timeline

Throughout 2019, potential members of the Cooperative have been meeting twice each month to design their new home. We use a very helpful resource called Questionnaire for Co-owners of a Home and we looked at many by-laws from other Housing Coops and met with a Housing Coop member from Hillview Coop.

Next steps:

January 2 - Articles and Bylaws reviewed by our attorney

January 30 - Incorporate as a Cooperative and pass Bylaws

January 30 - Present budget to at least one lender

February 15 - Put house purchase under contract

May 15 - Closing on Transaction

The Opportunity

Karen and Gail are currently seeking co-owners in this endeavor. It’s an opportunity to engage with sustainable community development, to care for a beautiful historic home and to share your yard and garden with community members. They estimate that the total monthly cost for co-owners will be about $650 per month, not including utilities. It takes a special person to buy into such a vision and live with its unfolding development. But for the right people, it will be perfect. People who love to share what they know and learn from others will be most drawn to this situation. These are some of the qualities that have been identified that would suggest a good fit:

Ideal candidates

  • Comfortable using respectful communication skills

  • Practiced in the art of separating compost, garbage and recycling

  • Conscientious about water and energy use

  • Supportive of a scent-free environment

  • Willing to minimize personal impact in the Common Areas

  • Inclined to putter in yard/garden

  • Tending toward being a morning person

  • Preferring a quiet environment

  • Enjoying sharing meals occasionally


  • Central Location

  • Large established garden and fruit trees

  • Sauna and Hot Tub

  • Piano

  • Central Heating and Air Conditioning

  • Common Spaces: Living, Dining, Library, Kitchen

  • Art Studio with ceramics kiln and wheel

  • Cob Oven with Outdoor Kitchen amenities

  • Fully equipped Kitchen + party supplies for large gatherings

Current Residents

Karen Nelson, who bought the house in 1988. Gail O'Sullivan, long time resident and Karen's sidekick. Arlene Olsen, Karen's buddy through their Piano Group, who serves as staff for Max and Theo. A couple named Bree and Jacob joined us in October with a great background in cooperative living, Permaculture and Non-violent Communication. Ethan Rogol, a Spanish language guru, is a recent roommate who is taking the Test Drive to see if the Cooperative Ownership model might be right for him, too.

If you've read this far, you must certainly be interested. We have an Application Form for potential co-owners to fill out. You're welcome to do so even though we don't have any openings right now. Besides our own preferences mentioned above, all housemates will also will need to qualify with the THLT as low-to-moderate income people. So eventually we will be asking candidates to disclose personal financial information to make sure we're all qualified. Please feel free to make contact through email and we'll set up a time to meet you in person.