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Tree House Community Garden nestles in to Baxter neighborhood

Matthew Fowler and friends started the Tree House Community Garden in Baxter neighborhood to engage the community.
Matthew Fowler and neighborhood kids

Matthew Fowler and neighborhood kids /Eric Tank

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"We want to invite these kids who may otherwise find bad things to do in this neighborhood to be in a positive space."

-Matthew Fowler

Tree House Community Garden

Tree House Community Garden /Eric Tank

Since 2012 the Tree House Community Garden has been providing Baxter neighbors with access to growing their own fresh food and a safe haven for folks to gather together. Matthew Fowler, along with wife Kristin Fowler and their friends, started the garden at 1045 Logan Street SE on a vacant Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) lot with the intent to bring people together in a positive way. 

The lot provides for a number of raised garden beds, a trellace and what looks like a barn - which neighborhood kids will explain is not a barn, but rather a shed. In front of the shed is a borderless sandbox for the younger kids to play in and dividing the whole space is a stone pathway that starts at the city sidewalk.

Thus far the overall response to the garden has been favorable. About a dozen families participate in the gardening and harvesting. Folks regularly get together to discuss resident issues such as building fences, house maintenance and repairs and community events.

"We wanted to utilize this square footage to grow as much food as possible, but we also love fellowship and if it's packed so tight that you can't walk in it then people won't want to hang out in it."

The community uses the lot under contract of consent from the ICCF and an anonymous donor recently entrusted to the Fowlers the abandoned house next to it. Fowler says he and his wife are working to raise money for the demolition of the current structure and the rebuilding of a new one. A video about the project can be found at Indiegogo. The new building is planned to be an unconventional two story straw/clay house. It's already been dubbed The Nest. The Fowlers intend on living upstairs while maintaining a communal area on the first floor that will be open to area neighbors.

Fowler would like to have a budget, donations from a church group perhaps that would support an open fridge policy once the construction is completed. Access to healthy food is still a problem for neighborhood kids and a seasonal garden can only produce so much. With the extra space indoors and a working budget comes the opportunity to not just produce food but to make available healthy meal options.

"It's a dream right now and it's in the very early stages. I have 20 year dreams and I have 100 year dreams of this place being a huge fruit forest and there being fruit and vegetables and all these people eating awesome food."

At the childrens' request, many fruit and berry varieties have already been planted and are awaiting another season or so before yeilding a crop.

Although the Fowlers' ideals are larger than any urban garden, Fowler also has a very pragmatic side. He and his wife have been living in an intentional community for the past four years. Contrary to to often romanticization of such living, Fowler will tell you that it isn't easy. He says that the village economy is the way people are meant to live, and is living out that world view in the day to day interactions with people and shared land usage.

Rooted in Christian charity, Fowler's approach is less about overt evangelization than an honest sentiment with a practical application. Simply put, sharing a garden and encouraging neighbors to take ownership fuels the cooperative spirit of a community. Fowler has made it clear the he plays a mere part in fostering dialogue throughout the neighborhood. That dialogue, addressing the wants and needs of a community has become a cornerstone in relationship building.

"We're building trust, we're building relationships," says Fowler. "We're hoping over time to add more and more people."

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