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Treehouse Community Garden grows crops, sense of community

After a 2009 report by the Health Department declared Baxter neighborhood a “food desert,” neighbors and businesses rallied to build a community garden to foster a healthier and more vibrant community.
Residents of the Baxter neighborhood enjoy working on the Treehouse Community Garden.

Residents of the Baxter neighborhood enjoy working on the Treehouse Community Garden. /Courtesy of Treehouse Community Garden

Once an abandoned lot, the Treehouse Community Garden located at 1045 Logan Street now serves as an environment for community building and learning for residents in the Baxter neighborhood. The garden has nine raised vegetable beds available for family and individual use. Three vegetable beds are used by the entire neighborhood, including a 20 foot by 20 foot area for larger vegetables such as squash or tomatoes.

Residents of the neighborhood are able to to use the community garden free of charge on the condition that they agree to have all fruits and vegetables planted by June 1. Resident gardeners must regularly work on upkeeping their garden and fertilize or amend soil organically. Vegetable beds are cleaned out at the end of fall.

A variety of fruits and vegetables are grown at the garden, from kale to beans and peppers to edible flowers. This season more strawberries and kiwis were planted after kids in the neighborhood expressed that they wanted to see more fruits, says Matthew Fowler, one of the founders of the community garden.

Treehouse allows adults and kids alike to learn more about gardening as they watch their crops grow. “Dig It,” a gardening class, teaches kids various gardening methods and about the vegetables they grow.

“It’s a great way to save money and get kids involved to see where food actually comes from,” says Jamie Hance, a Baxter neighborhood resident using the community garden. This year Hance is growing tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and basil.

On any given day, kids can be seen visiting the garden to check on their vegetables’ progress or playing in a leftover pile of sand. A neighbor or two might stop by to pick a few weeds out of their vegetable beds. Or they might just stop by to chat with Fowler, who is often working on one project or another.

“They’re involved and they’re active,” says Fowler of residents in the Baxter neighborhood. “[Treehouse is] run by several different people in the neighborhood.”

Neighbors have noted a difference in the community and some attribute that change to Treehouse.

“If you look at the neighborhood, it’s not necessarily the greatest, but it’s slowly turning around and I think having something like this, like the community garden, makes a big impact,” says Hance. “It’s gone a long way to create a community where there wasn’t necessarily much of one.”

Raylow Lindsey, another Baxter resident, is currently growing greens, tomatoes and spices. He hopes other areas can experience the benefits of community gardens.

“I would like there to be more of these in other neighborhoods,” says Lindsey. “It’s different... it brings people together doing common things.”

Wanting to help better their community, Fowler, his wife Kristin and friends prayed and waited for the right idea to come to mind. The idea came in the form of a community garden. Inner City Christian Federation owns the lot but agreed to let the Baxter neighborhood use the space to build Treehouse.

In the spring of 2012, after much planning, preparing and patience, the group’s dream became a reality as construction of the community garden began. Local businesses and organizations such as West Michigan Tree Services, Thornapple Evangelical Covenant Church and Visbeen Associates, Inc. donated materials and services throughout the building process. Neighbors and volunteers helped prepare the lot for construction and gardening.

“It was so amazing to see a big group of people, some strangers and some friends, come together to help see this dream become a reality,” says Fowler. “It truly couldn't have happened without all the wonderful people who were involved.”

Improvements are continually made to the lot to fit the neighborhood’s needs. For larger projects, community work days are planned in advance.

The next community work day is on June 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Neighbors and volunteers will begin building an arboretum as a hangout area for residents and begin to lay down part of a pathway, as well as laying mulch and weeding. Anyone is welcome to volunteer and help the Baxter community.

For more information contact Treehouse via its Facebook page or email.

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