Cornerstone University News

The Nest Project

Anyone who walks down the streets of the Baxter Neighborhood in the summertime will quickly notice a boarded up, abandoned house next to a burgeoning community garden, filled with ripe tomato vines and beautiful Swiss chard.

The Treehouse Community Garden began in 2011 when Jaclyn Visbeen, a Cornerstone alumnus, and a group of her friends shared a vision to invest in something larger than themselves.

Considered a food dessert, the Baxter neighborhood had no healthy food within walking distance.

“The garden was an opportunity to provide something practical. Something they needed and something we wanted,” said Visbeen, Web Developer and alumnus of Cornerstone University.

With 12 raised vegetable beds, the garden produces fresh produce for the community to share. In return, the community takes an active role in contributing to the land. This summer, 10 families claimed garden beds and committed to weeding and watering them.

 “We came in and saw it as us bringing community to that place when we realized there was already community there,” Visbeen said. “We were just joining something bigger.”

When the landlord donated the property next to the garden, their vision spread to the run-down house next door. The team launched a new project to transform that old abandoned home into the site of an LEED certified Living Building. Meeting 20 LEED certifications, Living Buildings contribute more to the environment than they take. It is a rare certification that has only been earned by 4 buildings worldwide.

“This would be huge for Grand Rapids,” Visbeen said.

The Nest is the name for this project as the group, led by Matt Fowler and his wife Kristen, raise money to tear down and rebuild the house. When finished, the environmentally conscious house will function as a residence for the Fowlers as well as a community center for the neighborhood. The entire bottom floor will be open to the community. Art will hang from the walls. There will be places for cooking, room for canning fresh produce from the garden, and a library with computers for kids to do their homework.

The Alliance for Environmental Sustainability in Grand Rapids partnered with The Nest to raise awareness for the project. The Alliance will assure that sustainable construction guidelines are followed to satisfy the qualifications for the Living House project, such as clay and straw building materials and self-sustaining energy supply.

Currently, The Nest is running an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. They’ve raised about $22,000 of their $37,250 goal. The house itself will require a total of about $200,000 to build.  

Visbeen said that this housing project falls within the values that the she and the Fowlers share. They believe in their responsibility to love people where they are at, building relationships with people and their surroundings.