College Rooftop Garden Feeds Hungry Minds

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Donate NowLike most children her age, 4-year-old Lily Samuelson loves to play in the sandbox and dig into the dirt to search for new seedlings in her garden. But, unlike most, Samuelson’s playground is 75 feet above the ground—on top of Trinity Lutheran College’s parking garage.

The play area is part of a rooftop garden project started by the Rev. David Ellingson in March, 2010. Looking out from his fourth-floor office, the youth and family studies professor could see the picturesque Cascade Mountains jutting out from the background. “And in the foreground was this ugly garage,” Ellingson explained. “I wanted to add a few planters and greenery to the concrete jungle.”

While most people viewed the parking garage as a drab, cement structure lined with rows of cars, Ellingson envisioned a child-friendly green space that would serve the urban community of Everett, Washington. Nearly two years later, Ellingson’s idea not only has taken root, but has transformed the upper level of the parking garage into an urban oasis. The park-like setting has been the backdrop for various college classes, parties and concerts. Occupying nearly a quarter of a city block, the rooftop garden includes a greenhouse, solar panels, vegetable garden, picnic tables and a grove of willow trees that eventually will be transplanted to a local salmon stream.

In addition to providing a learning lab for Trinity College students, Ellingson wanted to branch out to include outreach programs. Wheat Ridge Ministries invested in the expansion plans with grant money that enabled Ellingson to purchase earth boxes to grow organic food used by the college—and also shared with community food banks. Ellingson also loans the earth boxes to members of a local shelter, churches, and a senior community center so they can start their own personal garden.

“The Wheat Ridge grant is used for the betterment of the community,” Ellingson said. “It has given us an opportunity to help people grow healthy food for healthy bodies and ultimately, healthy communities. But more importantly, we’re learning to share with our neighbors and hopefully inspire others to do the same. The grant is a gift that keeps multiplying.”

The rooftop garden has inspired imagination and captivated some of Trinity’s youngest learners. Samuelson and her fellow classmates from the early childhood education program spend most of their day exploring outside – rain, snow or shine.

“Lily loves it out there. She always comes home covered with sand,” said Lily’s father and Trinity campus pastor, Erik. “We’re in the city, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities to go outside and enjoy the outdoors. But, the children are on the rooftop every day. She has learned a lot about how food grows—not a lot of people get the chance to see where their food comes from.”

Ellingson teamed up with Trinity’s Early Childhood Education director Susan Houglum to build a play and learning area. Their collaboration resulted in a nature-themed playground, complete with a desert (sand box), meadow (grass area), a painted meandering river and planter boxes for a garden.

“The garden serves many purposes. But, more importantly, it teaches stewardship of God’s creation,” Ellingson said. “It’s a sustainable project because it teaches another generation of college students how to enjoy the outdoors in a city setting and utilize urban gardening techniques. And, in turn, they will teach others what they’ve learned.”

Thank you for partnering with Wheat Ridge Ministries to help fuel inspired leaders like Rev. Ellingson to find creative solutions to eliminate hunger and poor nutrition. Your ongoing financial support allows Trinity College and residents of Everett, Washington, to grow their own food to build healthy bodies and a healthy community.