Gardening has always been touted as a relaxing recreational activity that can produce personal rewards. For Nick Wellington it is a passion! He has worked summers on the McNett Farm and his family has always planted large gardens as he was growing up. Mr. Wellington’s other passion is education. He is a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Kennedy Elementary School in Wellington.
In 2021 with the support of Principal Gillian Macias, Mr. Wellington found an opportunity to combine both his passions by applying for a grant through the Whole Kids Foundation Garden Grant. Whole Kids Foundation is dedicated to helping children improve their nutrition and wellness by eating better. They provide grants for school gardens and related programs. Out of 1,400 applications from across the U.S. and Canada, his application was selected to receive a $3,000 Garden Grant!
Mr. Wellington is on his way to sharing an experience of lifetime with the students at Kennedy Elementary School by integrating gardening into health and nutrition curriculum through math and science. This curriculum will impact the entire school because every grade plays an important role in the development of the garden. Mr. Wellington states, “For 5th grade our science standards have a lot to do with conservation, as well as plant life cycles. So, a garden falls right in line with our standards.” He went on to add, “We created the elevated boxes from reclaimed wood and then filled them with dirt. We needed to know the volume of the boxes and how much dirt that was needed. We also measured the elevated boxes to create them and measured how much drip/soaker hose was needed for each garden box.”
The garden is located on the grounds of Kennedy Elementary School, allowing access by all students. Every grade plays an integral part in planting, growing, maintaining, and harvesting the garden. “Our students have no idea where their food comes from. This garden will allow our students to be able to see exactly where it comes from and taste the difference between store bought and locally grown. This will also empower our students to be able to grow and maintain their own food, instead of relying on grocery stores to provide them with food.” Mr. Wellington shares. There are fourteen beds containing various plants. Four of the beds have two levels which allow for different vegetables. Mr. Wellington explained that each section is planted with compatibility in mind. Different plants grow better partnered with complimentary species. The center bed looks like a pyramid with its three-tiered box and is where the strawberries are growing. Four boxes are host to various forms of potatoes. Behind the garden is the composting site. The food waste from the school lunches is composited here and is being used for nutrients for the growing vegetable plants.
Just like in economic development, partnerships are key to the success of a project. Whole Kids Foundation understands this and requires a Community Partner for this grant. Mr. Nick Hart, McNett Farms and the Kansas All Star Scholar Fund came on board as the Community Partners needed. “Mr. Hart, a local business owner in Wellington, donated the soil for the raised beds,” Mr. Wellington states. “Mr. McNett is a local farmer and former landscaper that volunteered his time with the set-up of the garden. He will be one of our professionals that will come in and speak to the students and show how to garden and sustain the vegetables,” Mr. Wellington continued. The monetary donation received from the Kansas All Star Scholas Fund helped in the purchase of additional supplies needed which included a greenhouse. The greenhouse has been used to start the plants from seeds and develop them into the plants that are transplanted to the raised beds.
Whole Kids Foundation also partnered with Lettuce Grow to provide a hydroponic “farmstand” to Mr. Wellington and Kennedy Elementary creating an additional way to teach gardening. The Farmstand does not use soil. Meaning the food is grown without toxic pesticides and herbicides that can lead to water pollution. Every Farmstand is made of 100% recyclable plastic milk jugs that had been headed to the ocean.
When asked about the future of the garden, Mr. Wellington states, “There is so much additional land behind the garden. We hope to create a large enough pumpkin patch to be able to sell pumpkins to our community as a fundraiser for the school’s garden. It would be nice to be able to plant fruit trees as well. Principal Macias has shared she’d love fruit trees back there. Create an orchard.” If you’d like to donate to this fantastic project, please contact Nick Wellington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sumner County Economic Development Commission is dedicated to acknowledging those individuals within Sumner County that are making a difference. Congratulation to Mr. Nick Wellington in combining his passion for gardening and his passion for education into a fun, creative, and important educational opportunity!