Seedleaf, a nonprofit organization based in central Kentucky, seeks to nourish communities by creating and promoting community gardens. Seedleaf began as a small community garden in 2007 and has rapidly grown to include a network of over 15 gardens, including Seedleaf Farms. Seeds, a youth-based outreach program, was created in 2009 “with [the] aim to create healthy food ambassadors” in and around Lexington. Seedleaf also provides cooking education workshops, hands-on gardening maintenance sessions, and an extensive compost program that uses food waste from local kitchens and restaurants.
Ryan Koch, founder and Executive Director of Seedleaf, has led the organization through years of “growing, cooking, sharing, and recycling” fresh, healthy food. Food Tank sat down with Koch to discuss his vision of healthy eating in Kentucky, as well as the future of Seedleaf.
Food Tank (FT): Why did you start Seedleaf?
Ryan Koch (RK): I was inspired by a farmer friend of mine. I had a chance to trade my labor for his vegetables in the summer of 2005, and I think I got the better end of that deal. Every afternoon when I drove back into town, I longed to bring a little bit of Three Springs Farm back with me. The small gardens we have installed since our beginning in 2007 are my attempt to do just that and to make nutritious food available in Lexington, Kentucky’s food deserts.
FT: What sorts of problems does Seedleaf seek to address?
RK: My neighbors in central Lexington, a food desert, face crippling rates of childhood onset diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other diet-related health problems. Seedleaf works hard to train volunteers to grow and cook nutritious food that they can share with neighbors in need, many of whom are priced out of the local food movement, all at no cost. We are reskilling interested volunteers and addressing the nutritional injustices that are so prevalent in American cities.
FT: Could you describe Seedleaf’s Micro-Farms and what makes them so special?
RK: Our Micro-Farms use half of a garden bed for a community garden and the other half for a market garden. While I love to give fresh food away, I think Seedleaf does its best work when we inspire, train, and equip young entrepreneurs to address some of our food insecurity problems. Our market gardens offer these folks a unique opportunity to raise and sell food in their own neighborhoods. All good things begin with a gift, and this program began with the gift of land. Now, we are passing on that gift to our community.
Seedleaf currently owns seven lots throughout central Lexington, and we are in the process of turning each of these into food-productive green spaces.
FT: Seedleaf is especially dedicated to education. What sorts of educational platforms do you use?
RK: Early on in Seedleaf’s history, we observed that children are our society’s early adopters. With that in mind, we have identified education with area youth as a cornerstone of our work. We orchestrate a summer-long job training endeavor called SEEDS (Service, Education, and Entrepreneurship in Downtown Spaces) to help a group of young people learn all that we are doing and how they can work with us. We also offer weekly afterschool Cooking Clubs, which introduce young people to good fresh food and teach them how to prepare it.
For adults, we offer Master Community Gardener training and Master Community Composter training. These five-week courses give us a chance to explain the hows and whys of community gardening and composting.
FT: Seedleaf has grown considerably since 2007. How do you imagine Seedleaf expanding its role?
RK: We’ve grown rapidly thanks to the outpouring of support and encouragement from our community. It has been a thrill to see so many volunteers join us so consistently at different points in our development and to watch gifts allow us to continue to carry out our mission of nourishing communities. After six summers of community gardening, we are beginning to see what we are best at, what things we do poorly, and particularly how to partner with other organizations to maximize our effectiveness. Our next season of growth will rely on the partnerships we are developing with these other organizations and on volunteers stepping into leadership roles whenever possible.
FT: Could you give an example of one of your proudest moments with Seedleaf?
RK: One example occurred just today in one of our community gardens. The SEEDS kids met outside and worked together to cut up a variety of fruits and vegetables to make a tomato and watermelon salad and some fruit-infused beverages. For many of our students, this was their first time trying dishes like these and some even liked what they were trying! I consider this another successful (and injury-free!) afternoon together.
I will admit that this is not front-page news—making a fruit salad will not change the world. Despite this, Seedleaf is dedicated to carrying out small loving acts as if they have eternal significance because we quietly think that they do.