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Seedleaf Urban Garden
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Seedleaf Urban Garden 2
Growing up in Southern California, Ryan Koch admits he was like a lot of other people in being “blissfully unaware of where my food was coming from.” He has since become enlightened and is shedding and sharing light on the subject of food sustainability as founder and director of the nonprofit Seedleaf.
“Seedleaf works to increase food security in Lexington by growing and sharing food,” Koch said, “and by providing resources and knowledge to individuals wanting to grow their own food.”
Launched in 2008, Seedleaf is set to dig into one of its largest projects. Announced in February, Seedleaf has secured 2 acres on North Limestone off North Broadway, to develop an urban farm.
“We’ll have a free U-pick component, but it will mostly be available for the people living in those apartments,” Koch said. The apartment complex is on Northland Drive. Two for-profit projects will also be on site for local farmers growing food for market.
Koch took a circuitous route to Lexington. Koch’s parents moved to Kentucky when he was in college at Western Washington University.
“I was visiting them during holidays,” he said. “It didn’t take long to realize how great it is here.”
He and his wife moved to Lexington in 2003, and he earned a degree in counseling from Asbury University in 2005. Two years later, he founded Seedleaf.
“I didn’t want to start anything,” he said. “I just wanted to show up and help somebody do this.”
But a Seedleaf-type organization didn’t exist yet in Lexington.
“I reluctantly started a thing,” he said.
In January 2009 Seedleaf became a 501(c)(3), and by that spring Koch was able to make his livelihood as the organization’s director. He set about learning how to manage a nonprofit.
“When you have a passion, you just learn it,” he said.
Seedleaf maintains 15 community gardens on north side of Lexington.
“These are the areas where Lexington has the most glaring nutritional injustice problems,” Koch said. The gardens are set up for neighbors to “come harvest what they recognize.”
Most of the gardens are referred to by their street name — the Nelson Avenue Community Garden, the Roosevelt Boulevard, the Ohio Street.
“One of our flagship gardens, the London Ferrell Community Garden on East Third Street, was named after a Baptist minister who lived in Lexington during the cholera epidemic in the 1830s,” he said. “I’m happy to sell naming rights.”
Seedleaf has a summer educational program for 11- to 17-year-olds called SEEDS, an acronym for Service, Education and Entrepreneurship in Downtown Spaces. These young people learn about gardening, cooking and nutrition so they can make healthy lifestyle choices and share this knowledge with their families and friends.
For four consecutive Thursdays beginning March 9, Seedleaf will offer a “Master Community Gardener” training program at the Plantory downtown for any and all casual gardeners who want to step up their game. Tuition is $50. The Plantory is home to Seedleaf’s office.
“We rent our desk space and get to be surrounded by many great nonprofits working to make Lexington a better community,” Koch said.
A couple of years ago, Koch went downtown to get a permit for signage and was told he wasn’t zoned for market gardens in residential spaces.
“Which sent me to my elected officials,” he said. That discussion circle widened to include the planning commission and eventually new language was adopted to allow such food growing, with the requirement of a permit but not a zone change. “It feels very progressive and responsive,” Koch said. “I’m happy.”
Seedleaf has board members from the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, an agricultural economics professor and the University of Kentucky’s recycling coordinator. “We have good ears and eyes at UK,” Koch said.
While growing food is its main mission, Seedleaf also aims to decrease food waste within the community through composting. The organization partners with 31 businesses to turn their kitchen scraps into compost for the gardens. Sayre School is one, along with coffee shops and restaurants. Easy Wood Tools, a machine shop, provides ground materials.
“Sawdust is fantastic for the compost,” Koch said.
In 2016, Seedleaf had about 800 volunteers, who gave 1,350 hours of volunteerism.
“Most of our volunteers join us in the gardens, helping with general garden maintenance,” Koch said. “Other volunteers help with our composting program, whether it is stirring our compost bins at our gardens or picking up kitchen waste from our community partners.”
Seedleaf also receives help from professionals in the community who help on the marketing and grant writing committees.
“I love that our community is localized,” Koch said of Lexington. “There are a lot of local products and a pride of place here.”
To get involved with Seedleaf, visit www.seedleaf.org.