Our Early Days / by Ryan Koch


I was asked by a friend to submit a reflection on our work for a newsletter put out by the Center for Crop Diversification at the University of Kentucky. This is a slightly longer reflection (without the benefit of a word count.)

Seedleaf was born in the spring of 2007. I was part of a small faith community that was offered the use of a sunny lawn with access to water and, with the help of a few volunteers, we cared for a garden that may have been 1/6th of an acre. The whole endeavor was quite an education. I recall a visit from extension agent Tim Woods. He offered encouragement at our progress, and brought some transplants to tuck in—broccoli and some other leafy greens. Then he asked me a question I did not have a great answer for: What will you do with all of this produce?

It is a question that stumped me because I was very much new to gardening. I knew we had made a decent start, but I did not anticipate how much food would be coming up. In the growing seasons that followed, we field tested several models of urban farming and community gardening: market gardening; creating individual plots; harvesting food and handing it to neighbors. Some models have worked better than others. We seem to do our best work when we work with neighbors and volunteers to grow a beautiful garden and then invite anyone who has need, or interest, to harvest what their household can use. We do not insist that those using our 13 free u-pick community gardens be poor, only that they appreciate food. Most gardeners, we have observed, like to eat. 

That first summer I learned how abundant our Kentucky soils can be with our soaking rains, a few good volunteers, and some timely weeding. I came to see harvesting as part of maintenance—the most fun part! I realized that this work itself was a joy to me, and that other neighbors and volunteers were likely to enjoy access to some physical labor, meaningful work that would generate food. I observed how integrated I felt in body, heart and mind after hoeing a row of potatoes, or weeding the onions. I longed to share this widely. That’s how Seedleaf came to be responsible for so many gardens in Lexington.

It has been a long journey of growing and sharing food, of sharing work, and growing in connection with neighbors. I love eating well. And I am glad for a chance to share this privilege. But it is sharing the work of caring for a place on earth that makes me eager to continue for another decade. 

The broccoli plants that Tim brought us did not grow according to plan. They become very leggy in late May. I wondered if I had set them in an overly shaded area. Then my farming mentor, David Wagoner, showed me the small cabbage-like buds in the armpits of these plants: we had a lovely row of brussel sprouts! And honestly, I have never been able to grow a row of brussel sprouts as strong as the one we grew that first spring. Just one of our many early happy accidents!