Only a Job--A Brief History of SEEDS / by Ryan Koch

Christine helps some SEEDS participants get into some freshly harvested vegetables!

Christine helps some SEEDS participants get into some freshly harvested vegetables!

This is only a song; it won’t change the world. -Ben Sollee

With Fayette County Public Schools concluding for the summer last week, our staff is eager to jump right into summer. June and July keep us busy with SEEDS–our youth development program for middle school aged youth. This 8-week program has changed over the past 10 summers based on our ongoing dialogue with our neighbors.

The SEEDS program came to be in 2008 when the coordinator of a local Kids Cafe site (okay–my wife, Jodie Koch) heard from several children who needed a bit of help staying out of trouble that summer. And I should note, it was the youth themselves who requested this help. The program had a number of activities lined up, only one of which was getting in a garden with Seedleaf. But that summer was an education for me. I saw the power of work, and how it can cultivate group development. I watched young, unskilled laborers make a difference on one small piece of land over the course of those summer weeks. This small group of young people had an opportunity to contribute to the health and beautification of their own neighborhood. That sustained effort, and the longing to make a contribution, and to belong, have become the core of our SEEDS program. In 2019, the job description for our our SEEDS group includes the following:

  • caring for 4 different community gardens.

  • installing small gardens at the homes of nearby neighbors.

  • harvesting lots of what they grow for use at home, or to share with their neighbors.

  • cooking some of what they harvest.

  • going on a great field trip (more on that to come!)

When Seedleaf began to grow gardens in 2007, and to share greens and beets and tomatoes, these gifts were well-received, and our good intentions tolerated by kind neighbors. But we were also informed that community members were looking for work. For some, this had to do with real responsibility in a garden, a steady role, even if it was voluntary. I recall one neighbor on Elm Tree Lane serving in this way, faithfully watering a garden near her home. The garden thrived under her care, and our neighbor felt good about joining this work, and sharing from the abundance she cultivated. Our offering turned into her offering (and a service-recipient became a service-provider).

A job is not the same as work. A job is a transaction. I trade my time and attention for money at a job. But work has a wider, more creative connotation. Work can be rewarded with money, or with meaning, or with connection. Work is something one is compelled to do. For many entrepreneurs, work is not financially rewarded for quite some time.

This year 24 children will participate in our SEEDS program. We will also have work for two high school aged youth through the Summer Youth Employment Program, and two practicum students from the University of Kentucky. I don’t mean to take too much pride in these jobs we have created—there is so much to do!—but this is a source of delight each summer. While our 13 free u-pick community gardens are getting cared for, this is still a work in progress. We would love to become more efficient. And we are still in need of more financial support. Our SEEDS kids work hard through the summer and earn every bit of their $200 gift card. What is so hard to quantify, though, is that moment when one of us gets caught up in a much bigger story of the gift economy, the connection economy. We see nature healing itself on a piece of land on Whitney Avenue, or we hear gratitude from a neighbor for the greens she picked last week. And we remember that meaningful work is a gift in itself.

This is only a job, and for some, it is only seasonal, part-time manual labor. It won’t change the world, but it has a good chance of changing one little part of the earth for the better. And it will inevitably change the one doing the work in ways that challenge our imagination, and defy compensation.

Seedleaf relies on grants, donations, and the services we provide to support our gardening and youth development programs. Please consider becoming a monthly donor and help us keep up this good work by clicking this link. Thank you!