You may recognize this line as the conclusion of “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” one of Wendell Berry‘s most famous poems. It’s a stirring piece, full of unconventional wisdom that is typical Berry. For Ryan Koch, executive director of the Lexington nonprofit Seedleaf, this poem was the beginning of a life transformation.
Like many folks who have found themselves turning back to the land, Ryan credits Berry’s writing with opening his eyes to the many problems with the conventional American food system. He remembers a time, pre-Berry, where he had “the privilege of not having to care about my food. I see that was a privilege to not have to be discerning about who raised this meat [for example]. Did it die a terrible death? All the things I ask myself and all the things I worry about when I’m feeding my family, I use to be really aloof of. I look back on how nice it was to have been ignorant of the things that concern me now.”
It was a gradual change, but slowly Ryan found himself immersed in the world of agriculture with a strong desire to make a difference. “It is not in my nature to start stuff. Whenever I would move into a new cities in my twenties, I wouldn’t go, ‘Hey, this town needs a blank.’ I’d much rather help somebody else with their blank. But when I asked the people that I trusted at the time, I couldn’t tell there was anything else like this yet. That’s why my friends and I pulled this together.” So when the opportunity arose to start converting unused lots around the city to food production, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a real change to the local food system.
A self-described “recovering therapist,” Ryan’s work with Seedleaf involved a different, more organic form of therapy. The organization does a number of important jobs around Lexington in keeping with their mission of “nourishing communities through growing, cooking, sharing, and recycling food.”
- Eight community gardens around the city
- Master Community Composter Training
- Cooking classes to educate residents on preparing and eating seasonal foods
- SEEDS (Service, Education, Entrepreneurship in Downtown Spaces) which teaches at-risk youth important gardening and business skills
- Eight market gardens—which will hopefully provide future jobs for the community
- Farmer for a Week Camp for students
- Compost collection from area restaurants
It is through these projects and a loyal cadre of volunteers that Seedleaf practices their own form of resurrection, bringing vacant spaces back to life, as well as providing fresh local, produce in some of the city’s food deserts. I think the best description of Seedleaf’s work can be found in the words of AmeriCorps VISTA Clint Buffington, who spent his summer working with the team:
“… what I think is the best thing about Seedleaf: Seedleaf brings people together. In this one summer with Seedleaf, I have met more people from the Lexington community than I have met in the last 3 years combined; I’ve seen friendships form; I’ve watched people, young and old, delight in biting into the first cherry tomato of the season—or perhaps their lives.”
My personal pursuit and professional activism on behalf of local food have always had community as one of the driving forces. This is one of the reasons that I love the work the Seedleaf is doing. If you are in the Lexington area, you should consider signing up to volunteer with Seedleaf, which can be as simple as showing up on a Saturday morning to do a little weeding or harvesting! You can also donate to the work of Seedleaf. Connect with Seedleaf on Facebook to learn more about their organization and new projects coming up.
If you are looking more reading on this topic, read this great post on Ryan and Seedleaf from Rona Roberts at Savoring Kentucky.
There’s a fun event in support of Seedleaf this weekend at Thai Orchid Cafe. Harvest Fest will be a delicious local foods dinner and fundraiser. Get your tickets now so they can make plans to have plenty of food. Advance tickets are $40/individual or $60/couples. Children 3-10 are $20, 3 and under free.