Merlene Davis: Grill-Outs seek to acquaint neighbors with free community gardens

Herald-Leader columnistJune 16, 2014 


    Garden Grill-Outs

    What: Hosted by Seedleaf, a non-profit organization aimed at increasing the affordability and sustainability of food in struggling neighborhoods. Hot dogs and bratwurst will be served. Bring a side dish.

    When: 6-8 p.m. June 23.

    Where: North Pole Community Garden, 909 North Limestone.

    Information: Email Ryan Koch at, or call (859)967-8865. Weather cancellations will be posted at and on Facebook at

How do you get more neighbors involved with community gardens? Have a Garden Grill-Out and surely they will come.

That's the hope of Ryan Koch, director of Seedleaf, a non-profit organization trying to increase the availability and affordability of nutritious foods in financially strapped communities.

That mission is accomplished through free community gardens throughout the city, from which anyone can harvest and eat.

The problem is that, with 18 gardens in various locations, upkeep can be challenging, and involving the community can be hit and miss.

"It is always a mixed bag," said Koch. "When we have a champion, it goes great."

More than half of the Seedleaf community gardens have those champions, those volunteers who have not only helped maintain the gardens but also have gotten neighbors involved.

One volunteer at the North Pole Community Garden, which was established at 909 North Limestone in 2012, is Remy Hendrych, a master gardener who also works with the Georgetown Place Community Garden, 330 Georgetown Place.

Those two gardens are "exemplar of community gardens," she said.

Georgetown Place has a minister in the neighborhood who has assigned work details. And at North Pole, children nearby pour into the garden on Monday nights when instruction takes place.

"Monday nights are when master gardeners come out and give directions," Hendrych said. "I was shocked the kids were willing to do things. They are getting their hands dirty for a couple of hours."

Hendrych, who co-founded the Urban Ninja Project, a movement arts gym in Lexington, took a 10-week course in the winter for master gardening and composting offered by Seedleaf after she volunteered at North Pole last August.

"I got involved with them more about the community than the gardening," she said, even though she and others have an urban garden at her home. "I think it empowers people to grow their own food and have access to clean dirt and clean water.

"Developing the community around that fabric, rebuilding the fabric in the fashion that Seedleaf does, helps people re-learn tools that have been lost over the generations," she said.

Plus, too many people are working to survive, working at jobs that may not provide enough dollars to meet their basic needs, she said. "Gardening sidesteps all that."

Planting vegetables in the spring, then harvesting and preserving them, can take a lot of pressure off a strained budget.

And gardening can be calming and therapeutic.

"Once you realize how simple and fundamental and rewarding it is to the soul and how relaxing it is," Hendrych said, "you can start thinking about other things, bigger things."

That sense of wellness and sustainability is what Seedleaf hopes will catch on.

But first, they have to get you to come out to the community gardens and see what has been happening in the dirt near you.

Seedleaf is hosting a series of Garden Grill-Outs, starting Monday at the North Pole site. Free hot dogs and bratwurst from Marksbury Farm will be provided and everyone is asked to bring a side dish to share. You can RSVP, although it is not required, at or call him at (859) 967-8865.

Weather cancellations will be announced at or on the Seedleaf Facebook page (

Koch said onions and strawberries have already been harvested at the North Pole site, and rows of cherry and grape tomatoes, sweet potatoes, corn beans and squash have been planted. There are herbs in the front of the garden and wild flowers scattered about to encourage pollinators, he said. And there are fruit trees.

You can take what you need, he said. "You can't steal what is given away."

So stop by next week or attend one of the upcoming grill-outs because, like your mother said, vegetables are good for you.

They are twice as good for you if you grow them as well as eat them.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog:

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