Katherine Spears keeps falling in love.
First, it was with art — primarily painting, which she has turned into a professional venture. Second, she developed a love for the Spanish language during her senior year at Lafayette High School.
And now, after graduating from Berea College with a triple major of studio art, art history and Spanish, Katherine is dallying with yet another passion — urban gardening and sustainability. She’s in the middle of a yearlong commitment as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member with Seedleaf, a local non-profit committed to growing, cooking, sharing and recycling food.
Katherine, 23, is no stranger to gardening, although she admits she still has a lot to learn. As a youngster growing up in south Lexington, she was the one in the family who always took the initiative to get the garden started every year.
“One summer when I was maybe 13 or 14, I built a little cage to try to keep the squirrels from getting the tomatoes,” Katherine said, smiling at the memory. “I spent hours outside trying to use carpentry skills I didn’t really have. It didn’t necessarily pay off, but it was actually a lot of fun.”
Katherine is putting that same sense of adventure and determination into her time at Seedleaf. She came on board last August, toward the end of the growing season in the 15 community gardens the organization maintains throughout the central sector of Lexington. The position has helped her discover much about her hometown.
“I didn’t really know how bad the lack of access to produce and healthy food is in certain areas,” Katherine said. “There’s also a disconnect with kids concerning where our food comes from. A lot of kids know French fries, but they don’t know what a potato looks like when it comes out of the ground.”
Katherine spent much of the winter inside, learning to write grants, marketing Seedleaf at various events and working to establish a sustaining donor program. Wednesdays find her behind the wheel of an old pickup truck driving to collect food scraps from the 35 local restaurants and professional kitchens that partner with Seedleaf to make its community composting program possible.
“Katherine has an artist’s temperament in that she’s able to work independently and she’s always observing,” said Ryan Koch, Seedleaf’s director. “I’ve seen her sit back and watch a group in the gardens really engage with each other and engage with the earth in a new way. The wonder of that isn’t lost on her.”
Spring will be busy for Katherine, with planting activities and coordinating the many volunteers who help to carry out Seedleaf’s mission. She will even get to use her artistic talents in working with volunteers to paint vegetables on pieces of wood to be used as garden markers.
Sooner than Katherine would like to think about, it will be time to leave Seedleaf and perhaps incorporate her loves into a career.
“Perhaps I’ll work for a non-profit,” she said. “If there is some way I can combine art and sustainability that would be neat. I’m still mulling that over.”
One gets the feeling that many more loves await her.
Eating fruits and vegetables is a proven way to stay healthier.
If that’s not reason enough to plant a back-yard garden, consider that you’ll be saving money on groceries, and you can’t get any fresher than picking it and putting it on the dinner table that night. Also, kids get excited to watch seeds sprout and grow, and they are more likely to eat vegetables they have grown.
Beginning gardeners often get discouraged because they plant a larger garden than they can maintain. To prevent that mistake and others, Ryan Koch, director of Seedleaf, recommends some reading before turning that first shovelful of dirt.
Some plants will thrive when grown together, while others aren’t so harmonious. To learn what grows well together Koch recommends the book, Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening, by Louise Riotte. It’s available in print or as a Kindle edition.
Another great starter guide for the home gardener is the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service publication ID 128, “Home Gardening in Kentucky.”
This 48-page publication offers insights into planning your garden, preparing a new garden site, growing more with less space, storing vegetables and what you should know about produce from asparagus to watermelons. It’s available at the Fayette County Extension office at 1140 Red Mile Place in Lexington or online at http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs.asp and search “ID 128.”
If you need soil amendments, take a peek at the green compost bins in the parking lot of Third Street Stuff at 257 North Limestone. It’s one of seven free compost spots Seedleaf maintains in the city.
Bring your own buckets and look for the labels that will tell you when a particular bin is ready for your garden.