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GleanKy volunteers package seeds to make their organization grow

Heirloom Seed Sale

Ben Southworth, development coordinator for Glean, Ky., discusses the organization's upcoming heirloom vegetable seed sale. Video by Matt Goins
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Ben Southworth, development coordinator for Glean, Ky., discusses the organization's upcoming heirloom vegetable seed sale. Video by Matt Goins

Volunteers with GleanKy gathered at Beaumont Presbyterian Church for an assignment that looked pretty daunting: to count and package several thousand vegetable, flower and herb seeds in preparation for the organization’s ninth annual heritage seed sale.

A small mound of seeds was on the table in front of each volunteer. Their job was count out exactly 10 seeds, push the seeds onto a little piece of paper, then carefully pour the seed from the paper into a zip-lock bag.

Because of the growing popularity of the sale, organizers wanted to make sure they had a good selection for their loyal gardeners, so they ordered 51 varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable, flower and herb seeds from Seed Savers Exchange.

Roughly speaking, that’s about 100,000 seeds, said Ben Southworth, GleanKy’s development director.

And these seeds are tiny, many about the size of the head on a straight pin. Each has to be counted, packaged and labeled.

This is a huge community volunteer effort. We’re way ahead of last year. Last year we were counting up until the last minute.

Ben Southworth, GleanKy development director

But relax, he cheerfully told the volunteers: All 100,000 seeds didn’t have to be dealt with at this three-hour work session. Individuals, civic groups and church organizations have been counting, hours on end, for weeks. “This is a huge community volunteer effort,” he said. “We’re way ahead of last year. Last year, we were counting up until the last minute.”

Most seeds will sell for $3 a package. A special salsa package, with seeds for everything to grow to make salsa, will be $10.

GleanKy is a nonprofit organization whose volunteers gather excess fruit and vegetables from farms, farmers markets, grocery stores, orchards and home gardens, and distribute the food to Kentucky’s hungry.

Ben Southworth, development coordinator for Glean, Ky., discusses the organization's upcoming heirloom vegetable seed sale. Video by Matt Goins

The program was started in 2010 by Mary Powell and her neighbors on Hamilton Park, John and Mary Walker. “For years, John and I took excess produce from our gardens to the Women’s Hope Center on Versailles Road,” said Powell, who was at Beaumont, diligently counting.

In 2016, GleanKy gathered produce from 37 sources in Fayette, Scott, Madison and Franklin counties. “This was not just a one-time collection. We went to these places on a regular basis,” Southworth said.

Beginning last July, volunteers gleaned twice a week at Reed Valley Orchard, which grows about 50 varieties of apples, pears and peaches in Bourbon County, and they rescued 50,000 pounds of fruit. “The apples might have a little nick or ding, but generally what we say is, if it’s something we would take home and eat, we keep it,” Powell said.

A new source was Julie’s Pumpkin Patch in Bourbon County. “We collected 7,000 pounds of pumpkins and winter squash in one day, and we could have collected more if we had had more volunteers and more trucks,” Powell said.

Next summer, Southworth hopes to expand participation of home gardeners who grow more than they need.

The apples might have a little nick or ding, but generally what we say is, if it’s something we would take home and eat, we keep it.

Mary Powell, GleanKy volunteer

Rescued fruit and vegetables were distributed to 85 agencies including Refugee Ministries, Moveable Feast, the George Prewitt Center, the backpack program, the men and women’s Hope Centers, Lighthouse Ministries and Catholic Action Center.

Most of the produce “is cooked in the next 24 hours after it’s collected,” Southworth said.

Changes have been made in this year’s sale “to make it seem more like a special event,” said Rachael Dupree, GleanKy.’s program director. There will be a featured speaker each day, and the Whooo Wants Waffles food truck will be cooking Belgian waffles.

On Saturday, Ryan Koch with Seedleaf will lead a workshop on home composting, and Master Gardeners will give tips on seed starting. On Sunday, Dylan Kennedy, farm manager at Shaker Village, will talk about the benefits of heirloom and open-pollinated plants, and offer advice on starting transplants.

Heirloom seeds are old-time seed varieties that have been passed down, typically for 50 years or more. These are open-pollinated seeds, not hybrids, meaning they will come back with the same characteristics as their parents, Kennedy said. Hybrid seeds won’t do that.

Beverly Fortune: Beverlyfortune123@gmail.com.

If you go

Ninth annual heirloom seed sale

March 4: 9 a.m. to noon, Hunter Presbyterian Church, 109 Rosemont Garden

March 5: Noon to 3 p.m., Temple Adath Israel, 124 N. Ashland Ave.

Online: See the Heirloom Seed Sale catalog at Gleanky.org/heirloom-seed-sale.

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