Seedleaf's Ryan Koch: Quiet Leader For An Inclusive, Sustainable Local Food System

 Ryan Koch, Director and Founder of Seedleaf, Inc., Kentucky

Ryan Koch, Director and Founder of Seedleaf, Inc., Kentucky

In spite of the rather noticeable green shirt, Seedleaf, Inc. founder and director Ryan Koch does not love the limelight. Ryan leads by the example of his commitment and work, and by kindness. In fact, if he were not so committed to Seedleaf's mission of helping our community grow, preserve, eat, and recycle our own great food, and if he were not so kind, Ryan might not like being featured on Savoring Kentucky.

I didn't give him a choice, because Ryan inspires me and others who know his life and work, so I want more people to know about him. I expect to be forgiven, because Ryan always pushes aside his own preferences for quiet, behind-the-scenes work when Seedleaf stands to benefit from more exposure.

Ryan has a graduate degree in counseling -- expertise that comes in handy in community gardening -- but I met him years ago when he was working through the years of schooling a counseling practice requires. I have told a lot of people that even before I knew his name, I knew Ryan's face and radiance (not exaggerating) at Good Foods Market & Cafe. Ryan worked as a cashier. I would enter the line leading to his cash register even if that line ran to the middle of the store while other lines were "no wait," because Ryan's kindness shone from behind the counter as he greeted and served each patron. I made the natural choice: get in the line that's going to make me (and everyone else in it) smile more and walk away with sense of connection and a light step.

A few years after discovering Ryan's first name (employee name tags do help!), I was thrilled to learn that he and his wife Jodie had moved into an apartment near our house. When I met the wonderful Jodie, I told her my Good Foods cashier-line story, and she started laughing even before I could finish, saying, "Oh yes, other people have told me that, too. You're not the first."

Eventually Ryan and Jodie bought a house with space for a large garden not too far from our house. Ryan began talking with members of his faith community and others about the possibility of starting a nonprofit to address hunger and malnutrition by supporting community gardens. A lot of people deserve credit for getting Seedleaf off to a strong start -- dedicated board members, visionary funders, eager volunteers, and Ryan's incomparable fellow Seedleaf employee, Education Director Becca Self. Yet Seedleaf, to some extent, reflects Ryan's quiet, compassionate, "no drama" leadership style.

 Compost bins Ryan manages in London Ferrell Community Garden, Kentucky

Compost bins Ryan manages in London Ferrell Community Garden, Kentucky

Ryan's low-key style apparently attracts and keeps dedicated volunteers. Seedleaf supports more than a dozen community gardens.

From the outside, it seems certain these successful gardening projects could not make it on Ryan's personal energy alone. Most need work investments that go beyond the efforts of the few people who actually plant and harvest food. During each growing season, Ryan attracts and puts to good use an impressive string of energetic (but largely inexperienced) crews of students, faith groups, or community service volunteers.

In addition to sustaining the gardens, Ryan takes major responsibility for building soil using compostable pre-consumer food waste from 20 restaurants. He also contributes to Seedleaf's education and community engagement initiatives.

 Ryan and an interviewer in London Ferrell Community Garden

Ryan and an interviewer in London Ferrell Community Garden

Ryan Koch leads our community toward better food, more food, food for all, local food year-round through wise preservation, home-cooked food, and a food cycle that builds Bluegrass soil instead of depleting or harming it. If he has to agree to interviews (see above) on occasion, or allow his picture to be taken, or discover that people want to learn about Seedleaf through learning about its leader, he is kind and gracious enough to bear it for the sake of Seedleaf's mission.

Ryan's work inspires action, hope, and health. Savoring Kentucky cherishes Ryan and Seedleaf -- and the gentle way both make their extraordinary contributions to our community's present and future well-being.

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The world is coming to visit central Kentucky this year for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. To help our visitors know more about Kentucky's food and food ways, Savoring Kentucky is rolling out 116 Savory Kentucky Bites, one for each of the 100 days before WEG begins, and 16 for the days during WEG, September 25 - October 10. Today's Savory Bite is number 63.