The following is a guest post by Ryan Koch, Director of SeedLeaf. You may view the original post here.
This is only a song; it won’t change the world.
With Fayette County Public Schools starting up again today, I have caught myself thinking about the past twelve weeks and our summer programming. June and July keeps us busy with SEEDS–our job-training endeavor with and for area youth. This 8-week program has changed over the past 7 summers based on our ongoing dialogue with our neighbors in North Lexington.
Jobs. When we began to grow gardeners and share greens and beets and tomatoes, these gifts were well-received, and our good intentions tolerated by kind neighbors, but we were also informed that community members were looking for work. For some, this had to do with real responsibility in a garden, a steady role, even if it was voluntary. I recall one neighbor on Elm Tree Lane serving in this way, faithfully watering a garden near her home. The garden thrived under her care, and our neighbor felt good about joining this work, and sharing from the abundance she cultivated. Our offering turned into her offering (and a service-recipient became a service-provider).
The SEEDS program came to be in 2008 when the coordinator of a local Kids Cafe (okay–my wife, Jodie Koch) identified a handfull of children who needed a bit of help staying out of trouble. They had a number of activities lined up, only one of which was getting in a garden with Seedleaf. But that summer was an education for me. I saw the power of chores, of a shared task, to help unite a group. I watched young, unskilled laborers, with a bit of instruction, make a difference on one small piece of land. And a major part of my benefits package is witnessing this miracle anew each summer.
A job is not the same as work. A job is a transaction. I trade my time and attention for money at a job. But work has a wider, more creative connotation. Work can be rewarded with money, or with meaning, or with connection. Work is something one is compelled to do. For many entrepreneurs, work is not financially rewarded for quite some time.
I have been monitoring the work of our Master Community Gardeners over the past four growing seasons. These folks get 20 hours of training in the winter and spring, and are invited to volunteer for 40 hours over the course of the summer. Some volunteers quickly get through those 40 hours and keep showing up for their own reasons. Many of these MCGers end up supervising other volunteers, directing work in a garden that was dear to them. And a few of these folks given part-time paying gigs. These folks have a particular skill set: great with people, positive energy, garden knowledge, flexible. These are the folks who keep Seedleaf thriving.
One Seedleafer in particular is worth mentioning here. I did not intend to hire Jevincio Tooson when I met him a year ago. He visited the Roosevelt Blvd Community Garden last fall with Dr. Mary Arthur’s class for UK freshmen, and this guy was friendly, chatty, engaging. He asked thoughtful questions throughout our brief time together. A crabby part of me wanted to tell him, Calm down, young man; its just a community garden. But his enthusiasm won the day. Instead of infecting him with my cynicism, I began to see that space anew, through his eyes.
In the spring Jevincio was a practicum student for us:
Real World Sustainability: Greenhouse Students in the Community from UK College of Arts & Sciences on Vimeo.
This summer we took advantage of his availability, and his passion for our mission, and began to pay him for his time. He helped with SEEDS and cared for the garden at Apiary Catering. His curiosity and positivity continue to affect (infect!) me. That’s how and why Jevincio came to be part of our seasonal staff this year.
I don’t mean to take too much pride in these jobs we have sort of created. While 16 gardens are getting cared for, this is still a work in progress. Nobody is getting rich working at Seedleaf. Our staff receive no benefits package. Our seasonal staff work only when they are needed. Our SEEDS kids work hard in the sun and earn every bit of their $200 gift card. What is so hard to quantify, though, is that moment when one of us gets caught up in a much bigger story of the gift economy, or the connection economy. We see nature healing itself on a piece of land on Whitney Avenue, or we hear gratitude from a neighbor for the greens she picked last week. And we remember that meaningful work is a gift in itself.
This is only a job, and for some, it is only seasonal, part-time manual labor. It won’t change the world, but it has a good chance of changing one little part of the earth for the better. And it will inevitably change the one doing the work in ways that challenge our imagination, and defy compensation.