Apr 082010

Seedleaf tangles with food-to-fork dilemma

By Katelynn Austin

It is no understatement to say that we are ruled by the junk food gods and our prayers are not being answered. Our health is deteriorating, our natural resources are deteriorating, as are our family meals that used to find us sitting around a table of homemade food.

In response to this state of affairs, a growing number of food activists have appeared on both the global and local scene to emphasize the value of fresh produce. Global organizations like Terra Madre and Kitchen Gardeners International have given rise, here in Lexington, to local groups like In-Feed, the Lexington Urban Gleaning Network, Seedleaf and the Bluegrass Community Garden Network—not to mention the more anonymous workers on local farm and urban garden initiatives that have also begun to flourish here. Each of these groups, in one way or another, have asked individuals to weigh the cost of a candy bar or chemically-infused processed foods against their own and their communities’ health: nutritional, environmental, economic, and social.

Here in Lexington, as groups have begun to push for greater accessibility of fresh produce as a practical choice over fast food, they have begun to come upon new challenges.

What happens, for example, to the bags of fresh produce after they make it home? Who wants to eat vegetables and how much bribing must be done? Who has the time to cook a meal anyway? Who wants to prepare and clean-up a meal and convince the family to sit down when they need be doing five other things and can instead munch on a bag of Doritos? And it’s not just these questions being asked once the colorful produce makes it home. There are other questions: Who has the proper cooking materials? Cooking space? Dinnerware? Recipes? Sadly, the amount of fresh food that makes its way to the people often makes its way to the trash.

What can be said for this? I hope it was made into compost?

Food to Fork

The “food to fork” issue is something being addressed by Seedleaf, a Lexington non-profit dedicated to affordable, nutritional and sustainable food in Lexington and throughout Central Kentucky. Seedleaf’s Becca Self likened the situation to a woman taught how to give birth and not to parent. It is a two-part process, she explained, each dependent on the other.

I had my doubts. “But everyone knows how to cook,”I said. “They just choose convenience over cooking.”

“Everyone knows how to follow a recipe, but they don’t know how to cook,” countered Self. “They don’t know how to make cooking a lifestyle, how to incorporate fresh produce, how to cook seasonally, or how to see that cooking can be convenient, community-building, and fun.”

Self and other food activists have begun trying to address the disconnect from this farm-to-table economy. On the fourth Saturday of every month at Maxwell Presbyterian Church, they hold public cooking classes. At the classes, over stories and laughter participants learn to cook and preserve food while preserving their health and the stability of their communities.

Self is finding out that knowing how to cook is not the only problem. There’s also the accessibility of cooking facilities and cooking supplies. “If we are going to have Community Gardens why would we not have Community Kitchens or places where people can actually prepare the food? Public accessibility to food requires public access to kitchen facilities and supplies,” she says.

The space issue has limited the cooking classes from expanding to reach larger groups of people. They need ample oven space, counter space, and stoves, silverware, cookware and dishes. “Food to Fork” has its challenges. However, a good time has never seemed to be a problem.”

Community Potluck and Pizza Parties

Last May a Pea-Pickin’ Party was held at the London Ferrill Community Garden on Third Street. At the Pea-Party, everyone was encouraged to pick as much peas as they could; meanwhile, Sylvan University’s Culinary Arts students cooked everything on site, providing quick, easy, and delectable meals. As Ryan Koch, director of Seedleaf, said “Since we were practicing the fun of gardening and cooking, why not have a party? When people cook out, people come out.”

“Lots of people came out to eat,” Self said, and as a result another idea formed.

Pizza Party


Such a universal affinity for this food exists that society has decided that it is a good enough reason to have a party in its own right. Everyone loves a pizza party.

Out of the success of the Pea Party sprouted the idea of the Pizza Party. One thing led to another, and well, now a large pizza oven will be built in the London Ferrill Garden by student volunteers in the masonry program at Southside Technical High School off Harrodsburg Road. Under the supervision of teacher Bruce Hayden, the Fayette County public high school students will construct the oven out of naturally-found Kentucky stone. They have already crafted numerous models for the oven in class, which they will then use and apply in building the one for the garden.

It’s like a BBQ pit, only it’s a pizza oven. In a vegetable garden. It’s a wonderful example of the Lexington community at work.

And it all makes sense. The oven creates a natural place for people to congregate—a circle of conversation, community, and food. The two related problems of food access and preparation converge: fresh food and cooking in the same space. The ingredients are simple: dough, cheese, some tomato sauce preserved (as taught by Becca) if desired, and vegetables. Needed equipment is virtually limited to something for cutting up vegetables. No plates needed; no silverware needed. No mixing, no beating, no thawing, no filling. Simple ingredients, simple cooking, and simply delicious.

As a community project, it is perfect. You can feed huge amounts of people cheaply, nutritiously, and seasonally outdoors, with little clean-up. People get to personalize their meal.

Recalling what Self said regarding cooking classes, “It is hard to make everyone happy: their likes and dislikes, cultural food preferences, and dietary needs.” On a pizza, however, you throw on what you like.

A date for the installation of the oven has not been set; go bug Rebecca and Ryan at Seedleaf for details on the pizza opening: seedleaf.org

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