Looking for ways to cope with a foot of snow, single-digit temperatures and the virtual shutdown of Kentucky? Try sitting back, pouring a cup of coffee and planning your spring garden.
Then, when you have it all planned, make plans go to Woodland Christian Church on Feb. 28 for Glean KY’s seventh annual heirloom seed sale.
The sale is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church, 530 East High Street, across from Woodland Park. There will be seeds for a wide variety of vegetables and herbs — most of which you can’t buy at a big-box store.
“There’s a real market for these heirloom seeds, and I think we have just scratched the surface of that,” said Erica Horn, an attorney and accountant who helped start Glean KY and is its volunteer president. “It’s almost like a backyard gardener’s expo.”
Stephanie Wooten, Glean KY’s executive director and its only full-time employee, said the sale will offer information as well as seeds.
“We just finished a really great seed catalog that has all the instructions you need,” she said. “And we hope to have some experts at the sale so that as you are making your purchase, you can ask questions.”
The sale is the biggest annual fundraiser for Glean KY, formerly known as Faith Feeds, which for nearly five years has collected food that might otherwise have gone to waste and made it available to poor people.
Last year, Glean KY’s more than 300 volunteers collected nearly 270,000 pounds of surplus fruit and vegetables. The produce was redistributed through more than 50 Central Kentucky charities and organizations.
“We fill the gap by doing the labor to pick up that excess and get it to folks who distribute it to people who need it,” Horn said.
Glean KY began as Faith Feeds in March 2010. It was the brainchild of John Walker, an avid gardener who grew more food than he and his neighbors could use. He knew that there were many hungry people in Lexington, and he had heard of gleaning organizations elsewhere that tried to match surplus food with need.
Volunteers make regular stops at food stores to pick up produce and packaged foods nearing their sales-expiration date. The biggest suppliers include Costco Wholesale, Good Foods Co-op and Whole Foods Market.
During the growing season, volunteers also collect surplus produce from the Lexington and Bluegrass farmers markets, the University of Kentucky’s South Farm and Reed Valley Orchard near Paris.
That food is then taken to agencies including the Catholic Action Center, Nathaniel Mission and First Presbyterian Church that distribute food or meals to people in need.
Horn recalled the day after Thanksgiving last year when she picked up about 25 prepared vegetable trays that Costco had left over.
“I dropped them off at the Catholic Action Center, and when I was leaving the building, I could hear them in the kitchen roaring with excitement,” she said.
“I’ve been privileged to be involved with a lot of groups,” Horn said. “But I’ve never done anything that fulfills me personally as much as this group does.”
Most of Glean KY’s money comes from individual donations, which have grown from $2,000 in 2010 to about $50,000 last year. Other support has come from grants and fundraising events such as the heirloom seed sale.
Last November, the organization bought a van to help transport food with grants from the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels and Beaumont Presbyterian Church.
Another successful distribution network for Glean KY food is Christian and Tanya Torp’s home in Lexington’s East End neighborhood. For the past four years, they have picked up surplus from Whole Foods each Friday, and from Bluegrass Farmers Market each Saturday during the growing season.
The food is distributed to 20 to 40 people in their neighborhood, including several elderly and shut-in residents. Christian Torp, a lawyer who is on Glean KY’s board, also teaches classes for his neighbors in canning and food preservation.
The Torps hope to train other volunteers to do the same thing in their own neighborhoods. (Those interested in that or other volunteer opportunities can contact the organization at Gleanky.org.)
“It’s not just a handout thing,” Torp said. “Our point in doing this is to build community. It’s a beautiful representation of being neighbors.”