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Geography Alum Receives Sullivan Award

By Ann Blackford 

Photo of a person
Christine Smith

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 25, 2023) — Two University of Kentucky students and one local citizen have received UK’s highest honor for humanitarian efforts — the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

The Sullivan Award was established by the New York Southern Society in 1925 and was named in honor of its first president, Algernon Sydney Sullivan. Sullivan was a prominent businessman and philanthropist who was highly regarded as one who “reached out with both hands in constant helpfulness” to others. The Sullivan Award recognizes those “who exhibit Sullivan’s ideals of heart, mind, and conduct as evince a spirit of love for and helpfulness to other men and women.”

At UK, the Sullivan Award is bestowed each year on two graduating seniors and one citizen who has a connection to the university. This year’s Sullivan Award student winners are Alex Degen and Jessica Lamb. Christine Smith is the citizen’s award recipient.

Smith graduated from Syracuse University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in geography and international relations. In 2010 she completed a master's degree in geography at the UK College of Arts and Sciences with a graduate certificate in social theory; and in 2015 successfully defended a doctorate degree in geography.

She is the executive director of Seedleaf, a community gardening organization based in Lexington that provides horticultural training for children and adults and supports the practice of gardening and small-scale farming

Seedleaf serves North Lexington neighborhoods by stewarding 11 gardens that are open to the public for volunteering and for harvesting nutritious food. Seedleaf also stewards 32 acres of farmland that supports its Market Gardener Program which equips interested growers with education, tools, land and market outlets to sell their own produce.

Smith’s community philosophy is informed by her time growing up in Florida as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants and through her graduate research conducted while at Kentucky.

“Gardens save lives, and I work as executive director of Seedleaf because I believe this to be true,” Smith said. “I have found that gardening allows one to become grounded in the cycle of the seasons while also stepping out of time and space into a world of hope and, with it, unrealized potential and possibility. As an advocate for gardening and for nourishing communities through growing and sharing food, I understand my work is also in proselytizing about how soil and spaces deemed to be lost are the very spaces where hope, beauty and regeneration reside.”

Smith’s work as a gardener has led her to other forms of community cultivation. She is a board member of the Good Foods Co-op, a founder of Climate Conversations and a former steering committee member of Patchwork Cooperative Loan Fund

Smith has written and co-written multiple publications on social and cultural geography, anthropology and politics. She served as visiting assistant professor in 2016-17 at Bucknell University in the Department of International Relations. She was also postdoctoral lecturer in 2015-16 at UK in the Department of Geography, and a graduate teaching assistant from 2010-2016 in the Department of Geography.

When Smith is not gardening with Seedleaf or working on all the behind-the scenes tasks that make gardening happen for neighbors, she is a home gardener and a self-described “squirrel shooer.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $501 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.