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Making a Difference: Jon Carloftis

One to grow on

As a boy in rural Eastern Kentucky, Jon Carloftis thrived on the natural wonders around him. Raised in a large family, his brothers’ interest lay in similar directions — raising birds, hunting, and fishing.

And Jon, who frequently accompanied his father through the woods to the spring that provided the family’s water, absorbed the plant life around him as his father pointed out the plants’ names as they passed: sycamore, hemlock, the big-leaf magnolia.

Carloftis took that early interest in the outdoors and has become a pioneer in rooftop and small space gardening. He has built gardens for Julianne Moore, Edward Norton, Mike Myers, Google and many well-known art collectors.

“My family has been in Eastern Kentucky 230 years,” said the Lexington resident who lives in an historic downtown home, Botherum. His family operated Fort Sequoyah Indian Village, a tourist attraction on their farm, and spent the off-season becoming tourists themselves.

“I grew up on the Rockcastle River, surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest…in nature. That’s why I appreciate the beautiful things the world has to offer and Kentucky especially.”

A natural host and unofficial Kentucky ambassador, Carloftis enjoys inviting his clients to experience the Commonwealth’s bounty first-hand. And experiencing what’s unique about the state, he said, is always available through KET.

“KET is created by Kentuckians, for Kentuckians — but also for the rest of the world,” he said. “It is so important to support it because it’s showing what we are, our history, and who we are. And we’ve got a lot to show! Kentucky is an easy sell.”

As a student at the University of Kentucky, Carloftis majored in communications and joined an agricultural fraternity. He grew strong working summers in tobacco and knew he’d found his calling: farming. But he pursued it in his own way.

“I always liked to grow things. I always liked to plant things and watch them bloom. I loved good food, so I loved vegetable gardening. I took my love of farming in a different way, to make things beautiful,” he said.

“In addition, I have an ability to design,” he continued. “So in 1988 when I moved to New York, I started a business designing and installing rooftop gardens all over Manhattan.”

The outgoing Carloftis — who also has lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania — voraciously reads on any subject that interests him — and supplements that curiosity by turning to the programming offered by KET.

“KET is so helpful for people who are interested in our culture, it focuses their programs on tradesmen and the history of Kentucky, and that’s what interests me,” he said.

For Carloftis, who this year is serving as KET’s Summer Celebration honorary chair, KET mirrors the pride Kentuckians feel in their state and is itself a resource to be proud of. With Carloftis as host, KET has chosen the theme “Rhythm and Blooms” for this year’s fundraising event. It is scheduled for June 10 at Donamire Farm in Lexington.

“KET reminds us that we have such a proud feeling here for Kentucky,” Carloftis said.

“That’s what’s so important about KET. It shows our history, heritage and where we’re going. And that is so important. We can’t lose that.”