Greta's Organic Gardens
An afternoon visit to Greta’s Organic Gardens, on River Road in Gloucester, presents a slice of life as it once was and perhaps should still be.
For two decades, owner Greta Kryger has been selling organic seeds to roughly 1,000 customers across Canada. For dozens of customers closer by, she also provides eggs from free-ranging chickens that are raised on a diet of organic seeds.
“The whole thing I’m doing here with the seeds is to help preserve the supply that we used to take for granted,” Kryger says. “Of course, we don’t take it for granted any more — three-quarters of our seed supply has disappeared as hybrids and genetically modified seeds take over.”
For clients who bring their children for an afternoon outing, the farm provides a living lecture on the cycle of life. Depending on the time of year, children see the crops the seeds come from. They see their parents buy seeds that, only weeks later, will source new life in the backyard garden. And when they realize that their breakfast eggs come from the chickens clucking about, they have a bit of the understanding of natural process that every farm child has.
“For city children, this experience gives them something they don’t have any more, a direct sense of where their food comes from,” Kryger says.
Children are always drawn to the farm’s ponds — one full of gold fish and koi, the other of frogs that produce swarms of tadpoles in the spring. “In the city, no child ever sees a frog or tadpole any more, and they’re fascinated.”
After years of experimentation, Kryger believes her organic seed selection will give clients far tastier vegetables and grains than they will usually get from a hybrid or genetically modified product. But there’s another aspect that clients find equally appealing — the fact that they can “seed save,” keeping seeds from one year to seed the following year’s crop, something one can’t do with hybrid seeds.
“Not everyone does it, but this is a wonderful option,” she says. “It gives you seed security, which amounts to security of your food supply.”
Around the world, hybridized seeds are becoming so popular that it can be difficult for growers to access the old-fashioned seeds used to produce successor crops. “And people like me don’t want this to happen,” Kryger says. “If a few large companies control seeds, they also control food and therefore people — and the best insurance against this is to maintain as broad a range of organic seeds as possible.”
Hybrids have other disadvantages — they are more expensive than organic seeds (reflecting development costs), and they’re a bit more finicky in response to growing conditions. Kryger’s own concerns go further: She believes genetically engineered seeds, in tampering with plant genomes, may post biological risks that we haven’t identified — and, at minimum, must be subject to further research and testing.
The list of vegetable seeds she offers is long — basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, corn, eggplant, onions, spinach and zucchini, to name only a few. Among the 41 herbs offered are cilantro, dill, Echinacea, parsley and sage. The list of grains, somewhat shorter, includes flax, sesame and amaranth.
Greta’s own favourites are her tomato seeds, a preference her customers share. “I have many, many varieties, a lot of which are hard to find elsewhere. That range — and of course the flavours they deliver — seem to please a lot of people.” Greta comes by her farming instincts naturally. While she was growing up in Denmark, her family had a mixed farm, with cattle, field crops and chickens. Her hands were in the soil a lot.
In 1976, she migrated to Canada with her husband, who has since passed away, and her two children, both now grown. For a time, the family lived in Montreal, but she always felt a bit displaced from the country life she knew in childhood.
After her husband died, she found a place to rent in the country, halfway between Montreal and Ottawa. But then, in the early 1990s, on a visit to Ottawa, she happened to drive past the farm she now calls home. She liked the looks of the place and was delighted to see a “For sale” sign up. Swept along by this apparent nod from destiny, she was soon the owner of a threeacre property to which she later added five adjacent acres.
“I love it here and I don’t know why I would leave,” she says. “There’s a lot of work, but just as much pleasure if, like me, you love the outdoors.”
She has a little part-time help, especially when the plants are being set out in the spring, and her partner of 10 years, Martin Brunet, can always lend a hand.
Greta’s Organic Gardens
399 River Rd., Gloucester
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