Grethe Kryger (or Greta as most of us know her) is the creator, founder and workhorse behind the seed business, Greta’s Family Gardens. A much loved business that offers naturally grown non-GMO garden and vegetable seeds of all varieties, from the rare hard to find ones to the ones we know and love.
Greta’s Family Gardens grew from her love of agriculture; and blossomed into a place that gives the common gardener (to the seasoned farmer) an opportunity to make life a little (or a lot) greener. Greta’s passion for preserving old fashioned seed varieties guided her to collect a wide range of seeds over her life. Fun fact : Greta was one of the first seed companies to offer hundreds of tomato varieties, not just your regular ol’ beefsteak or cherry tomato. And if you have ever had Greta’s famous tomato salad, you’ll know why. A tomato salad just isn’t the same if it doesn’t have 15 different fresh tomato varieties in it!
But how did it all begin? Here is Greta’s story…
Greta was born in Denmark on a mixed farm, surrounded by animals and field crops. Her and her brothers and sisters soaked up those long Danish summer days and lived the carefree life of children on a farm. But that farm life also comes with the responsibility of keeping the farm going. There were chores to do from sun up to sun down, working with her hands, building, sewing and tending; and learning the ins and outs of growing, preserving and nurturing life on a farm were not only a way of life, but essential skills to ensure the success of a farm.
The Kryger family farm trained Greta for her future but also inspired her passions in life.
Greta lived each day surrounded by a sustainable culture of food from its source to end product. So as a young adult, she grew to have a love of cooking. She moved to Switzerland to study cuisine and dove into food life wholeheartedly. Another fun fact: she actually became a cook for Charlie Chaplin at the time! Cooking for Charlie was a hoot, but after meeting her Italian husband and having two kids in Switzerland, the new family was ready for other adventures.
They moved to Canada shortly thereafter and had 2 more kids. Finding their footing in a new place, the couple shared their love of food by opening a few Italian restaurants in Montreal. And Greta brought a little of Denmark with her, she taught gymnastics to kids (her father was a gymnast), she always cooked and baked traditional Danish food and she continued working with her hands, doing pottery and sewing whenever she could.
When her husband died, Greta decided to leave the city and move to a farm in Ontario. There the family started raising animals (goats, pigs, a cow, ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens…) and used every square inch of their land to grow plants of all kinds. Even inside the farmhouse, you could scarcely find a window space that wasn’t overtaken with greenery, especially during the winters. The family began living a more sustainable life like the one Greta had learnt as a child, tending to the animals and growing their own food. Over the next decade, led by her curiosity and intuition, Greta amassed a unique range of seeds, collecting them whenever she encountered a unique plant variety. She grew her 'out of the ordinary' vegetables, herbs and flowers on her small Ontario farm, perhaps making the curious neighbours raise an eyebrow at the time.
Greta also tried her hand at different business ventures, from selling her produce at farmer markets on the weekends to creating farmer produce boxes (much before it was as popular as it is today!). She also started collecting her odd seeds on a larger scale, created a catalog and began selling them by mail in order to those interested.
Over time, Greta noticed that the number of seed varieties was dwindling, causing her to be concerned. And she wasn’t alone in her worry, over the last few decades, three quarters of the world’s seed supply has disappeared. Just like an animal near extinction, these near extinct seed varieties need to be preserved. Genetically modified seeds have become more prevalent and can potentially pose unidentified biological and environmental risks. Thus access to the old fashioned seeds is more important than ever. AND the common gardener is also more important than ever in helping to continue preserve these varieties.
Following her instincts, Greta jumped at the chance to expand her farm when a large plot became available in Ottawa’s greenbelt.
The greenbelt’s rich soil along the Ottawa river allowed her to experiment with more seed varieties than ever. She built a greenhouse to lengthen her growing season and she welcomed the curious public to see what she was up to. Greta noticed a growing interest from people to create their own gardens. She had already curated a large inventory of vegetable, herb and flower seeds so she made the jump from catalog mail in order to online sales so her seeds could reach a larger public. She focused on growing those rare and near extinct varieties as well as the common ones and kept the seeds circulating Canada-wide.
Greta built a community around her in Ottawa. Visitors to the farm were always greeted with a warm chat. Her passion for food led her to be the cook for the Ottawa Danish festival each year, making traditional Danish dishes for hundreds of people. Greta also travelled to seed conferences and seedy Saturdays all over the country, where she shared her love of seeds and was always eager to learn more from others.
From Charlie Chaplin to life on the farm, Greta’s life has taken her through many twists and turns. But all along the way she has followed her instincts, taken advantage of her love of the outdoors and cultivated a path in life, living from and for nature. Her story has inspired another generation of nature lovers, and Greta’s Family Gardens carries on with her son and his family hopefully for many years to come, passing on Greta’s tradition of a love of seeds and preservation.