Judy Kenzie had so many plants when she moved from Kitsilano to Strathcona in 2002 that she had to hire a flatbed truck.
Now the avid gardener has started her own seed business called Strathcona 1890 and she is nurturing excitement about gardening with the neighbourhood kids. Kenzie hopes to grow her months-old business to be able to create new jobs for single moms living on disability benefits and youth in the Downtown Eastside.
"I've made lots of money for big corporations over the years and I'm just looking at this as a way I can feel really good about and can make a living at," the resident of Keefer Street said. "It feeds the soul a little bit. We all need that."
Kenzie spent Monday morning at RayCam community centre to teach the daycare kids, who were paired with Chinese seniors, about shared seedlings for purple carrots.
She's also started gardening with daycare and first-and second-grade children at Lord Strathcona elementary. She believes children can develop an important sense of independence and pride from seeing their seedlings sprout.
Kenzie, whose background is in advertising, has packaged her non-genetically modified, open-pollinated, nonchemically treated heirloom seeds in sachets adorned with images of historical botanicals. The goal is to make her collections attractive so shoppers will purchase them as gifts. Strathcona 1890 seeds, named for the period the neighbourhood started, sell online and at a home decor and garden shops.
Among other seeds, Kenzie has combined dwarf sunflower, rainbow carrot and scarlet runner bean seeds with instructions on how to make a peanut butter and sun-flower seed bird feeder for her Kids Starter Seeds. Her Foodie Combo includes Genovese basil and Eva Purple Ball tomato seeds and she's experimenting with spinach that grows on vines, gutter gardens and hanging salad baskets. Some of her seeds hail from Ontario and the U.S.
"If you grow it, in a way you honour it more," she said. "It used to be for dinner I'd grab a handful of spring mix and throw it into a bowl and go, 'There guys: salad.'"
Now she mixes her freshly picked lettuce with baby swiss chard, pea leaves and viola flowers. The eight packages of seeds in Kenzie's Salad Sampler cost $21, "Which isn't bad," she said.
Strathcona 1890 is meant to earn Kenzie an income, first and foremost, but she hopes to eventually employ people living on disability who don't get any of their earnings clawed back by the government.
She hasn't seen sufficient opportunities for people in the Downtown Eastside to earn money and the 49-year-old mother who had helped raise three children whose biological mother was a drug addict, doesn't believe accepting only handouts is healthy.
As an art student decades ago, Kenzie and her boyfriend ran out of money and she applied for welfare. "It really made a lasting impression on me as to how demeaning that was to be in that position," Kenzie said.