Marsha Goldberg with pots of Ashitaba.

Marsha Goldberg with pots of Ashitaba, a plant that's rich in Vitamin B12.

Article by Sean McIntyre - Gulf Islands Driftwood
Photo by Derrick Lundy
Published: March 18, 2011

When Marsha Goldberg planted her first row of strawberry plants and a patch of rhubarb at the age of six while growing up in Windsor, Ontario, she probably had no idea where her green thumb and a healthy sense of adventure would take her.

She likely never imagined that stories behind each of the thousands of heritage seeds stacked on the shelves of her Eagleridge Drive office, farm and home would span the globe.

She’s got Turkish arugula, Zwolsche Krul celery from Holland, Czech black peppers, Antigua eggplants and that’s just for starters.

She’s got thousands of varieties of just about any plant one can expect to have a decent chance of growing here on the island.

Goldberg is, with good reason, especially fond of tomatoes. Her website lists more than 40 varieties in a full spectrum of colours, shapes and tastes.

Perhaps more interesting, Goldberg said during a recent interview at her farm, are the stories that accompany almost every variety she’s got tucked away.

As a gifted story teller with a keen wit and unfaltering curiosity, Goldberg doesn’t hesitate to share her three decades of experience in horticulture with anyone who shows the slightest sign of interest.

Within minutes of starting our discussion, Goldberg has transported us to the Himalayan plateau, home of the brawny Tibet tomato. Thanks to the efforts of English seed saver Henry Doubleday, six seeds were shipped out of the region and propagated in the West. These days, the varietal’s ability to produce fruit under extreme weather conditions makes it an ideal tomato for zany climates like that of southwestern British Columbia and the Gulf Islands.

The Sasha’s Altai was unheard of to anyone but a small group of villagers living high in Siberia’s Altai mountain range until as recently as 1989.

Today, it’s one of the most sought after and popular varieties among tomato connoisseurs. Some growers are reported to have paid upwards of US$5 for a single Sasha's altai seed. On Goldberg's Eagleridge Seeds website, customers can get an entire package for $3. For those who make the short trip to her farm at 219 Eagleridge Drive, there’s no tax and no need to worry about shipping costs.

Chances are people will also get a couple of stories, a few tips and plenty of inspiration for their budding spring gardens.

The farm is Goldberg’s base for a new retail venture that’s aimed at a lot more than meeting the bottom line and turning a profit.

“To me, food security is at the forefront,” she said. “We have to grow more food.”

That means getting others to share her passion for getting their hands dirty out in the back 40, whether it consists of an island acreage or a few containers on the deck.

Goldberg believes the key to getting more seniors, families and young people growing their own food is to keep things simple and to get help when the accidents that occur along the way aren’t so positive.

“Parts of life can always be complicated,” she said.

To that end, she not only sets people up with the seeds but is available to walk people through the process of getting their gardens up and running. In some cases, she’s even willing to do house calls.

Above all, she said, people need to forget their fears, welcome the unforeseen and quit making excuses.

Nearly all the seeds available at Eagleridge, she said, can be planted and grown by anyone with a patch of dirt, some sunshine and a steady supply of water.

Most of the knowledge she’s picked up, both as a gardener and in other aspects of life, has been as a result of the “happy accidents.”

Gardeners of all ages, abilities and aspirations can check out, Goldberg’s Facebook site and a frequently updated blog.

The site’s got ordering information, background on her extensive collection and even special sections devoted to her old standbys, tried and true strawberries and rhubarb.

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