Helen Krayenhoff and Peggy Kass of Kassenhoff Growers are not just seedling vendors. They are Oakland community builders.

 

 

They sell a variety of seedlings that do well in Oakland microclimates.  My partner Jonathan and I have stocked our garden with all manner of tomatoes, sweet peas, sugar snap peas and fava beans, and they have thrived.

At the end of the summer, Helen and Peggy host a tomato tasting where customers bring their tomatoes to see which variety and location tastes the best. You can find them on Saturdays at the Grand Lake Farmers Market and Sundays at the Temescal Farmers Market.

1. How did this all start? Why seedlings?

Helen came from Vancouver B.C. and always gardened and dreamed of having a plant nursery. She moved to Oakland in 1992 to be with Peggy. We had met at a Women in Print conference in Berkeley in 1985. We both worked in women’s presses. In 1993, we were both transitioning away from the toxic printing industry and looking for a next step.

We started gardening outside our apartment and then a mutual friend told us that Annie Hayes of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, needed some transplanting help. So we decided to try that.

The following spring she gave us her tomato seedlings because she was caring for a new baby and it was too much. We started our business by selling to her clients.

When tomato season was over, the vegetable buyer at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, Jean Marie Letellier, told us what to grow next. So we started selling wholesale to a few local nurseries. We ended up selling wholesale to nurseries from Petaluma to Palo Alto. We invented the name Kassenhoff Growers by combining our last names: Peggy Kass and Helen Krayenhoff.

In 2006, we had to vacate our growing space in Oakland because of a landslide. Christopher Shein was setting up the nursery at Ploughshares Nursery in Alameda and invited us come.

There was significantly less space available there, so we had to re-think the business. In 2004, we started to sell retail at Farmers’ Markets. It was an amazing ‘coming out’ experience for us. People had been buying our plants for 10 years and didn’t know who we were.

We have been at Grand Lake for 10 years! And 7 years at Temescal. We have met the most amazing people, and are so grateful for the community we’ve been embraced by.

2. Who does what between the two of you? 

Until 2006, we both spent all our time in the nursery. Peggy has always been the veggie maven. Helen also produced ornamentals including many species salvias and species fuchsias. In that year, Helen decided she wanted to pursue her passion for art and refocused her energy and time.

Now Peggy spends most of her time as a worker bee, managing all the production of the plants and doing the markets. Helen still does all the graphic design and photography for the signs. She also does the administrative work behind the scenes. She likes to make an appearance at the farmers’ markets to keep her hand in. She now spends most of her time doing illustration for clients. (HelenKrayenhoff.com) She also is the Art & Garden editor for Edible East Bay.

3. How long have you two lived in Oakland? And really why Oakland? As a place to live, build your business etc. 

We love Oakland! We’ve been here for almost 20 years living in the Dimond District. We’ve experienced the ups and downs of the city over that time. We love Oakland’s diversity — the people, the ideas and the garden, food and art scenes. We like all the distinct neighborhoods and we feel comfortable and accepted here. We have met so many amazing young people here who give us hope for the future.

The climate in Oakland, especially in the Fruitvale area where we live, is very favorable for edible gardening. There is still open space available in the city and people take gardening seriously. And the Oakland farmers’ markets provide an invaluable community commons.

4. Any tips for growing plants in an Oakland yard? 

Plants that produce ‘fruit’ like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans etc., need at least 6 hours of direct sun. Because most areas of Oakland (at least on the flats) aren’t as plagued by fog, we get the sun and heat we need, to grow an abundant harvest.

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