By Lyonel Doherty

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Sophie Timothy is always in a pickle, and there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.

In fact, she suffers from OCD – “obsessive canning disorder.” Ahh, that explains it.

The ‘pickle lady,’ as she is affectionately known, needs no introduction in the Columbia Valley where she operates Sophie’s Original Choice in Edgewater. And she has an accomplice named Dean, who’s also renowned for his amazing garden towers.

Sophie was born in Brantford, ON to Polish immigrants who had a stupendous garden. “My mom canned everything,” Sophie recalls.

She met Dean in high school and later moved out west, settling in Edgewater in 1995 when she began working in School District 6 as a teacher’s aide and casual custodian. She subsequently took a full-time job as a custodian, retiring this year. 

“Some of the kids were dear to my heart; they were more than students,” she said, noting she had the pleasure of watching these kids grow up and have their own children. 

She was a friend who listened to them. If they needed something they would seek her out and say, “Hey, Miss Sophie.” She often surprised them with acts of kindness that they never forgot.

While she was working at David Thompson Secondary School, she brought in a Japanese fighting fish in a bowl and displayed it in the cafeteria for students and staff to admire. The fish soon stole the heart of Grade 12 student Ariel, who named the fish “Avocado” and cleaned his tank regularly.

“She loved that fish. Well, grad was soon approaching and Ariel was sad to leave Avocado. I couldn’t let those two not be together, so I gave Avocado to Ariel. We hugged and cried happy tears.”

Ariel went off to college to become a helicopter mechanic, and guess who followed – Avocado. Ariel is a mother now, and when she comes home she visits the Farmer’s Market and talks about life with Sophie.

The pickle lady reminisces about the messes she had to clean up in school, saying if there wasn’t a mess, it wasn’t a school. The students respected her and gave her a hand when needed. She’ll never forget one bathroom where the boys kept missing the garbage can with their paper towels. So, she took the can home and painted it to look like a basketball hoop.

“The kids liked it. I liked it. Problem solved!”

Sophie Timothy has been a lady of many costumes over the years during her interactions with school children and staff.
(Photo submitted)

Sophie was born into the gardening/canning world since her mom and dad knew the importance of growing your own food in the Second World War era. Her father fought in the Polish army and became a prisoner of war in a concentration camp until freed by American General George S. Patton. 

Her mother was a war child who escaped Poland and ended up in a camp in Africa.

“The stories my mom shared broke my heart. When growing up my mom had to raid garbage cans for food. She found potato peels and brought them home where her grandmother made soup.”

After the war her parents came to Canada and moved to Brantford, four blocks away from where hockey legend Wayne Gretzky lived. They had four girls and a garden.

“Not an inch of space was empty. I was afraid to walk in there; you had to walk one foot in front of the other (like a driving under the influence test). It was the best garden on the block, and that garden was our grocery store.” Sophie said.

The kids grew up with dirty nails as they picked, canned, baked, dried, and froze everything by hand. Years later, Dean was “hooked” by all this food and now Sophie can’t get rid of him, she laughs. “It must have been those hot onions and the dirt under my nails.”

It was only a matter of time before Sophie’s Original Choice was established, starting with pickled asparagus. From that point on, all of her chemical-free products were “packed with love and memories of my mom,” she says.

With customers from all over the world, Sophie could never produce enough; she was always running out of product. “They aren’t looking to cure my condition (OCD) because it keeps me alive.” It also gets kids eating vegetables that their parents thought they never would.

While Dean doesn’t have a green thumb like Sophie, he was experimenting one day and came up with his garden tower idea. These towers are made of big plastic barrels with slots to grow vegetables. 

“Dean is so obsessed with his tower that he installed a solar night light at the top pointing down into his tomatoes in case he sees bugs from the deck,” Sophie chuckles. Seriously, she sees these towers as a solution to address the world’s food security issues. 

“There has to be billions of these barrels around and they can be recycled into these amazing garden towers. Can you imagine these barrels lined up on an acre of land with 40 growing slots in each barrel?”

Sophie says she can see these barrels feeding a lot of hungry people in Ukraine.

In the end, it’s really up to Mother Nature, she points out, noting that nothing is guaranteed anymore. “I think it’s something we have to live with. We have to go back to make, bake and grow and not depend on others.”

Sophie truly believes that change is needed to nurse the planet back to health, but it’s going to take a concerted effort from politicians, corporations and private citizens to make a difference.

“Our farmers can grow the best tasting produce in the world. It doesn’t ripen in a box, it ripens in their hands.”

As the sun sets after bargaining with the wind, rain and heat, she looks back at her other careers with great fondness – working with people with special needs and school children blossoming into mature adults. Now it’s time to open up a new chapter in her life. She’d love to work with seniors to make their later years more comforting. But don’t worry, she’ll still be in a pickle.

Dean is seen here maintaining his unique garden towers.
(Photos submitted)