Vibrant green plants in pots of all shapes, colors and sizes pop against the white backdrop outside of Farr Hall on Saturday mornings. These are the concessions of succulent vendor Karen Lucas, who sells her plants from late August through October.
Lucas has sold over 20 varieties of the plants in mugs, teacups and other unconventional “pots” every fall for the last six years. Students flock to her table at the beginning of each school year to find the perfect living decoration for their new room.
“They have so many different colors and textures, and they’re so easy to take care of,” Lucas said of the plants.
The project started when Lucas’s son suggested that she turn her personal hobby into a means of making money. The profit she makes supplements her income as an employee at the Mount Vernon YMCA day care center. When Lucas started growing succulents to sell, her granddaughter Dezerae Steigerwald became her business partner. “She did all the muscle work,” said Lucas, who has a injured back. However, Steigerwald tragically passed away two months ago at the age of 21. Since her loss, Lucas has been struggling to find people to help her lift and transport her succulents.
“I’ve been known to bribe people,” Lucas said with a laugh, explaining that she often gets help from people walking down the street by offering them a free plant. She has also been recruiting via Facebook. However, she would be open to working with Kenyon students.
Lucas used to grow and sell tropical plants when she lived in California. She has other creative interests, too: She grew up in Galion, Ohio, but moved west after high school to pursue a career as a keyboardist and singer for a rock band. When she was in her 20s, she discovered her commitment to Christianity and started using her faith as an inspiration for her music.
Lucas moved back to Ohio 25 years ago to raise her family. She started growing succulents about a decade ago, using cuttings from some of her son’s plants. Since then, she has ordered plants online from which to collect cuttings and has grown plants in receptacles she buys from Goodwill. “I try to have a big selection of succulents … [and] I pick them to match the pots … little unusual containers and teacups that I buy,” she said. Lucas sits on a chair in her backyard in good weather to pot each plant, a process she describes as therapeutic.
Lucas decided to obtain a permit to sell her succulents at Kenyon after seeing Amish vendors alongside Middle Path. Lucas says the plants are perfect for college students because they do not require a lot of maintenance. Her business cards have instructions for maintaining the plants based off of plant and pot features, along with the signoff “Love, Grandma Karen.”
“Most of the kids are my grandkids’ age, so I feel maternal towards them,” she said.
Lucas worries that she will have to go out of business without someone to assist her regularly.
“I don’t really know what my future’s going to be like, because I need help … unloading and loading up,” she said. She says that anyone interested in assisting her can contact her via phone or email, which can be found on the business cards she hands out while she sells her plants.
Between first-year move-in day and late October, Lucas sets up outside of Farr Hall on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and usually packs up around 4:00 p.m.