How a bumper crop of chiles and closed restaurants led to 🍋 🍊Citrus and Chile Marmalade 🌶️!
Sharing the story of how the pandemic has affected our farm business has been an incredibly helpful way for us to process what was happening, figure out what the business would look like moving forward, and connect with our community as we all shifted into an unexpected part of our lives. Y’all showed up countless times to support us - cooking with our chile powders on a regular basis, restocking your spice drawers, and sharing our farm-to-jar spices in your circles.
What we haven’t yet talked about is what it felt like to sit on a truly giant harvest from 2019 that wasn’t moving through our wholesale networks because restaurants shut down. We’re finally at the point where the entirety of our 2019 harvest has a home, with a lot of thanks due to a few incredible partners and solid persistence. I feel excited about all of the different projects and opportunities that came out of such an intense time, but here’s a little more insight to what our 2020 looked like.
The Bumper Crop of 2019
The 2019 fall harvest of our Piment d’Ville chiles was incredibly fruitful. Gideon and I had just moved back to California to form the Boonville Barn Collective and Nacho and Martin, our farm foreman and assistant foreman, had dialed in how to maximize production of these chiles on five acres of farmland. Opportunity was on the horizon for what we could do with all of the chile powder we produced. Then, as restaurants around the country shut down, we found ourselves sitting on our largest harvest ever of Piment d’Ville chile powder, with no wholesale orders to speak of, and no additional destinations for this excess inventory.
Nacho with just *part* of the 2019 Piment d'Ville harvest
I thought we were screwed, especially because we were in the middle of starting new chile plants and getting the farm prepped to plant the chiles for our 2020 season. We cut back the number of espelette plants we put in the ground but knew that regardless of what we did, we would not be able to sell our entire 2019 harvest before the 2020 crop was ready - our goal for every season. I reached out to more and more companies trying to figure out what to do with our Piment d’Ville. We slowly moved some of the chile powder, but once the 2020 crop was harvested and dried, we still had a stressful amount of the 2019 harvest of Piment d’Ville on hand.
When regular food businesses have a surplus amount of product, they simply scale back production and stop making more of the product until their sales pick up. As a farm, we don’t have that option. We could grow fewer chiles but can’t shut down production for a year to catch up on sales (if we did that, our farm team wouldn’t have jobs). Even after hearing countless ‘no’s’ or nothing at all, we kept moving forward, hoping that at some point we would find destinations for our surplus harvest.
Finding a Co-Packer With a Vision
Whenever I talked to my fellow food business friends about our issue, everyone offered creative ideas for what else we could do. This community-minded support is part of what I love about the food world in which we operate, and that’s how we eventually got connected with Tabitha Stroup, owner of Terroir in a Jar. Tabitha has a co-packing business in Santa Cruz, CA and works specifically with farms to develop and create shelf-stable food products with surplus produce from these farms. She aims to reduce food waste and leave farms with delicious products to sell to their customers.
I sent Tabitha 30 pounds of our chile powder to see what she could come up with. A few weeks later, Tabitha sent back a box of potential products made with our Piment d’Ville. Gideon and I sat down to try everything and were honestly just so excited to see how someone we just met was able to take our Piment d’Ville and turn it into the star ingredient of so many different potential products. But there was one jar that was the clear winner and we immediately knew what we wanted Tabitha to make for us.
The Citrus and Chile marmalade is packed with California grown ingredients including oranges, hand cut lemon rind, Big Sur sea salt, and our Piment d’Ville. It’s a little saucy, a little jammy, and is the perfect cheese plate companion. Use it as a dipping sauce, as a glaze, as a spread, or eat it by the spoonful. We’re looking forward to getting this into your hands.