‘The right veggie for the end of the world’: Hot pepper farmers weather a challenging summer

Stu Smith and Sarah Harper look back on the harvest season of 2021

Stu Smith and Sarah Harper sit in their garden, surrounded by the oddities and wonders.

“The days I can spend puttering around in the garden, those are my best days,” Smith said with a smile.

This summer proved to be one of the most challenging in recent history for many in British Columbia, local farmers included: intense heat stunted plant growth in some cases, rampaging smoke made harvesting a struggle with soot and ash covering the plants.

Smith leaned back in his chair to contemplate how the difficult summer season affected the pepper plants on their farm.

“It’s the right veggie for the end of the world,” he laughed.

One of the many specialty peppers grown on the farm. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

One of the many specialty peppers grown on the farm. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

As the days become shorter and the nights become colder, farmers in Revelstoke prepare their fields for the winter, and take a moment to reflect on the season that passed.

At Stoke the Fire, Smith and Harper’s business model is focused on value added products, meaning they take what they grow on the farm and turn the raw ingredients into products like hot sauce, garlic syrup, powders, salsa and jellies.

Stu Smith at the Stoke the Fire table at the Revelstoke farmers market. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

Stu Smith at the Stoke the Fire table at the Revelstoke farmers market. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

Branding in the hot sauce industry usually involves negative themes: images of flames, bombs, skull-and-crossbones.

At Stoke the Fire, Smith and Harper try to bring the fun, joy, and brightness back into the hot sauce world with their branding that reflects the love that they put into their work.

The logo on the Stoke the Fire small batch hot sauce was created by local artist Benji Andringa, and features an image of a pepper and garlic, representing Harper and Smith respectively, holding hands in front of Mount Begbie.

The colour pallet on the logo is taken from actual colours of peppers in the garden, creating an authentic colour scheme for a logo that represents them and what their brand is all about.

“It’s a love story,” said Smith.

When growing plants, they look at the ingredient list of what it takes to make their products and plant accordingly

According to Smith and Harper, this season they processed approximately 1,000 lbs of garlic and 3,000 lbs of peppers in the creation of their products.

They grow 500 lbs of peppers on their own property, but it’s important to note that the specialty peppers that they grow are more valuable per pepper and weigh less than your average jalapeño pepper.

According to Smith, they started growing specialty hot peppers like the Carolina reaper pepper in 2015, which, alongside the garlic they grow and the peppers that they source from other local farmers, go together to create a variety of products.

In their decade plus of growing and creating products, Smith and Harper have grown their own capabilities alongside the business, getting better at their craft by the year.

Ladybugs are used in the greenhouse to keep the population of aphids down. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

Ladybugs are used in the greenhouse to keep the population of aphids down. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

Smith and Harper have worked on building relations with other farmers in order to grow their specialty strains of hot peppers, including two growers in Nelson.

In buying bulk peppers from local farmers, and working alongside farmers in the region, Stoke the Fire grows alongside the other local businesses, their success can have a direct impact on the growth of farms in the region.

According to Harper and Smith, their garden is more than just for growing a variety of interesting and obscure plants, it’s also a venue for live music and events.

Garlic Festival, which was held on their property in the past, drew crowds of up to 1,600.

Stu Smith amongst his gunnera plant. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

Stu Smith amongst his gunnera plant. (Josh Piercey/Revelstoke Review)

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@josh_piercey
josh.piercey@revelstokereview.com

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