From Hobby Gardeners....
We started growing chillies as a hobby in our back garden greenhouses when we moved from the city to rural Devon way back in the late 1990s. We never realised that chillies would be so easy to grow, so delicious and so completely addictive!
In 2001, we had an opportunity to rent a polytunnel and decided to give it a go, to see how many different varieties we could grow. Suddenly, we had lots of chillies and didn't know what to do with them all. Fortunately, at about the same time, farmers markets had started to become popular and so we took our amazing crop of fresh chillies to the markets and some local shows.
We got an immediate positive response from members of the public and realised there was a widespread fascination with chillies; it was great to be able to share our interest and help people discover with us, the huge variety of shapes, colours and tastes of chillies, as well as the varying levels of spicy heat.
......To Farming Chefs....
Although our fresh chillies were very popular, we didn't manage to sell all of them and so we headed to our kitchens to experiment with different recipes for preserving the chillies.
Our very first product was the Hot Apple Chilli Jelly which we made with apples collected from local orchards, simply boiled up with sugar and a little chilli; the jelly sets naturally with the pectin from the apples. Chilli jelly was a perfect way to use local hedgerow fruits too and we created a whole range of fun flavours as the seasons changed: elderflower, rosehip, elderberry, sloe, blackberry, crab apple.
We went on to create other chilli preserves using either vinegar or sugar as natural preservatives. As well as being a natural way to preserve chillies, we found the taste was so much better, with no after tastes or gloopiness, which often results from artificial additives. We still stick to our original method of preserving and still make all our products in small batches, retaining their lovely home-cooked flavour.
We also used drying and smoking techniques as a way of preserving our crop, creating sweet, rich flavoured, dried chillies. As lovers of Mexican food, it was really satisfying to be able to oak-smoke our Devon-grown Jalapenos and create the wonderful, classic Mexican Chipotle chillies.
Following our successful drying techniques, we went on to try out an Aztec-inspired recipe by combining a secret mix of dried chillies and chocolate - which soon became one of our most popular chilli products.
.....and finally, Full-time Growers, Manufacturers and Retailers!
Our customers loved our chilli preserves just as much as our fresh chillies and so, the South Devon Chilli Farm as a grower, manufacturer and retailer, was born.
In 2003, we gave up our day jobs and started to grow and cook-up chillies full time, employing a few helpers and becoming a limited company. We also created a website so that we could sell our chilli products all around the country.
The Big Move to our Current Farm Site
Cooking up the sauces, preserves and chocolates in our home kitchens was a bit of a juggling act and we found we started to run out of space, so we started to look for premises where we could move to the next level of production.
In 2005, we were lucky enough to have a fellow farmer offer to sell us 10 acres of precious farmland. On our new land, we built a large barn to house a production kitchen and a storage facility for the huge number of jars and bottles we were starting to get through each month.
We then added six polytunnels. One as a plant nursery, four as production tunnels and one as a display show tunnel. The show tunnel has a fantastic display of around 200 chilli varieties with all sorts of chilli fruit shapes, sizes and colours.
The Dream of the Farm Shop
Once we had moved production into the large barn, we decided to section off a small area of the building as a shop so that people could pop in and buy their favourite chilli preserves, as well as wander through our display tunnel to see where the chillies were grown and where their food was coming from.
The views on the farm site are so lovely and far reaching and we longed to build a proper visitor centre where people could come and learn about chillies and spend a little longer enjoying the wonderful scenery.
In 2011, six long years after we had moved in, there were enough funds to extend our barn and we built our fabulous farm shop and cafe; you can now stop for a drink or lunch and enjoy the views for as long as you want. Instead of the make-shift shop, we now have a light and airy, wood clad farmshop and a colourful and cosy cafe.
In 2014, we added another 2 polytunnels to our main site and gave up our lease of the rented polytunnels, so with less time moving between sites, there is more time to spend on plant care.
Meet the Chilli People
From small beginnings, of 2 keen chilli growers and their partners and family, we have now grown into a team of 19 people:
Steve, Heather, Martin and Kaz, the owners/directors who still spend time getting their hands dirty and growing chillies as well as doing all the regular office stuff......but still enjoying the views on their very own chilli farm!
In the chilli kitchen we have Dave our savoury Chilli Chef and Lucy and Elsa our sweet Chilli Chocolatiers.
In the office we have Ben and Hugh answering your calls, taking orders and making sure everyone gets their Chilli Goodies on time and in one piece!
In the warehouse we have Andy moving and shaking in the labelling and storage area.
Outside we have Sally and Patrick nurturing the chilli plants, digging, weeding, feeding and hand picking the chilli fruits.
In the Cafe and Shop we have Sara, Katy, Alison and Lottie keeping us well fed with luscious lunches and scrummy cakes and coffees.
And finally, Phil and Pip who will be out-and-about manning our tasty Chilli Stalls, at markets and shows.
If you are in the area, please pop in and say hello!