Pepper Passion—Autumn’s Harvest
WORDS BY CHERYL PANGBORN PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED BY AUTUMN’S HARVEST
Did you know that only five cultivated pepper species account for the estimated 50,000 pepper cultivars (aka varieties) that exist in today’s world? A cultivar is a breed that has been derived with the help of a human hand. Size, shape, taste, and heat vary according to the diligence and consistent growing practices of the farmer.
Finding success in the farming industry is not for the faint at heart. Mother Nature rules the roost and her dramatic temper creates obstacles that come in many forms. From unexpected frosts and destructive insects to wavering rainfall amounts in Southern Georgia, no growing season is the same, making each harvest different from the one before. With a little trial and error, Ludowici growers, Ashley and Jonathan Groover, have found a groove they’ve mastered. But, it isn’t just growing the peppers in a hoop house that has given them success, at Autumn’s Harvest, it’s what happens afterwards that sets the company apart.
“Initially, we planned to work with various types of produce in hopes of getting a classic farm off the ground. Unfortunately, the market was saturated by common vegetable growers with larger farms,” Jonathan recalls about their 2016 stumble into the pepper farming business. “The pepper plants were given a corner of our greenhouse to call their own, where they slowly grew and began to produce beautiful red peppers unlike anything we had grown before.” Jonathan and Ashley spent the winter researching and acquiring seeds from unique pepper cultivars all over the world. They raised two dozen different types of peppers the first year finding it difficult to sell the peppers as quickly as they came in. “Once we had a few dozen peppers from the plants, we began experimenting with ways to preserve them, eventually drying and grinding them into what would become our first products,” Jonathan adds.
By 2018 they were full speed ahead refining their pepper growing and grinding and they haven’t looked back. From common to exotic varieties, the Groovers grow and bottle organic pepper powders to suit any palate, and because they are preserved, they sell them throughout the year. From Ghost Peppers and Carolina Reapers to Scotch Bonnets and Jalapenos, Autumn’s Harvest grows at least a dozen different organic peppers each season, using those that they cannot sell to produce their organic powders.
I am told they are known locally for their Smoked Cayenne Spice which is infused with the mild and versatile smoke of Oakwood and works beautifully as a rub or when incorporated into a blend. Ashley and Jonathan say their best online seller is ground Lemon Drop Pepper from Peru. This variety is perfect for making salsa due to its citrusy undertone. Because the pepper varieties are ever evolving, a new and interesting flavor is always on the horizon. “We don’t seed save from our own plants very often as our aim is in consistency,” Ashley explains. “We source seeds from reputable growers in different areas of the world so that each year, our produce and blends have the heat and shape our consumers expect.”
Although the farm is located in Long County, Ashley tells me that Richmond Hill is the prime market for their products and that they would love to relocate here in the near future. “Richmond Hill has such deep community ties, and the people are so invested in shopping locally. There’s no place else we would rather be.” Moving a farm might seem a bit out of the question, but their hoop-houses are similar to a greenhouse with door and window openings to create a natural temperature control, thus making moving the farm an actual possibility.
Until then, you can find Autumn’s Harvest all around South Georgia. During the growing season they sell their peppers online through their Etsy store where the pepper powders are available all year. If there is a craft fair or farmer’s market nearby, you can be assured they will be there ready to talk all about their passion for peppers and will likely introduce you to a new cultivar you’ve yet to taste.