Blue Ridge Food Ventures & Smoking J’s
June 14th, 2014
Value Added Products
We doubled up for our June tour topic on “Value Added Products” by taking a tour of Blue Ridge Food Ventures commercial kitchen facility with a trip to Smoking J’s Fiery Foods farm, both in Candler on June 14th. It was a hot day and we were all a bit relieved to start out in air conditioning at Blue Ridge Food Ventures (BRFV). Martha Vining, the Client Services manager, gave us the low down and walked us through the facility. Housed at Asheville Buncombe Community College’s Enka Campus, BRFV is an 11,000 square-foot facility equipped with two certified commercial kitchens for value added food and herbal products. In order to sell value added food & herbal products (i.e. jams, salsas, sauces, pickles, tinctures, lotions, etc.) in NC they must be processed in a certified kitchen that passes regular inspections. Finding and affording certifiable equipment and kitchen space to make your products is a major barrier for start-up businesses.
Launching in 2004, to help food entrepreneurs circumvent some of those start-up costs, BRFV has helped kick start many well-known local business like Buchi, Skinfare, Lusty Monk Mustard, and Smiling Harah Tempeh. It enables them to make their products in the certified kitchens, rent storage space, and provides legal, packaging, and marketing support. Some have moved on to their own brick and mortar locations after getting their feet under them at BRFV. The facility can be rented by the hour just once a year, or on an on-going basis. With every type of cooking and baking equipment imaginable as well as bottling and packaging equipment it’s a one stop shop for value added food production. Two walk in freezers and one cooler are also available to rent pallet space by the month to store produce and other perishable products. A great addition to BRFV, is the Winter Sun CSA that processes, packs, and freezes fresh local foods during the summer to be distributed to 300 CSA members throughout the winter season. While they are always looking for new clients at BRFV they do require liability insurance, and recommend GAP certification if possible. Martha also added that it’s smart not to quit your day job too quickly in this business.
Our next stop on the tour was Smoking J’s Fiery Foods farm just down the road. Joel Mowrey has made Smoking J’s a true farm to table story, and are the largest farm producer at BRFV. Originally, the Mowrey’s bought their property for a tree and shrub nursery. Joel currently works full time as nursery crops specialist for NC Cooperative Extension. But, the nursery business has been in decline, and he was able to put the fields to use growing peppers. Joel explained that they are a fully value added business. Their biggest enterprise is what’s called pepper mash – comprising 75% of the business. At the farm they grow 40 different varieties of peppers that are stemmed, seeded, finely diced and preserved in high quality vinegar in 40 lb. pails and are shelf stable. The mash is primarily sold to larger manufacturers, across the U.S., that use it to make other products. Their own hot sauce business fills in the remaining 25% of what they do, because as Joel will point out, retail marketing has its challenges and can be another full time job in itself. Within their own Smoking J’s product line they try to have mild to wild flavors to satisfy everyone’s taste buds, and are currently growing the largest amount of Trinidad Scorpion peppers in the U.S. (the hottest pepper in the world!).
At Smoking J’s they focus on chili peppers (hot peppers) and started their own product line in 2010 focusing on regional markets, as opposed to their wholesale pepper mash that is sent all over. With five acres in production they plant 50,000 pepper transplants (10,000 plants per acre) at an 18 inch spacing and will stake & string the peppers as they grow. They can expect to harvest 60,000lbs of peppers or 1 ton/acre. With two full time employees, and some extra seasonal folks when it’s harvest time, they will hand harvest the peppers. “We have a significant blue glove budget,” Joel said to protect the workers hands from the capsicum (the oil that makes them spicy) when handling so many chili peppers. In a good year they’ll harvest into November and a little longer. Typically, they’ll harvest on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday, store the peppers at BRFV and then process them within a week wearing respirators, full sleeves and gloves – making sure to reserve BRFV for themselves and save the others from the capsicum in the air! Our next stop was the pepper roaster! We each took a turn spinning the barrel, flame roasting two bushel of jalapeño peppers that were in processing the next day. The Mowrey’s were fantastic hosts, and we thank them and Martha at BRFV again and again for taking the time to show us around and share their value added processing wisdom with us!
CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm interns, farm employees and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. Membership is rolling, so join anytime! For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Cameron Farlow, Organic Growers School Farmer Programs Assistant at 828.338.9465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director. Hailing from Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, she has now made her home in Western NC. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. She also brings experience in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. In addition to her work with OGS, Cameron is a beekeeper, dancer, baker and avid adventurer.