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Why I love Pepperfest and think you should too!

This year Union Co.’s very own  Pepperfest will be held on September 4th from 11AM -5PM at Rancho Bella Vista, 827 Vines Rd Cobden Illinois.

If you are not familiar, Darn Hot Peppers is a mom-and-pop shop, owned and run by Jerry and Carol Jimenez, specializing in, you guessed it, hot peppers. Every year this time they pull out all the stops and put on what has grown into a huge event with over 200 people attending for the last few years.

Pepperfest has quickly become a favorite gathering for chile heads and hot pepper fans throughout the Midwest, with some people coming from as far as Washington DC and Seattle Washington. Ok those folks traveling such far distances are and my brother and myself + our families so this may be a bit of a yarn.  However, the fact that this family business pulls out all the stops every year in September is what makes Pepperfest so great and why this year we expect nearly 300 people to attend the festival.

The festival will have all the Jimenéz clan working from sun-up to sun-down, picking peppers, making fresh salsa and homemade jams jellies and processed chile pepper products, stringing up ristras, giving cooking classes, walking tours of the pepper fields to show folks the many varieties of hot peppers in bloom. Also attendees will be able to meet other local vendors who have a passion for cooking and growing peppers and see who makes the best hot/spicy food.

The festival got started about 6 or 7 years ago, i forget which, when Mom and Dad took their love for the rolling hills of Southern Illinois, sustainable agriculture and clean living and combined it with Mom’s homemade salsa and other recipes. Since then the business has grown and grown to the point that this year we’ve added a new building specifically to showcase our products and provide a welcoming place for people to enjoy our food while visiting the farm.

What can you expect if you come to visit the farm? Well, expect it to be hot! September is also a good time because many of the plants will be in full bloom, offering a beautiful, colorful and fragrant display for your senses. Bring your boots or tennis shoes too, cuz you’ll want to grab a basket and get out in the fields to pick your own peppers.

This is one of the most truly “all-natural” farms in the area. Rancho Bella Vista is committed to using traditional farming methods and doing things the old-fashioned way meaning we employ ONLY sustainable agriculture methods which exclude all use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. We rely on crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and tilth to supply plant nutrients, and to control weeds, insects and other pests.

While other farms seemed to have jumped on the “sustainable” bandwagon, clean sustainable living has been a passion for this family for generations. Growing up in a family of migrant farm workers, dad has done his fair share of working in the fields with his brothers and sisters and other migrants.

Back in the day the fields were sprayed constantly with herbicides and pesticides and after watching people get sick over and over again, dad decided to do something about it and thus began a nearly 40 year career in public service. At the end of his career what he wanted more than anything was to complete his circle of life and that’s what he can do every day now.

In the morning he loves to just walk into the fields, see a good pepper, pick it up, take a bite and know for a fact that this is the best pepper on the earth because he grew it, and with that confidence he is totally charged up every time he loads up the truck because he wants everyone to get a chance to enjoy this treat knowing full well that they are eating clean, fresh and healthy peppers that have not been sprayed.

I could go on and on, but you should just come and experience this for yourself. hope to see you in September.

Buen Provecho

Xavier Jimenez

Interesting farming news…

According to the Agriculture Department, more Americans are embracing a ‘Green Acres’ lifestyle.

“The Agriculture Department came out with its Census of Agriculture recently, and the headline was that the number of farms increased by 4 percent from 2002 to 2007, with most of the new farms being small, part-time operations.”

In search of the ancient chiletepin

It’s been a while since we sent the last update so here’s what we have been up to recently. – Jerry

Christmas of 2008, I made time to return to south Texas and enjoy “ la Navidad” (Christmas time) and “pasar el Año Nuevo” ( spending the New Year) with family and friends. It had been 1985, the last time I had spent Christmas and New Years in my hometown of Taft, Texas. That was also the year my wonderful mother had died, my father had died almost one year earlier. As I drove into the small south Texas town of Taft, I felt my spirit smile. Some changes in the small town could be seen but really too small to make a difference.

From the main highway coming into Taft, I turned right onto Davis Road, crossed the railroad tracks, traveled one mile, turned left onto Ash Street, went down half a block and our family home would be on the right side of the road. A small four room white house that had been home to nine kids, grandmother and mom and dad.

As I turned left on Ash Street, I could feel myself smiling, my whole being was happy; I felt as light as air, I was in familiar and friendly territory. I slowed down my car, being careful not to miss the small driveway to the house. As I reached the middle of the block, I remembered. Time had changed everything, for instead of my childhood four room white house, now there was a nice newer trailer home. I waited in the car, noticing that there was not a car, truck nor dog around the house. If someone was inside the trailer they should soon be looking out the door or window, but no one did.

I sat in the car, a little disillusioned for I knew the house and property had been sold, and I heard that a nice young couple had started their first home. I felt good again, for mother would have been very happy to know that the small “pedacito de tierra”, (her little piece of land as mom called her house) that once was her home was now bringing love and joy to a young family.

Photo: Gerardo Jimenez, age 6, at family home in Taft, Texas

jerrykid I had waited around five minutes in the car and decided to get out, hoping the owners would not object if I took a fast “quick see”. In the back yard, I could easily remember where several of the outhouses had been. I could show you where each of the chicken coups had been set-up, where the turkeys ran free, where dad’s fig trees had been, but most of all I remember the two wild chiletepin plants.

tepinTaking care of these two chiletepin plants, making sure that the turkeys did not eat the peppers had been my responsibility and I accepted my assignment much like a true small Indian warrior. At that time I was six years old and with my home made bow and arrow, I would shoot down those mean turkeys should they come close to the chiletepin plants. ‘Wake up, Gerardo’ I told myself. At age 66, it is still good to dream but many things have changed. All my images were erased. Still I felt a sad loss for the chiletepin plants. Why had the chiletepin plant not survived, I wondered?

Surely, people would have recognized the value of having such a treasure just outside their kitchen door. Now my winter vacation in south Texas had taken on a new purpose. I was determined to find the survivors of my chiletepin plant.

To be continued…

Even the King knows when to kneel

Chalk one up for the little guys…

Burger King agreed to pay 1.5 cents more per pound of tomatoes it buys from Florida growers, with the understanding that a penny of that will be passed to workers. The rest will go to growers to help cover additional payroll taxes and administrative costs they might incur, to encourage their participation. Read the full story here:

In a related story, the web and specifically blogs have helped Burger King to police it’s own and the fast food giant recently fired two execs for underhanded attacks on Fla. farmworker advocates.