The Chile Woman Speaks

Greetings Chile Lovers

Welcome to the world of chiles. The Chile Woman has been in business for 32 years! Each season brings its own challenges from flooding to a drought to a darn tornado in the middle of shipping season, to having armed white supremacists standing next to me at Farmer’s Market to a global pandemic that shut down much of the world. The pandemic led to a high demand for anything growing related as people turned to gardening during lockdowns and quarantines. These past years brought major changes to us all. That continued in 2023. In the fall, I resigned from the market I helped create in 2019. I found out some of our hard working farmers were not getting paid for the food they were providing. There was no way I could accept the economic injustice of not paying vendors for the food they had been delivering for months on end.

The greenhouse will open Thursday, May 9th. Hours will be Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 1 to 6 pm. If you would like to pick up your plants at a different time after May 9th, just let me know and I can set them on the white table near the red trailer.
I will be selling plants at Woolery Market starting Saturday, May 4th.

Thank you to all my loyal customers, some of you who have been here from the beginning. When I first proposed my idea of a business to ship chile plants, folks thought I was crazy. Now chile peppers are everywhere: who knew we would be on the cusp of such a trend. When I talk to college students or give farm tours it seems like I started my business in the dark ages. Having to go the the library to look up phone numbers (remember all those big phone books for each city taking over a whole section of the library) and then making one long distance call after the other to find out rules and regulations for shipping plants, seems so time consuming today. The development of the Internet and advent of web pages gave me a way to reach chileheads nationwide. Now, Facebook and Twitter allow me to reach all of you instantly. This came in very handy in 2011 when I was hit by a tornado on May 25th, smack in the middle of shipping season. Once I was able to get out from under the debris and get to a wireless spot I could post immediately and provide updates until my power and services were back online. We were grateful to be unhurt but the ongoing cleanup, rebuilding and profound disruption of our business has been an adjustment. Some of my seed stock plants were sucked away in the tornado which really put a damper on the seed saving and on what new varieties I could offer. It will take years to rebuild this precious seed supply so please understand if some varieites sell out early. Some varieties will not be available until I can rebuild my seed supply and others will be available only in limited quantities.

The tornado did provide us with a bit of good news. I lost so much of my old growth tree cover that I was able to realize a long held dream: the installation of a 5.2 K solar array to power my business. The panels went online Janaury of 2013 and I have been thrilled to watch my electrical meter spin backwards as our solar panels now provide all the electrical needs of The Chile Woman. In May of 2013, Green America notified me that The Chile Woman had received the most votes in their Green Business People and Planet Award in recognition for our efforts to preserve chile varieties and for our sustainable business practices. Thank you to all who voted for us!

Regulating unlicensed plant shippers has become a serious issue for the USDA. Plants must come from a licensed nursery that has been inspected and must be clearly labelled as plant material and have proof of their nursery certification, inspections and agricultural compliance agreements on the outside of the shipping boxes. Some states even use dogs to sniff out unmarked boxes and there are now penalties for the recipient as well as the unlicensed shipper. Please be aware the state of Georgia does not allow any pepper or tomato plants to shipped in unless the shipper documents that the plants have been treated with imidlacloprid. This chemical is associated with bee colony collapse disorder. You will never find it being used here on our farm. Sad to say that Nevada has implemented new rules as of 2018. Each plant shipment would require a $50 fee and shipments have to be treated with an insecticide I am not willing to use. I am sorry I am not able to ship to Nevada this season but remain hopeful they will amend these rules in the future.

I can never guess what chile will rise to the pinnacle of popularity each year. Four seasons ago, I couldn’t keep Guatemalan chiles in stock. Another year, Aleppo and Piri Piri chiles dominated sales, Peruvian Ajis are always popular, especially Lemon Drop last year, along with the superhots. I grow weary thinking of the superhots and the constant claims to have the hottest pepper in the world. Many superhots are unstable crosses and I chose not to offer many superhot varieties because of this. I hope this trend of superhot and superhotter chiles will burn itself out. While I like to eat very hot things, I also love certain flavors paired with heat. Give me an arrivivi gusano or an aji over a superhot anyday. I continue to hope for trends that will favor flavor over heat. Other bestsellers continued to be all mole’ chiles, especially the chilhuacles. I couldn’t keep up with the demand for tomatillo plants–they flew out the door.

Terry and I had to delay our plans to open a chile store at the greenhouse because of the tornado. While it is still a work in progress we hope to feature chile related products as well as Indiana made hot sauce and salsas.

Interest in food and agricultural issues continued to surge in recent years. More and more people turned to local foods and many seemed to be discovering the simple joy of growing their own food and planting a garden for the first time. The interest in container gardening continued to grow and I have marked the varieties best suited for this with a chile pepper in the alphabetical listing.

I prefer not to grow hybrids and favor the superior taste of open-pollinated varieties. Keeping heirloom seeds alive and viable is the key to preserving our biogenetic diversity. The flooding that wiped out my 1998 crop really drove home the point of how fragile an individual seed bank can be. Large commercial agricultural companies focus more and more on hybrids that reduce the varieties the home gardener can try, especially if they wish to try their hand at seed saving. With the controversy surrounding patented and bioengineered seed, I am more than ever committed to preserving and sharing chile seeds. I think I was one of the first businesses to sign the Safe Seed Pledge. Even though I have bred some of my own varieties, I would never dream of patenting them. Chiles are meant to be shared. Although I do not sell seeds, I am always willing to trade. If you are looking for a type of pepper or are fondly remembering a chile from a past family garden, please let me know. I will do my best to track it down and make it available to chile lovers everywhere.

My plants always have been and always will be grown naturally, without any chemicals or pesticides. No federal certification labelling program will change the way that I farm. We have a term in Indiana to describe agricultural products that are produced naturally and sustainably: Hoosierganic. When you see our Hoosierganic logo, you know you are purchasing a product that has been produced with methods to protect our environment and for future generations as well.

Chile names are very confusing and as varied as the chiles themselves. A chile that goes by one name in one country and a different name in another may still be the same chile. I have tried to list chiles under their most common name. Sometimes I receive unidentified and unnamed chile seeds. If I can not match them to a known chile, I take the liberty of making up my own name. If you grow one of my plants and it reminds you of something else, please let me know. Let’s all help each other clear up some of this confusing chile nomenclature.

We also provide sweet peppers, tomato and tomatillo plants. There is nothing to compare with eating that first salsa fresh out of your own garden. Although we ship plants all over the country, we encourage people to come visit the greenhouse and pick up plants. You can order online and utilize our contactless pickup system or stop by the greenhouse to browse. Bloomington is a lovely place for a day trip and Terry and I look forward to seeing all your smiling faces. Our chickens and Jacob sheep love to have visitors. Just call or email when you would like to come and we will be sure to be here.

When I started my business 32 years ago, I knew there were other chileheads across the US. What a pleasure it has been to discover so many of you share my passion.
Here’s to a good growing season!