Going for it
Go for it Gary! Go foooooooooorrrrr it! was the advice from everyone. Unfortunately, after this key recommendation to ‘Go for it Gary’, further detailed advice was pretty sparse. But what was IT and where do I go to get it?
My name is Gary and I have been involved in farming all my life, starting with growing vegetables, learned from my grandfather and from there the passion grew. I got my Scouts Gardener Badge as I turned up and presented the leader with a radish I had grown on our back garden. So fast tracking 35 years from the radish saw me growing fruit, vegetables and flowers in Kent, Spain, Portugal, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Senegal. This also included many years spent living on the farms in these countries, speaking the language, eating the food and always always watching the weather.
The great thing about this was that the horticulture I did needed sunshine, good temperatures and not too far from airports and ports. These needs were shared by the tourist industry, so in most of places I could be a farmer in the week and be on a beach, safari, or nice lodge at the weekend.
But this does not answer my question,’ IT ‘ gets a touch closer – it must be something to do with farming and I was not afraid to travel to get it. Wherever it was. So, I had to try and break it down a bit further. Also – dreaming apart – I had to be a little realistic on these two points – because if ‘IT’ was such a great thing to do – more than likely many other people were also doing ‘IT’. To be a farmer you need land, so I knew I had to ‘GO’ somewhere which had usable or rentable land, which brings me back to the previous point – if ‘IT’ was indeed a great calling and I had to ‘GO’ to suitable land then there was a high chance that many other people had ‘Gone there for It’ already and there was not space or indeed need for me.
So let me tell you how I got to the bottom of these big questions, stayed sane and largely happy. The main point is to have support - you need someone to share the good, the bad and the ridiculous with, in my case this was Joanna my wife who shared with me these adventures. The second point is not to be in a hurry and the third point is see if you can hitch a lift en route.
Chillis and chilli sauces were not on any horizon as Joanna and I moved to Tanzania, I had accepted a job with USAID – an American aid agency and within days Joanna was taken as primary school teacher at an International School in the northern city of Arusha. My job lasted 15 months – I was not an Aid Industry worker, the more I watched the wash of cash arrive from the US taxpayers to be frittered away on jump up projects the more it sickened me. So, I set out to hoe my own row and looked for land to grow something I could export and get closer to what ‘IT’ was. The ride I hitched here is that Joanna had a teacher’s flat and income, which allowed me somewhere to live and to spend what was left on the farm!!
I was still ‘Going for IT’ but felt I was getting closer but still not worked out what ‘IT’ was. Over the next 4-5 years we built up a great farm on lovely land under the shadow of Mt Meru, Tanzania’s second highest mountain after Kilimanjaro – which you can also see from the farm. We had a great team who were predominantly women and soon we were employing up to 60 people and making an impact in the local area. With an attitude and hard work we were actually giving people sustainable work and a great farm community developed. And each week between 2-5,000kg of chillies left the farm for our exacting customer in The Netherlands.
Supplying such a quality customer led to many chillies staying behind, and ultimately being composted. This was to the immense frustration of my daughter Annie Mae, who was a food processing professional and had worked intensely on flavour profiling in vegetables. So, we organised for her to come out and look at doing something with them. I threw in a few other varieties of chillies – so there could be a range for her to work with.
All this time in Tanzania my love of both listening to and playing music also grew, and we had a great community of musicians from all over the world, so any excuse to get out the instruments was seized. Add into the mix the chilli farm, and a farm community who like to dance then we quickly conceived and organised the first Chilli Festival. What an opportunity for Annie Mae to launch her chilli sauce and mash ideas!
But my daughter has done this type of product development before, it transpired, and was determined to present finished products and not tests on the Festival Night. So our small kitchen (remember it was teachers flat now shared with Mum, Dad and daughter (when do they finally leave home?) so mashes, ferments and recipes filled the small space. Then she would organise taste testing to get the salt, the vinegar and every other aspect just right, so shifts of willing friends would turn up to have their taste buds assaulted by the latest tweaks on some traditional recipes all based on some amazing chillies we had found.
The Chilli Fest 1 turned out a massive success, but we lost the plot on the chilli sauces as the music took over and went on under the African moon till way past my bedtime, we were all played and danced out. In the morning I regretfully took off the ‘rock star’ hat and put on the ‘dad’ hat and though we better organise some food for all these weary souls sleeping. Joanna put together some cold meat and cheese we had left and we had a brunch by the stream, and took the chilli condiments and sauces we had made to put some spice into Sunday.
So the first person helped them selves to some of our sauces and mash, then a second, then a third, forth, the first and second went back for more, then a fifth and within 10 minutes the pots were empty. It seemed everyone loved them, Ok so they were a little hungover, but they were raving about our chilli sauces.
A quick look at Annie Mae, and it seemed we were on the same page, that this was in fact the ‘IT’ I had been looking – that by finding chillies with more natural flavours, then cooking and preparing them to preserve their natural flavours gave us recipes that (hungover) people loved.
Now we had identified the ‘IT’ we could try to ‘Go for it’ and at this point Gary started finding chilli varieties from Asia, Turkey, Europe, the USA, Africa and South America, sourcing the seed and growing them. Over the next 18 months he had sourced over 70 types and each one Annie Mae had prepared in a number of ways to produce Sauces, Relishes and Pickles. Lots of tasting shifts and lots of feedback – until we focused down on the range we present today. We left lots of good ones out – but we had to start somewhere. So after lots of effort it is with pride that I can say finally – Thanks for the advice – I went for IT.
The downside not commonly explained is that the ‘IT’ is not finite and it can change, morph or move on when after you found the original one.