Spice of life: Passion for peppers transforms Zanesville family farm

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Ohi:yo Pepper Company grows 3,500 hot pepper plants annually. (Submitted photo)

Self-proclaimed fans of the “spicy life,” Florida couple Nick and Thera Snyder always grew and enjoyed peppers. It wasn’t until Thera was called back to family land in Zanesville, Ohio that their passion for peppers grew into something much more.

“My father was gracious enough to allow us to follow our dreams, turning the land he grew up on into what is now our ‘Pepperdise,’” Thera said. “It’s been an incredible adventure and to have it on land that holds so many of my childhood memories, not to mention my dad’s, is invaluable.”

The couple runs Ohi:yo Pepper Co., founded in 2020, where they grow a variety of hot pepper plants each year. They sell fresh peppers during the growing season and create pepper products like powders and spice rubs to sustain their business through the off-season.

History

Thera’s father, Michael McPherson, grew up on a 20-acre farm in Zanesville, Ohio before joining the Navy and raising a family in Jacksonville, Florida. But the farm was a special place for Thera and her siblings.

“My brothers and I couldn’t wait to visit our grandparents so we could explore the land,” she said. “It was quite the contrast to our suburban city life in Jacksonville. From those experiences, I’ve always dreamt of owning my property.”

Following the death of Thera’s grandmother in 2019, her father considered selling the property. However, after talking it over as a family, Thera and Nick decided to move to Ohio and plunge into farming.

Initially, they wanted to grow hemp, taking advantage of the 2018 Farm Bill’s categorization of hemp as an agricultural commodity. But, the COVID-19 pandemic and other circumstances forced the couple to move in another direction.

When deciding what to do, peppers came to mind. That first year they planted 1,500 hot pepper plants.

Thera and Nick Snyder run Ohi:yo Pepper Company in Zanesville, Ohio, on Thera’s family’s farm. (Submitted photo)

Wondering what to do with their first harvest, they contacted a couple of farmers markets to see if there would be any interest in the community for fresh super hot peppers and the products they were making.

“We got our first shot with the Healthy New Albany Farmers Market,” Thera said. “Getting everything we thought we may need together and setting up for our first market was exhilarating and surpassed any expectations.”

Today they have nearly 3,500 hot pepper plants, including Carolina Reaper, Ghost Peppers, Scorpions, Habanero and Scotch Bonnet, on one acre of the seven-acre homestead. Other varieties are incorporated on an annual basis.

Products

Demand and visual appeal drive the varieties of peppers Ohi:yo Pepper Co. plants each year.

“We’ll review things and depending on if something was a major hit we’ll stick with it or put more in the field, but it changes every year,” Nick said. “With over 100 (pepper) varieties, we throw in different ones that we think will pique people’s interest.”

Initially, the Snyders began selling peppers at Columbus-area farmers’ markets to attract the food crowd and get face-to-face with customers. But, because peppers are a seasonal crop, they wondered what else they could do to set themselves apart and create additional revenue.

The couple owned a freeze-dryer for a few years and began experimenting with freeze-drying peppers while still living in Florida. They found that the process preserved the pepper’s flavor more effectively than dehydration.

“You can apply this as a more modern-day red pepper flake,” Nick said. “But, if you cook with it by sauteing with fat, it will reconstitute and infuse better flavor.”

Freeze-dried peppers are ground into a powder, packaged in 10- or 12-gram jars and labeled. Each jar requires 10 to 20 peppers to create the spicy powder.

While fresh peppers and freeze-dried powders are the core of Ohi:yo Pepper’s business the Snyders continue to innovate, adding hot honey, spicy rubs and infused salts to their catalog of products.

A faint interest in bees and a chance meeting with a Harrison County beekeeper motivated the couple to take a beekeeping class. That class led to an apiary with about 15 bee colonies allowing the Snyders to fuse their locally produced honey and freeze-dried peppers to create multiple versions of hot honey.

“Hot honey is such a trendy thing,” Nick said. “We hope to offer something unique and take over Ohio’s hot honey market.”

Growth

The Snyders rely on multiple seed vendors for their operation, preferring to support small growers or “fellow chili heads.”

“It’s like a communal interaction as far as the seed collection goes, with a few bigger names in place,” Nick said. “Mainly it’s a lot of people who have backyard gardens that create certain variants. In previous years we’ve gone through about seven or eight different vendors, depending on who has specific peppers.”

Looking for ways to increase profit margins and become less reliant on seed companies the Snyders are transitioning to collecting seeds from their plants — but not at the expense of variety.

“But if we see certain seeds and certain variants we want, we’ll purchase those from those individuals,” Nick said.

In preparation for planting, fields are tilled and organically treated with water-soluble calcium, if soil samples deem necessary. Grow tents are set up in February and seedlings are transplanted between rows of organic cover crops in June.

Marketing

So far, the Snyders have relied on their website, word of mouth, farmers markets and a small dose of social media to increase exposure and generate sales. The past three years laid the foundation for growth and creation, now Ohi:yo Pepper Co. is looking to expand its customer base.

“One of our big goals this year is to purchase barcodes and get on to more shelves throughout the state of Ohio and local stores, potentially bigger stores,” Thera said.

In addition to more exposure on store shelves, the Snyders are purchasing additional ad space in larger Ohio markets and showcasing their products at hot pepper festivals in Ohio and surrounding states.

“Trying to do it locally and get the roots going in Ohio and beyond our borders feels like sprinting on ice,” Nick said “I’m sure two years from now it’ll be crazy to look back and see how far we’ve come.”

Info

People can reach out to the Snyders via social media @ohiyopepperco on Instagram and Facebook, email ohiyopepperco@gmail.com, text or call 740-868-6393 and can place orders through the website www.ohiyopepperco.com.

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