A Minnesota Pepper Farm's Crop Was Damaged by Hail—But a Hot Sauce Company Bought and Bottled It Anyway
Last August, a severe storm tore through parts of Minnesota, bringing high winds, heavy rains, and baseball-sized hail with it. The nasty weather damaged thousands of acres of chili pepper, corn, soybean and sugarbeet crops, giving already struggling farmers another reason to worry about... pretty much everything.
Sogn Valley Farm in Cannon Falls was among the hardest hit. "Last night was the nightmare all farmers fear, the loud racket of not rain but ice falling from the sky," the farm posted on Facebook at the time. "We suffered devastating crop damage from last night's hail storm. We're trying to keep our heads up as we assess the damage and figure out how to move forward [...] Hoping we can still supply our hot sauce partners with some chiles this season, but it'll be far less than we had planned on."
The hail absolutely wrecked three acres' worth of Sogn Valley's peppers, ripping holes through the fruits and rendering almost half of the summer harvest unusable—or at least that's what the owner thought at the time.
Sogn Valley grows habanero peppers for Craig Kaiser's Cry Baby Craig's line of hot sauces, and when the former chef heard about the storm damage, he came up with a glorious (and quite generous) idea. "I went down there to see the damage and it just broke my heart. [Owner Dana Jokela] was just four days away from harvest when the hail came," Kaiser told Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. "I asked him what he was going to do with all the damaged fruit. He said he'd probably just compost it, so I told him, why don't we wash it and I'll take some of it and see what we can do."
Kaiser filled "four or five" 55-gallon drums with all the bells and habaneros he could pick, and, six months later, he's released a limited-edition hot sauce made from those hail-wrecked peppers. Cry Baby Craig's appropriately named Hail Fire hot sauce is now available at all 27 Lunds & Byerlys Minneapolis-area supermarkets, and every cent of the $6.99 sale price will be donated back to Jokela and Sogn Valley Farm. (If all of the available bottles sell, that'll add up to around $40,000.)
"Yes it is a nice gesture but I wasn't looking at that, I was looking at the pain those families are dealing with, knowing that you woke up one morning and lost everything and you may not have another season to grow," Kaiser told WCCO. "I think what I want from this the most is people to know how easy it is that you can help someone else."
Apparently, sometimes it just takes a few 55-gallon drums and an afternoon spent on a local farm. Oh, and a big heart—that's pretty essential, too.