The South Devon Chilli Farm is now in its eighth season of growing. Jason Nickels and Steve Waters, who started the business, sensed that there was a growing demand for a more diverse range of chillies and chilli products that was not being satisfied by supermarkets or independent food retailers. They also felt that if they could shape their business in such a way that they could grow, manufacture and sell on the same site the chilli farm would appeal to visitors as well.
Today the business thrives at its home near Loddiswell, north of Kingsbridge, though they continue to grow at the rented plant nursery at South Milton where they first started.
From humble beginnings the company now employs 11 staff and satisfies orders for preserves, sauces and chilli chocolate to shops nationwide, though almost half their business comes from internet sales direct to consumers. It is this internet business, together with their own shop at the farm, that has grown to supply not only food products but also a diverse range of chilli seeds, growing equipment and more besides; in fact if there is anything you desire that is somehow related to chillies then this is the best place to come.
Despite the commercial success of their food products, growing chillies and helping others to do the same is at the heart of the business. They grow around 10,000 plants per year, 4,500 of which are planted in the soil in their 3,000 sq m of polytunnels and greenhouses. Others are sold from the farm shop as seedlings or as mature plants through the spring and summer.
“Chillies are one of the few foods where a small household can easily grow enough to be self-sufficient,” says Jason. “Once you get them going they are easier to care for than tomatoes and you should be able to stock your freezer with a year’s supply from just a couple of plants.”
The on-site shop has been a successful part of the business, attracting visitors from far afield. Chilli fans have been known to book weekend visits to the South Hams based around their desire to see the farm and the chillies growing there, as there is nowhere else quite like it in Britain. One of the polytunnels is arranged like a tropical chilli garden, a mini Eden Project, and in late summer and autumn when all the plants are in full fruit the multi-coloured display is a ‘must see’.
Plans are afoot to develop this aspect of the business further. Planning permission has been granted and building work will soon start on a bigger shop, café and covered plant sales area which should be up and running by mid-summer.
You may also stumble upon their famous chilli jam used by restaurants in such diverse dishes as seared scallops, savoury cream teas and brie sandwiches.
All of the preserves, sauces and chocolate sold by the company are produced at the farm using their own chillies. They are available through farm shops and independent retailers throughout the West Country and increasingly nationwide. Alternatively, pay them a visit or shop online.