Adam Stacey is a third-generation grower at his family’s smallholding in Newent, Gloucestershire. In 2013 he made the bold decision to grow chillies on the farm as his primary crop and the project was so successful that Adam’s Originals was soon born; a range of chilli-based oils, vinegar's and preserves that are taking Britain by storm. His recent TV appearance on Kate Humble’s ‘Back to the Land’ series on BBC Two catapulted Adam and his chilli farm to fame, but has life changed much on the ground? I catch up with a very relaxed Adam Stacey at the farm on a sunny June afternoon...
Q: Adam, this is a lovely place to call your office! Is life on the farm as idyllic as it seems?
A: Pretty much! This isn’t my first business venture but it’s definitely my favourite so far because it provides a completely different lifestyle for me and the family. I’m up here pretty much every day checking on the plants, weeding, watering etc, being outdoors, surrounded by nature and with my kids.
Q: What made you start the chilli farm?
A: As with many things in life, it was a combination of factors; personal, economic, practical... I’ve always been a lover of spicy food and one event sticks out in my mind in particular; I was visiting a high-end restaurant and ordered the cheeseboard at the end. I’ve never been served cheese with jelly before, and this cheeseboard came with a selection of sweet and spicy jams and jellies – they were mind-blowing, I think this was the first time that I started to understand how complex chilli flavours really are and what you can do bring the best out of them. I think that was when I made the conscious decision to make my own jellies one day, this must have been five or so years ago so the business was a while in the making!
Q: So are you the main grower on the farm? Do you fulfil other roles within the business?
A: Haha yup, I do a few different things! So I am indeed the chief grower, but I work alongside my uncle looking after the farm and its crops – he’s been working on the farm his whole life and knows a thing or two about sustainable farming. My grandad was also a fountain of knowledge with regards to growing, I learnt most of my organic farming techniques from him. Besides growing I also make the products, they are my recipes that I spent time and care perfecting. My two eldest daughters Chloe and Lucy help me with both the growing and product making, I’m hoping that they will continue to work with me on the farm and eventually take over. And finally, I oversee the business as a whole so it keeps me pretty busy!
Q: What crops do you grow besides chillies?
We have lots of things since the farm has been used for growing fruits and salad crops for three generations and we have many well-established trees and plants. Fruit wise, the farms produce includes grapes, various apple varieties, pears, strawberries and cherries, all of which I use in my Adam’s Original products.
Q: What do you mean by sustainable farming?
Good question! To me, sustainable farming is all about developing growing methods and techniques that provide for a bumper crop today, at the lowest possible environmental cost tomorrow. For example, here at the Gloucestershire Chilli Farm we try to conserve the use of fresh water because if we use up large reserves of fresh water now, there will be less for future generations; so we feed our chilli plants using a drip-feed system whereby we flow recycled rainwater directly into the root area of each plant – so no freshwater is required and this is also very targeted and efficient use of our recycled rainwater.
We also encourage the growth of clover because when we’re planting, this gets rotavated into the ground which then has a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria converting atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium nitrogen, which releases into the soil making it extremely fertile for our chilli plants – so we don’t have to use manufactured plant feeds to get a bumper crop.
These are just two out of many examples of sustainable farming practises at the chilli farm.
Q: You care about the environment, don’t you?
A:Yes I really do care. My degree is Environmental Studies and I am currently half way through a Masters in Environmental Management. I think having broad and specialist knowledge really helps me to feel connected to the environment and motivates me to respect it. It’s also really handy to be able to put my ideas for study projects to the test in a real farming environment! I wrote a scientific paper on whether the government should subsidise urban green spaces known as ‘wildlife corridors’ for pollinators and if this was financially viable; when you realise that 76% of our vitamin intake is from pollinated crops you realise that looking after pollinators is in our self-interest. It was this research that prompted me to install bee boxes on the farm and plant lots of bee friendly flowers and shrubs, to encourage bees to pollinate my crops. Now you’ll find multiple pollinators around the farm including butterflies, hoverflies, beetles and solitary bees so locally at least, we are not relying on one specie type. We have never had any issues with our chilli plants not being pollinated!
Q: Tell me about the products you make…
A: I wanted to create a range of products where the flavour and the heat were separated into a two-step taste experience – too many chilli products these days simply blow your head off without giving much thought to the actual flavour. I love combining sweet flavours with chillies, like apples and strawberries. The tartness of grape works incredibly well with chilli too! The idea behind my products is to give people access to complex and amazing flavours every day, so my oils and vinegars are extremely easy to use on everyday meals for the family. And finally, perhaps most importantly as a Dad, I don’t like feeding my children artificial preservatives and E numbers... so you’ll find only natural ingredients in my chilli products – which is why they need to be kept in the fridge after opening!
Q: What is your favourite chilli product?
A: The chilli infused coconut oil! It’s amazing, you can use it for any medium to high heat cooking, it’s a good healthy fat and the coconut and chilli flavour combination is simply exquisite, on everything!
Q: What is your best seller?
A: That would be the apple chilli jelly – it keeps running out of stock and I keep having to make more. It’s a good job we have a lot of apple trees on the farm! My chilli infused balsamic vinegar of Modena is a very close second, people just seem to love it..
Q: Do you have a favourite chilli?
My favourite chilli at the moment is the ring of fire, it is a medium hot chilli so packs a punch but doesn’t go overboard like the really hot chillies. It dries amazingly well and just look fantastic. I love just grinding up some dried ring of fire and adding to my food!
Q: Where do you see yourself and the Chilli Farm being in five years’ time?
A: I hope we grow with the times and continue to respond to customer demand. I don’t want us to become too big because I like that we are a family company, everyone involved cares deeply about the business and each other which creates an incredibly positive and fulfilling work environment. Also, from the point of view of sustainability I want the farm to continue to have a low carbon footprint and this means utilising the local resources responsibly and buying anything that we can’t produce ourselves locally – this wouldn’t be possible if we got too big. It’s important to me that the eco-friendly backbone of this business isn’t diluted and if we can achieve that with an economically healthy, long-lasting business then I’m a happy man.
Don’t forget to check out Adam’s Original products on the Gloucestershire Chilli Farm website!
26th June 2018, Kat Hardman, A&J Agency