Our new favorite local, handcrafted hot sauce!
Written by Hayleigh Worgan
Ryan and Chrissi Scherer, the husband and wife team behind Zen Pepper Company, are making waves in the local agricultural community. Born in Texas, Ryan has always loved hot foods. He began growing and experimenting with different hot peppers in his early 20s. Through this experimentation, he was able to discern how their flavors came to life once blended with other ingredients. In 2010, he began small-scale farming Virginia Tech’s sustainability center in Catawba, researching forms of organic crop management and environmentally-friendly irrigation methods.
“Virginia Tech owns the Catawba Sustainability Center,” Chrissi explains. “They have great land that they lease to people trying to start small agricultural businesses. The center receives grants for sustainable types of tools, equipment, and practices they are able to implement. Ryan took a course that the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension offered a few years back called, ‘Growers Academy.’ [The course] was geared towards farmers who wanted to step into developing a small business. We both have been growing and gardening for a long time, and that was his first step in beefing it up a little.”
Zen Pepper Company’s hot sauces first appeared at the farmers’ market at the end of 2016. There, Chrissi and Ryan met new friends through the Local Environmental Agricultural Program (LEAP). This connection, in addition to the popularity of their products, encouraged them to continue creating and sharing their sauces.
As their popularity has increased, so has their knowledge and implementation of sustainable practices. All of their hot sauces are created in a commercial kitchen, and they consider the impact on the environment with every step in their development. Pepper seeds germinate in soil blocks that they keep in their home. The couple avoids using high energy grow lights, and puts their lights on timers so they can cut down on energy usage during the growing process. They also implemented drip irrigation practices, which reduces the amount of water they use.
“The sustainability center is a fantastic resource, because they supply the means for us to be able to do that,” Chrissi says.
2018 promises to be a big year for Zen Pepper Company. They are discussing expanding their presence at the downtown Roanoke Co-Op, and plan on attending a couple of festivals this year (TBA). Their business has taken off, and their most popular sauce, Ginger Habanero, is flying off of the shelves. Last year, they grew about four hundred pepper plants during the growing season. This year, they have expanded to about two thousand, and are encouraged by how receptive Roanoke has been of their products.
For more information on Zen Pepper Company including where to find them and the flavors they offer, visit www.zenhotsauce.com. Find them on Facebook at Zen Pepper Co.