Growing for a Good Cause: The Crazy Chile Farm in Mesa, Arizona
In the fall of 2014, members of The Episcopal Church of The Transﬁguration were exploring diﬀerent ways of addressing poverty-related issues in the surrounding community. In their neighborhood and community, underemployment, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness are endemic. In the parish there is a passionate commitment to helping reduce hunger. The church consistently supports food banks, elementary school programs, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, and more. Realizing this support could easily exhaust their limited ﬁnancial resources, the members began to look for opportunities to raise funds to increase their outreach. (Ref. 1).
The church had some fallow land and a community
garden was proposed. However, the failure rate of community gardens can be high. One of the members suggested using the area to grow a commercial agricultural crop, using the proﬁts to support community relief in the neighborhood. The decision was made and the selected crop was chile peppers.
Spicy food is a trending item in shops and restaurants all over the country and the demand for specialty
varieties of chiles is very high.
The speciﬁc chile variety chosen for production at The Crazy Chile farm is the Chimayo, which is unique. The seed comes from Chimayo, New Mexico, a farming community known for its unique chiles, and the site of an ancient shrine visited by thousands of Christian pilgrims
during Holy Week. Given Chimayo’s historical isolation, it is quite likely that the seeds planted in the Crazy Chile Farm are direct and unadulterated descendants of the seeds brought by the ﬁrst European colonists over four hundred years ago. (Ref. 1).
"The Chimayo chile is a medium heat and it has a distinct ﬂavor," according to Bill Robinson, The Crazy Chile Farm Manager. "One of the things that is noticeable is that there is a sweetness to it – not sticky sweet – but deﬁnitely a sweetness you can taste.”
Fresh chiles have a short shelf life, so the decision was made to process the crop into chile powder so there would be no need to bring the fresh produce to market immediately.
Proﬁts from the sale of chile powder over the past four growing seasons have covered:
• The ﬁnancing of 100% of the meals for a 64-bed women's shelter in Apache Junction • Selected school supplies for a local elementary school • Thousands of dollars in grants to the feeding agencies of two food banks (27,000 meals to date) • English as a Second Language (ESL) training for refugees in the local area
• Two sewing machines for an Hispanic women's embroidery group in Douglas, AZ, who use their craft to raise money to feed their neighbors • Funding for an orphanage in Honduras • Plus, together with the farm’s sister program, "A Million Meals for our Neighbors," 27,500 pounds of food for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. (Ref.1)
Over the last several years, new products have been added to the rotation. Tepary beans and Native American Yoeme Blue corn have been added, enabled by a 5,000 square foot expansion of The Crazy Chile Farm. A rented tractor and a team of Clydesdales from Tenth Generation Farm in Apache Junction (this author's farm) were used to prepare a second growing ﬁeld from a former parking lot. This expansion has allowed the farm to rotate
crops and increase output. (Ref. 1).
2018 was the fourth growing season for The Crazy Chile Farm and it was a record year for production. The farm harvested 692 pounds of Campo Dorado chiles, 10 pounds of Yoeme Blue cornmeal and eight pounds of seed, eight pounds of tepary beans, and 200 pounds of squash. (Ref. 2).
Beginning in 2018, there was a new dimension to the farm’s mission that will continue to expand in 2019. The farm has made a commitment to assisting the indigenous communities of the Tohono O’odham, San Xavier O’odham, Akimel O’odham, Maricopa, Pima, and Pascua Yaqui communities of Southern Arizona to recapture their traditional agricultural heritage.
By working with Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Ajo, and Ramona Farms on the Gila River Pima Reservation, the Crazy Chile Farm is collectively enabling hundreds of Native American families to reclaim traditional crops by growing seed stock of rare indigenous native food plants. (Ref. 1).
The Crazy Chile Farm was featured in Edible Phoenix magazine, Fall 2018 edition. The article is available to view here.
Volunteers are always welcome and do not need to be church members. Volunteering is usually done on Saturdays and Mondays. If you are interested in learning more about the Crazy