Greeley farmer hopes to brand a “Greeley” chile pepper
August 29, 2016
Tigges chiles in northern Colorado
Kathy Rickart, one of the owners of Tigges Farms in Greeley, said they recently worked out a deal with the Big City Burrito in Loveland, which will feature Tigges’ Sahuaro variety peppers. Tigges’ peppers also are featured in the Broken Plow Brewery Chili Wheat beer.
When people think of agriculture in Weld County, they probably think of beef cattle and dairy cows, not of chile peppers. Kathy Rickart of Tigges Farm wants to change that.
Rickart, who co-manages the farm at 12404 Weld County Road 64 1/2 with her two siblings, said she wants to brand a "Greeley" chile pepper.
She got the idea from Hatch, N.M., which is nationally known for its chile peppers. People drive from all over to get Hatch chiles, including from northern Colorado.
"New Mexico's law is that you cannot say you are selling Hatch chile unless it is grown in Hatch," Rickart explained.
“New Mexico’s law is that you cannot say you are selling Hatch chile unless it is grown in Hatch.”
But the secret is, those same delicious peppers can be grown in other places. They just can't bear the Hatch name.
"It's an absolutely brilliant marketing plan," Rickart said.
Tigges Farm has grown and sold chile peppers for almost 30 years. This year they planted 15,600 chile plants to keep up with demand. Last year, they ran out, even after planting 10,000 plants.
Rickart isn't sure yet which pepper variety she'd like to brand a Greeley chile or if she'd rather have all chile peppers grown on Greeley soil to be called "Greeley chile," similar to how the law is written in Hatch.
"What's being grown in Hatch is Big Jim, Joe E. Parker, Conquistador, and I'm sure Sandia Select will be grown there, as well," she said of the pepper varieties. Tigges offers all of those and more, but in Hatch, they're all called Hatch peppers, even though they do distinguish varieties, as well.
She said they grow the same varieties that are grown in Hatch at Tigges Farm, and they're just as good as the Hatch chiles.
"I will respect New Mexico's law. But New Mexico's law doesn't mean I can't educate people. If they can begin to understand that they're buying the same variety," it will help, she said. "It's no different, other than you didn't have to drive 16 hours for it."
In 2014, New Mexico chiles joined the ranks of other branded produce when the New Mexico Chile Association started the New Mexico Certified Chile program. Other branded items include Vidalia Onions from Vidalia, Ga., as well as Florida Oranges, California Almonds and Idaho Potatoes.
Rickart said a lot of people also know of the "Pueblo" chile, which is, of course, grown in Pueblo. Although the Colorado town hasn't officially branded the Marisol chile as its own yet, it is nicknamed the Pueblo chile.
"If Pueblo can play the game, if Hatch can play the game, we can play the game, too," Rickart said.
Rickart, her brother Ken Tigges and sister Gale Loeffler are doing the legwork to get a Greeley-brand chile. She said they want to get the Colorado Department of Tourism or the Department of Agriculture behind them, just like New Mexico's organizations got behind the New Mexican chiles.
"They saw it as a good marketing tool to get people to New Mexico," she said. "If Colorado can figure out how to do it, let's do some Colorado chiles. And then, if we can do a Greeley chile, it has to be grown in the Greeley area. But we need to make sure our I's are dotted and our T's are crossed."
There is a lawsuit in the system to sue people who were calling their chiles by the Hatch name, though they weren't actually grown in the Hatch Valley.
Don Shawcroft, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said he thinks branding a local crop is a good idea, but he agreed that it has to be done right.
"It's certainly something folks are doing and it's working for them," Shawcroft said. "I see it as a viable option, particularly given the increased interest in the communities, small and large, in having a connection to how their food is produced and where it's produced."
He said some Colorado wheat seed producers are working on something similar with a specifically branded wheat seed. They are trying to build a customer base using Facebook ads targeted at wheat farmers.
"They're creating their own niche market for that product," Shawcroft said. "I think that's similar to what this is."
He said one thing that Rickart and her siblings would have to be careful about would be keeping the product consistent and giving people a good experience with it.
Rickart already knows this is happening. The farm's reputation for fire-roasted chiles is growing.
"I have one customer who was born in Hatch and lives in Windsor," she said. "He doesn't go home to get chiles — he comes out here. So it's happening. They're coming here."
Earlier in the season, Rickart checked on a few colorful peppers, which are just started to growing in the field, then, in Greeley. They were a little early, but were a welcome sight in the otherwise green field.
She's getting ready for the busy season — September and October, and the hoards of local Coloradans who choose Tigges chiles over all the others — even Hatch.
"They're just as good, if not better," Rickart said. "And the better part is because they're fresh." ❖