Reader Question: Growing Chiles as a Business

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We received this message from a reader who wants to get into the business end of chile growing, and asked The Pope of Peppers for some advice. Here’s Brandon’s question and Dave’s answer:

Subject: How to become a master of chilies…
Mr. DeWitt,
I have just recently graduated with a B.A. in History from UNT.
I’m not sure that I want to teach and I feel a bit lost at sea, so to speak. I
have a near perverse interest in chile peppers and ever since hearing of the Chile
Pepper Institute at NMSU (which, if I’m not mistaken was named after you,

I have wanted to grow peppers, especially hydroponically or hydro-aquatically
(with fish poop). My question specifically is this: do I need to get another degree or
can I just do an in-depth home study program to eventually be paid to grow
peppers? I am not good with plants in general, but I feel that I could devote
all of myself to peppers if I had the proper environment set up (greenhouse,
knowledge of feeding/lighting/soil requirements). I don’t know exactly what I
want. I know what I like, history; and I know what I love, peppers. What kinds
of jobs did you have to survive on while nurturing your capsaicin dreams, or
have peppers been a viable profession from the start?

Dave DeWitt’s Answer—
Hello Brandon:

Dave in his home chile garden back in the day.

Hydroponic chile growing is very risky and takes a very large capital investment to get it going.  If to begin with, you’re not good with plants, the future as a chile grower doesn’t bode well for you.

The jobs I had were entrepreneurial, like freelance writing and commercial radio and TV voice overs, producing all kinds of shows, and writing cookbooks.  I was also the founding editor of Chile Pepper magazine (not an owner) and that really launched my writing career.

My advice this: is do what you love.  You need to find your niche.  My major was English and now I’m researching and writing food history, which fascinates me because it’s multi-disciplinary—I have to learn botany, horticulture, cooking, medicine, and on and on.

So if I were you, I’d pick a more general field than just chiles, and get a MA in the subject.  I did that and it worked, though I only lasted 3 years as a college instructor of English.

Hope this helps,

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Publisher | Christened the "Pope of Peppers" by The New York Times, Dave DeWitt is a food historian and one of the foremost authorities in the world on chile peppers, spices, and spicy foods.

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