Three people stand inside a greenhouse.

Solstice Spices and Urban Pepper Project’s Farm-to-Jar Philosophy

Food: Interviews & Features

Picking flowering vegetables to smell and arranging radishes in an ornate wreath, the three urban farmers at Cress Farm Cooperative were excited to share the fruits of their labor with me. Located in Salt Lake City just off of 700 South, the farm feels like a hidden oasis where one can slow down and reconnect with the Earth.

Woman holding a bunch of radishes.
Heather Peeters works hard to grow the best local produce for Solstice Spices. Photo: Logan Fang.

Heather and Tony Peeters, the minds and hands behind Solstice Spices, began farming when they realized that mainstream stores didn’t have the food their family needed due to their son’s allergies. “When he was only one year old he had a hard time, and we found out he had all these allergies. We were like, ‘What’s going on?’” Heather explains.

Heather and Tony quickly got to work growing in friends’ backyards, at one point using eight different locations to grow their crops. The pair would then gift their home-grown spices like garlic and dill to friends and family, and sell what they had left over to local markets. “Then we got this opportunity to come to this location,” Heather says, “so we gave up all those backyards and then started growing here. It was just an old horse pasture.”

“We gave up all those backyards and then started growing here.”

With just the Peeters couple working on the farm, farming proved more labor-intensive than they could manage, especially once Heather began working a full-time job. That’s when they met Shirley Steinmacher, founder of Urban Pepper Project. “During the pandemic, I’d garden in my yard and had a lot of projects with my kids,” says Steinmacher. “They’ve helped me get into peppers, because they have contests like hot pepper-eating.”

Steinmacher’s family also experienced food-related allergies that were hard to work around during pandemic produce shortages, a time when many families and farmers around the world were also struggling. That’s when she quit her job as a geologist and focused all of her attention on peppers, always looking for new and beautiful varieties to grow.

Another frequent farm collaborator is Aldine Strychnine (@punk_rock_farmer), also known as the “Punk Rock Farmer.” “[He] is friends with this guy who spends about two thirds of the year in the Amazon, Peru and Bolivia,” Steinmacher says. “He was going around collecting all these really cool peppers from markets in different towns.”

Steinmacher was given some aji peppers, and got excited to start naturalizing the tropical perennials, helping the plants acclimate to Utah’s harsher conditions. Then she began collecting and

People gather around radishes.
The three urban farmers are always looking for volunteers to help tend their farm. Photo: Logan Fang.

growing different peppers from seeds.“To me, they’re like beautiful earrings. And they taste good. There’s so much you can do with them,” she says. Experimenting with the peppers, she learned many ways to incorporate them into a variety of dishes, and she even sells hot pepper oils at farmers markets.

“We need diversity in farmers. We need urban farmers, we need big farmers, we need a little bit of everything,” Heather says. Their products focus on keeping the cycle pure from farm to jar, even reusing the water from their farm by returning it to their well. All three farmers focus on growing things that big farmers don’t have the time or attention for, proving their spices and specialty peppers to be a treat.

“We want to make sure that we know exactly what we have and what we’re selling. Every ingredient in the jar starts with either raw onion, garlic or pepper. It’s all real stuff,” Heather says. “It was at the time [when the] farm-to-restaurant movement was going crazy, so we thought, ‘There are other spice companies, but nobody’s doing this. Nobody’s growing their own.’ It’s way too hard,” says Tony.

“Every ingredient in the jar starts with either raw onion, garlic or pepper. It’s all real stuff.”

The three urban farmers are always looking for volunteers to help tend their farm and are proudly selling their products at farmers markets. They will be hosting an event on Saturday, May 4 at Cress Farm Cooperative (3348 S. Scott Court) where you can see how the magic happens and try some of their amazing products for yourself.

Keep up with Solstice Spices on Instagram @solsticespices and Urban Pepper Project at @urbanpepperproject for updates on other events, from seed swaps to plant sales and more!

Read more about locally-sourced foods here:
Fresh Fruit for Plotting Vegetables: Al Grossi, The Punk Rock Farmer
Utah Farm to Fork: Healthy Foods Foster a Healthy Community