From the Ground Up: The Story of a Dazzling Purple Pepper
By now, it’s no secret that we harbor deep affection for offbeat and unique produce. (Petite, fairy tale eggplants? Check. Dazzling striped, rose-hued lemons? Check.) And what’s more, we love sending you beautiful vegetables that are good for the farms growing them. So we’re excited to introduce you to the islander pepper, a stunningly-purple (and sometimes yellow, orange and red!) pepper making its crunchy, delicious debut on dinner plates across the country this summer.
Similar in taste to a green bell pepper, the islander pepper is a perfect choice in dishes where its versatility can help build complexity and depth of flavor—and where its unique color can really stand out. Not only is the islander beautifully violet straight off the plant, but also it continues to ripen into red as well. That means when it arrives to you, it can be fully purple or streaked with yellow or orange—nature’s very own tie-dye effect.
Growing islander peppers also provides another fantastic benefit for farms. Picking the pepper earlier in its life cycle, when it’s still purple, cues the plant to grow another pepper, which allows each plant to produce many more times the fruit per season than a red or orange bell pepper plant. (A handy fact that’s allowing us to grow almost 500 thousand islander peppers this summer!)
When our Farm Partnerships and Innovation team began talking to Sunny Harvest, a cooperative of Amish family farmers located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about growing islander peppers, it was with this key bit of information in mind. “The islander pepper is great for both the farmer and our customers,” says Katie Frouman, our East Coast Farm Team Manager, who works closely with Sunny Harvest. “Since farmers can pick them earlier in the pepper’s life cycle, it’s allows us to send a really unique, new pepper that’s better for the plant’s productivity.”
For Sunny Harvest and John Glick, an Amish farmer and Sunny Harvest’s coordinator, the islander pepper was also an opportunity to grow something new, but with encouraging familiarity. “The farmers that are growing the islander peppers have been growing green bell peppers for the last 3 or 4 years,” says Glick.
When Frouman and Alison Grantham, Farm Partnerships and Innovation’s resident agroecologist, visited Sunny Harvest in April of this year, they collected samples from 17 of the cooperative’s farms for a set of soil tests that our team was carrying out on partner farms nationwide. Conducted by the Cornell University Soil Health Team, the tests pinpoint physical, biological and chemical indicators of soil health. This includes the level of both macro- and micronutrients present in the soil, its pH level, and other factors that might affect growth in the upcoming season.
For some of the farms Blue Apron is partnering with, and many in the Sunny Harvest cooperative, these soil tests are allowing farmers to get a better glimpse into what’s really at work beneath their crops. Some of Sunny Harvest’s farms are also strengthening the health of their soil through cover cropping, a traditional technique where grass or grain crops are planted to replenish soil nutrients and prevent soil erosion.
And it’s not only Sunny Harvest’s islander peppers that are benefitting from these soil tests. Farms like Kubecka Farms and Reeves Farms, both in New York, are growing these exciting purple peppers for the first time, all with the added visibility and security that taking a closer look at just a little bit of soil can provide.
That’s why we’re so excited about these islander peppers—they’re so much more than just another beautiful vegetable. They’re a product of searching out great benefits for both the health of a farm and the taste of the produce it grows. They’re just a small piece of the work to create a sustainable food system.