Eric Slavens, owner of Ghost Valley Farms, started his farm in Middleton with a friend over their shared love of hot sauce and the need for hotter peppers in Dane County. Ghost Valley Farms grows a variety of peppers in various colors. Each colored pepper has a unique flavor.
Through trial and error, Slavens turned the hottest peppers he could find into sauces, powders and other products. His 27 years of experience as a chef helped him create flavorful products and allowed him to easily transition from creating products for friends and family to all of Dane County.
What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?
Taxes. Dane County has some of the highest property taxes. There’s not a lot of money in farming. I have sort of a special niche thing. A lot of people that are just growing vegetables or doing dairy are not making a lot of money. They are not bringing in a lot of money unless they have some sort of specialty like organic... or something that not everybody is doing. I don’t think those people are bringing in a lot of money but they are still paying a large amount of property tax in Dane County. If you go outside of Dane County it’s significantly lower.
What do you wish people in our community understood better?
It’s challenging. I’m never really off the clock. I’m always thinking about weather, products, safety and stuff like that. It’s a 24/7 type of thing. In Dane County, you definitely need to know how to appeal to the type of people that are in Dane County. So there’s a higher demand for special things, or local or organic. I feel like a lot of people, more in Dane County and Wisconsin, are looking for that type of thing.
What is one change you would make if you could that would make life better for people in our community?
Some of the restrictions and safety stuff that stops people from being able to produce stuff without having a certified kitchen. I believe there’d be a lot more people and a lot more businesses that would be making money if they didn’t have to follow these guidelines for simple things like pickled vegetables, eggs and simple things that people have been doing for hundreds and hundreds of years. Now, you have to follow these safety guidelines and I don’t agree with some of them.
What in our community gives you hope?
Madison seems to be going in a good direction. There’s a lot of community and a lot of people looking out for each other. A lot of people seem to just want to help each other instead of turning their back. A lot of nice people, a lot of people at the farmers market and in Dane County that will do nice things for you or go out of their way just to try to help a fellow farmer or neighbor.