‘Born in the Tropics, Raised in the Mountains’
By Calie Brummer
On a mission to find the perfect blend of rich soil and supportive community in which to root a farm of their own, Gretchen Ferrell and Jonathan Felts landed in the South Toe area of Yancey County where they’re now regionally famous for their delicious hot sauce recipes. Using organic, locally grown peppers and only five real food ingredients, their Pica Rica hot sauce is a favorite at local restaurants and in markets across the region.
Gretchen and Jonathan were brought together through a vegetable-oil-powered caravan that Gretchen co-founded and organized. On the Sustainable Solutions Caravan, they traveled through Mexico and Central America engaging with locals in educational forums regarding alternative fuels and other sustainability initiatives. Upon landing in Costa Rica, they lived on a permaculture education farm where they harvested an abundance of bananas (used to make vinegar), sour oranges, Panama peppers (a close habanero relative) and black pepper, which were the ingredients for the original Pica Rica sauce. Jonathan created this original hot sauce there, and it soon became a crowd favorite at the local farmers market. Years later, the husband and wife team planted roots outside of Burnsville.
“We were always aiming to find our own land to farm,” she says, “and we found just what we were looking for in the mountains of North Carolina: fertile land, fresh water and community. We started our market garden and began selling our vegetables at the Yancey County Market in 2013. Last year, we finished building our on-site kitchen where we hold farm dinner events and Jonathan makes his hot sauce.”
Pica Rica hot sauce utilizes simple, real ingredients, right down to the lemon sauce that gives it zest. “We find lemon juice to be the perfect match for peppers if you want to truly get the taste of the pepper, versus just the effect of the spice,” she says. Their peppers are organically grown on site, with organic lemon juice being a key ingredient in their sauce-making. “The organic lemon juice raises our costs substantially, but it’s non-negotiable as far as we’re concerned.”
Open Ridge Farm’s hot sauce lineup includes three varieties: Pica Rica (habanero-based), Pica Verde (jalapeno-based) and Pica Verde Chipotle (smoked jalapeno-based). Pica Rica, the original blend, is the spiciest of the three with plenty of flavor. Pica Verde Chipotle is slowly smoked over applewood and blended with sea salt for a smoky finish.
Open Ridge Farm hot sauces are available at Early Girl Eatery, King Daddy’s, Asheville Direct, West Village Market and several restaurants and shops in Yancey and Mitchell counties. All three hot sauce varieties are also available for purchase online by the bottle and in bulk.
To learn more or to purchase online, visit openridgefarm.com.