Pickles and Chileheads…What community means to me
Crazy Steve Zielinski
“Your love one has cancer…” Those are the last words you want to hear.
Six years ago I grew too many cucumbers, tomatoes and jalapenos in my garden.
The beginning of condiments on a mission
What do you do when your garden blesses you with an abundance of cucumbers? Friends, family, and co-workers can only eat so many.
We brought 3 bags to the food pantry, which was very grateful. But then there is next weeks harvest. Maybe I went a little overboard when I put in 12 packs of cucumber seeds. OK, not that many, but it was a lot, and these were the pickling variety. These are the green and white skin knobby cukes that have a great crunch.
That was the birth of Crazy Steve’s. I wasn’t planning on creating this brand, but over the next few months, the wheels started to spin (which usually gets me in trouble). All I knew that day was I was going to start making pickles and salsa.
My grandmother who I grew up with as a child used to pickle every year what she grew out in the garden. From cucumbers to green tomatoes, green beans and her “Chow Chow” made with cauliflower, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes and carrots. They would be pickled in salt, vinegar and spices in old mason jars in the kitchen, and finally make their way down to the root cellar under the porch. All her recipes were hand written on loose pieces of paper and stuck in her Slovak cookbook wrapped in rubber bands. The tattered cookbook remains, and has been opened to try those recipes once again.
“Oh yeah I might be crazy – but that’s not the same as insane”
I am a big Sister Hazel fan, and came across the song Swan Dive at the time I was concocting this whole endeavor, which at the beginning was just a fun goof. A co-worker threw out the name Crazy Steve, and that cinched it. My wife says the name fits, that I couldn’t just make pickles; that this had to be an elaborate production. She’s right; I can’t just do something simple. One thing just leads to another, and the next thing you know I am sketching a cartoon character for a label.
I think things should be fun. “If it’s not fun, why do it?” to quote the infamous ice cream makers, Ben & Jerry. If I was going to create this product, even in jest, I wanted it to be funny, and at the same time, spark a thought, make you think, educate, inspire, and contribute to life. Tall order for a jar of pickles.
I was first introduced into the Chilehead community in a parking lot in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware one sunny Saturday in May. Peppers was having their annual “Peppers on the Beach” outdoor event, bringing spicy flavors to the masses that would travel from all over to taste, exhibit, and sell their endorphin rush of hot sauces, spices, salsa & pickles. Being the new kid, I had no clue on what to expect. I concocted a few varieties of pickles and salsa that were spicy, nothing over the top. Would people be interested in what I brought?
What I found was a great group of people who care just as much about each other as they do about their love for fiery elixirs. From the guys and gals that create, to the bloggers, podcasters and retailers, they all gave a warm welcome to me. It’s great to share war stories of getting our recipes to market, and sometimes even the breakdown of a vehicle getting to the market on time.
When you have so much passion for this niche, it overflows to the people involved as well. Even after the venue, many constantly reach out to see how you are as well as what new concoctions you may have on the drawing board. This I experienced fully last year when my wife Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The outpouring of support, caring, help in many ways was what makes this group a real family. So many stepped up to the plate, and this is what I am thankful for…being part of this community.
Sometimes we receive, and sometimes we give. After the experiences of this past year, I felt it was time to put my energy into bringing that giving to fruition. “Pickles Against World Hunger” was an idea and a non-profit that started back in 2010 to give back to the community that supported our concoctions. 1 in 6 people struggle to get enough to eat in this country. In this day and age, no one should go hungry in the world.
With Pickles Against World Hunger, and a campaign called “One Jar, One Meal, One Solution” for every jar that you purchase, YOU are giving a meal to someone struggling with hunger through a local food bank in your community! I believe it is time to empower each other and change the world…in a good way! Our goal is to work with all the food banks across the USA who work with Feeding America.
That is the “One Jar, One Meal” part of the campaign. The problem with that is that it is finite, it ends, it doesn’t grow. We need to do that for there is that problem which needs to be solved now.
The other part is the “One Solution”. A portion of the sale goes to educating a small community group with tools, equipment, support and structure to grow their own vegetables year round in an aquaponic greenhouse on their community block. They will produce food year round, sell to public, maybe thru CSA, operate as a small business, make payments on their startup from the profit, so the program can grow and expand dimensionally. We want to start the program in Camden, NJ. I want Camden to produce food for NJ and Philly! Take a food desert and make it an organic food haven. Give life to all of Camden. Once it is started there it will be replicated nationwide!
To kick off this campaign, I have always wanted to do an annual festival. My thought is “Why not throw a party, have some fun, enjoy music, food, people, play, bring about some things we need to be aware about, and give some money away to real good causes in the interim…
So…. “PicklePalooza…Peace, Love, Music, Awareness & All Good Foods in a Jar” was born!!! http://picklepalooza.com
The event will consist of NJ Music Artists, Spoken poets, Food vendors from NJ and the area, local farmers, NJ Chefs and Restaurants, crafters, artisans & non-profit awareness. The purpose is to bring about awareness to hunger in the country and continue to support the small businesses that lost due to Superstorm Sandy, and what it means to support local farms, eat healthy, and be concerned about our environment.
We together can make a difference in the communities, nation and world around us, and have fun doing it! Over the past 6 years I have taken this “abundance of veggies from the garden” and looked to shape our mission to being more than just a product line. The journey has just started, and I look forward to where the road leads.
(Crazy Steve’s manufactures a line of Pickles, Salsa, Bloody Mary mixers, rim salts and Popcorn….your 4 basic food groups or the ultimate tailgate party. Pickles and Salsa can be found in Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic region now, and will be restarting the other concoctions within the next 2 months to be on store shelves)