You never know where agriculture and determination can lead. This is especially true for Jason Grant, whose hard-working and dedicated spirit has combined Nova Scotian tastes with real heat.
Born in Halifax, raised in Cape Breton and now based in Truro, Jason Grant (Class of ’11 and ’13) is spicing things up in Nova Scotia’s agricultural industry. “I’ve always had a love for hot peppers and the spirit for entrepreneurialism,” he says. “It seemed like the right combination to start a local business.”
In 2006, Jason and his wife, Fran, moved to Truro from Cape Breton so Jason could attend the then NSAC. “Fran and I had been managing an inn and café in Cape Breton,” he says. “When we realized the seasonal work wasn’t sustainable, I decided to go back to school. While I was attending the AC, Fran was working at Frank and Gino’s restaurant. It was there that I met my business partner, John Killawee, and the idea for PepperHead was born.”
Jason and John discovered that they had a common love of spicy food. Jason had been looking for uses for the flavourful habanero pepper, and their experimentation began. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture majoring in Plant Sciences and a Master of Science in extensive green roofing from the Faculty of Agriculture, Jason became inspired after taking a course in native species. “John and I picked a couple buckets of chokecherries and made our first jelly, which we called the Haba-Choke-a-Lemon-Ero,” he says. “It was pretty good for a first attempt!”
In 2013, Jason and John launched PepperHead thanks to hard work, late nights and trial by fire. PepperHead products are sold in select locations in the Halifax area, including Local Source, Pete’s Frootique in Bedford, The Carrot and Liquid Gold, and at several markets and festivals. “Starting a business has its challenges, but the support we’ve received from our family, friends and customers has meant a great deal,” says Jason. “People get excited when we tell them what we’re doing, and that keeps us moving forward.”
One of the most memorable challenges was getting their products ready for Christmas last year, which involved 19-hour workdays. “We spent two weeks making and packaging 2,500 jars of our Bengali Bluenoser Habanero Chutney, Cranberry Lemon Habanero Jelly and Wild Blueberry Maple Habanero Jelly, just to make it through the busy season,” says Jason.
Now flash back to 2006, when Jason had enrolled at the AC with no specific career in mind but knowing he had a budding passion for plants. “The AC helped open my mind and think outside of the box, which I hadn’t done in years,” he says. “Not only was I exposed to parts of agriculture I didn’t even know existed, but it also opened me up to an entirely different realm of people.”
Jason values the six years he spent at the Agricultural Campus. “The curriculum, the small class sizes and the people the campus attracts fosters a supportive and unique academic experience,” he says. “Students and professors would come and go from the campus, but it didn’t matter if they were only there for a year, they impacted my life at that moment.”
Jason spent his summers managing the campus demonstration garden, which is where his passion for vegetable horticulture took hold and his love for hot peppers was born. “My experience at the AC has entirely informed my business and no doubt will continue to do so,” he says.
Jason plans to grow his venture but realizes there will be hurdles. “Our hope is for PepperHead is to expand across the province, the Atlantic provinces and nationally” he says, “but like many start-ups, figuring out efficient distribution methods will be challenging.” His future vision isn’t solely based on expanding the numbers of products made and sold. “We’ll continue to hire local and partner local,” says Jason. “We want PepperHead to be the kind of business that treats people well and is a fun place to work.”