NAUGATUCK — Jason Morse has been growing things since he was about 5 years old, at his childhood home in Cheshire and on a larger plot of land in Maine.
Now 41 and living on General Patton Drive, he says life has taught him a thing or two about how food should be produced.
“We kind of need to come a little more full circle and go backwards a little bit,” Morse said. “You can do all this stuff naturally. You don’t need chemicals.”
With that in mind, Morse and his family began making hot sauces a few years ago using organic fertilizer and organic pepper seeds, grown in their borough garden. Almost exactly year ago, Morse turned his hobby into a business, selling three types of hot sauce and a Bloody Mary mix under the name Swamp Yankee Products.
Morse is a woodworker by day for Accolade Furniture in Wallingford, but his goal is to expand Swamp Yankee Products until it can be run from a self-sufficient farm with a subcontracted bottling facility and more products, including his wife Caroline’s baked goods.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, but we’re committed to it and we’ll make it work somehow,” Morse said. “I would like to reach the point where I could do it full-time, and that’s a huge leap of faith.”
The project is a way to teach his daughters, 7-year-old Evelyn and 4-year-old Eloise, to plant, weed and harvest organically. Doing things the natural way, however, can be more expensive, and the hot sauces include some non-organic ingredients such as distilled vinegar.
Morse said he sank at least $5,000 into equipment last year, including fertilizer and irrigation systems and environmentally friendly “smart pots” made of semi-permeable fabric to self-prune the plants’ roots. After last year’s storms damaged his garden, he produced about 28 gallons of hot sauce and more than 50 gallons of Bloody Mary mix, boxed into wooden crates that Morse makes himself.
As small business owners, the Morses pay sales and corporate taxes. They lease kitchen space from a friend’s state-inspected New Haven restaurant to bottle their mixtures, and make sure to follow labeling laws, which require them to send the products to state laboratories for nutrition information. If the company expands, Morse said, he will have to set up his own bottling facility subject to state regulations or, if money permits, hire a subcontractor who would be responsible for following the laws.
The company lost about $2,000 last year, Morse said, but he will not have to invest in all the same equipment again and is making an effort to sell in more places, including the borough’s farmers market.
“I think people have to start looking locally for everything,” Caroline Morse said. “I think we have to get back to a sense of community.”