The Exotic Pepper Project program was established by Dr. Albert Ayeni and Dr. Thomas Orton, both professors in Rutgers University’s Department of Plant Biology. It aims to incorporate diverse and nutrient-filled foods into common day food shopping.
Ayeni always had a passion for peppers, but his inspiration peaked when he first came to the United States. He was originally from Nigeria, where peppers were a huge staple in the country’s diet due to their health benefits and spicy taste. When he came to the United States to further his agricultural education at Cornell University, he noticed most American foods did not have any spice.
Orton, on the other hand, began his love for peppers while working in the private sector with plants. He then came to Rutgers and was fascinated by the wide range of plant and fruit diversity.
Thus, the Exotic Pepper Project was born. Both professors said they valued the diversity and nutrition peppers could bring to New Jersey.
The Exotic Pepper Project grows other specialty crops: pumpkin habanero peppers, okra, red leaf spinach, roselle and tagonots. In particular, okra is a very unique, high-demand crop coveted by ethnically diverse farmer markets, Ayeni said. It has the benefit of growing in the warmer months compared to many other spinaches that cultivate in the colder seasons.