Shanti Community Farms celebrates hard work with the Hot Pepper Festival

by Allyson Smith

Summer in Akron means days-long festivals and more delicious food than we can possibly imagine, from ribs to pasta to burgers. 

But did you know that Akron now has a festival to celebrate one of the hottest peppers on earth?

Dalle Khursani, a pepper found in parts of Nepal and Bhutan, lands somewhere between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville heat units on the Scoville scale used to measure the spiciness of foods. 

This year, on Aug. 17 at The Exchange House, Shanti Community Farms will honor the hot pepper during its second annual Hot Pepper Festival

“Back in our country, when we harvest, we celebrate. We bring over people and make a lot of dishes out of the peppers. It’s kind of a festival, you know? We’re exhausted with work and we finished our harvests, so let’s celebrate something, Bhakta Rizal, one of the co-founders of Shanti Community Farms, explained.

However, Shanti Community Farms focuses on so much more than hot peppers. 

Founded by Bhakta and Tom Crain in 2016, Shanti Community Farms is an organization with two main goals: teaching younger generations about agriculture and farming, and helping older immigrants and refugees adjust to life in Akron.

The organization has a classroom at Jennings Middle School where they teach students basic farming and entrepreneurial skills through activities like junior farmers markets.

According to Tom, they teach kids and families about seeds, soil testing, how to raise plants and livestock and even how to sell their produce at farmers markets. Their farm, near the intersection of Tallmadge Avenue and Columbia Avenue, serves as a training farm, he says. 

The organization works with students from a variety of backgrounds, including students of Nepali, Syrian, Congolese and American origins. They also tutor students in other subjects, including math, English, science and Nepali.

”A lot of students who are immigrant students are struggling in those things, in language. So when they go back into the fall time, they can mesh with the class,” Tom explained.

One of the things Bhakta and Tom realized prior to starting the organization was how much immigrants and refugees were struggling to adjust to life in Akron. 

“When we see the immigrant community, when I look at their background, everyone has an agricultural background, like Bhutanese, Congolese, Burmese,” Bhakta says. “They don’t have a lot of ideas of where they can get agricultural land, what they can grow here… because the people who came from Bhutan came from the virgin land. They can throw the seed in the ground and it’ll grow.”

Bhakta and Tom commented that many of the immigrants and refugees they meet may feel scared, depressed, or feel a lack of purpose. They want to combat this as well. 

“These people are very socialized in their country. Here, it is so individualized. We go out and work, and if we have a lot of time, they sit down and they are scared. ‘How are we going [to] sustain? How are we going to work? It’s very hard to get a job,” Bhakta says. “And the thing is, if we expose these people, they can also learn the language…. So basically, this is a work and learn place.”

Through their landscaping program, they also work to integrate immigrants in Akron. They work with individual clients as well as the city to mow lawns, clean yards, trim trees, weeding and tilling. According to Bhakta, it helps some workers find a sense of purpose. 

“We set that up because we knew there was an opportunity that we could help the city out with vacant lots. They’re assigning non-profits to help with that. We got a loan to get equipment, and our goal is that we would bring the older worker and youths with us to train them…. It’s another job opportunity,” Tom explained.

On Aug. 17, Shanti Community Farms is inviting the general public to help celebrate the harvest and all the hard work they have done in the past year — teaching the community about agriculture, helping neighbors find work, and, of course, growing hot peppers.

Allyson’s background is in media production and anthropology. Her hobbies include coffee, traveling, and teaching people about things they didn’t know before.