Family company is much more than hot peppers in a jar

What started out as a way to preserve a local treasure trove of recipes has turned into a family business for Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau members Amber and Jason Kuemerle. The Sugarcreek couple said the humble beginnings of their company, Starfire Food Products, began in 2005. Amber said she and her husband learned of an elderly couple who wanted to sell their family recipes for Zifer’s spaghetti and marinara sauce along with Congetta’s pizza sauce and Bassetti’s house Italian dressing. She and Jason, along with Jason’s father, Bud, worked side by side with the couple for months to perfect the recipes.

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Using peppers from Yoder Acres Produce, left, Amber and Jason Kuemerle of Tuscarawas County create the jams and jellies they can and sell through Starfire Farms.

While learning the ins and outs of sauce making, the Kuemerles built their cannery on their property from the ground up, about the same time they were growing their family. “The cannery is located about 200 feet out our back door which makes for the perfect location, especially with having our family now,” Jason said. The Kuemerles have three children, Emily, Colson and Blake.

After about a year of producing spaghetti sauce and other products they decided to set out on their own line of products. Hot pepper butter was what drew them into the canning business, and they wanted to start producing and selling their products. Finding consistently hot peppers for their creations proved difficult. “One time they would be big and beautiful but not hot and then the next they would be little and ugly but twice as hot,” Amber said “There was no way to control the heat so we decided to grow our own.” For years that’s what they did.

“We started growing 200 pepper plants or so for our pepper butter, and before we knew it we were up to 2,000 plants,” Amber said. Soon, all of those plants were keeping the family too busy to focus on anything but gardening, so the Kuemerles went searching for a local solution to their problem. They found it in a fellow vendor at the Tuscarawas Valley Farmers Market. They partnered with Yoder Acres Produce in 2016, a 60-acre Amish produce farm nearby where they could source their peppers. “We wanted to support local farmers and they produce a phenomenal product,” Amber said.

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The Kuemerles cannery for Starfire is located about “200 feet out the back door,” according to husband, Jason.  The couple’s business started when they learned about sauce making in order to preserve beloved local Italian recipes.  The couple opened Starfire Farms Country Store, right, in 2016.

Starfire Food Products, using the Starfire Farms name, not only produces hot pepper butter with their peppers but Starfire Farm’s salsas and pepper jelly. The salsas — mild, spicy, peach and pineapple — are very unique, Amber said, but they are known for their pepper butter. “Most people use it as a condiment,” Amber said, “although it’s great to add into deviled eggs and egg salad or mixed with cream cheese or hummus as a dip. It’s called pepper butter not mustard because of how it’s cooked and it is creamier than a mustard.”

The Kuemerle family sells its products in a variety of locations and opened Starfire Farms Country Store in the spring of 2016, with the help of friends and family.
Their family has always been the heartbeat of the business, Amber said. “Bud, Jason’s dad, was there from day one until his sudden passing in 2012,” Amber said. “He knew how to cook the sauce and helped with every aspect of the business. My mom, Melisa, helped by taking care of our three children whenever needed and then some.”

As Starfire Farms looks to the future and expanding its retail reach, Amber emphasizes that they stick to their motto “Bringing the Best Nature has to Offer in a Jar.” It is important to the Kuemerles to keep ingredients high quality, local and stay away from artificial thickeners and excessive shelf stabilizers. “If we wouldn’t feed it to our own family, we won’t feed it to you,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Recipes featuring Starfire Farms’ products are included in the January/February Our Ohio magazine:

Busy Day Minestrone Soup

Bloody Mary Italian Style

Chipotle Salsa Steak

Stuffed Peppers

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Bethany Starlin

Hocking County Farm Bureau

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