Kyle Wade, Editor in Chief, October 6, 2022
"The only way I fail is if I quit."
Nate Nunemaker didn’t always aspire to be Farmer Nate. Today, he stands at the helm of an ever-growing hot sauce line, although he did not like or use hot sauce growing up. He didn’t grow up around a farm and knew nothing about peppers prior to 2020. He didn’t even have a garden at his home, which was tucked away in Kentucky suburbia around the city of Union. Nunemaker and his family went through trials and tribulations that would surely fold the weak, yet here I am, speaking to the Founder and CEO of Farmer Nate’s Sauce.
Nunemaker’s parents may not have been farmers, but their parents were, he used to run around his great grandfather’s farm and play in the corn fields. As a matter of fact, his name, Nunemaker, is German for ‘castrator of pigs’- needless to say, agriculture is in his lineage. “I’ve done the research on my family tree and I come from a line of farmers, although it wasn’t close proximity for me, it’s always been around my family,” Nunemaker said.
Nunemaker says that living off the land and the ability to self-sustain has always been a “pipe dream” for him. The typical, blue-collar type jobs weren’t moving him any closer to his goals; They were pulling him further away, rather. According to him, he recalls leaving his nine-to-five with a feeling of emptiness as he ended each day, “after many years of working 50 plus hours a week for not that much money and doing something I wasn’t passionate about, I simply got depressed.” He says that he did not leave his last job the proper way, but it lifted an enormous weight off his shoulders, “I promised myself after that, that I would never work a W-2 job again."
In 2019, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nate and his wife were living in a second-floor apartment in Covington, KY. At this time, Nate was assisting a freelance photographer and his business had really slowed down due to all the restrictions. This is when he started what he calls his “urban garden”. “We slowed down a lot and I was just bored, I was doing some Ubering here and there and I didn’t want to always do that, so I said, ‘okay, I’m going to grow some vegetables,’” he said. This plot did include a few peppers, but it was mostly cucumbers and corn. He would begin growing the peppers in his 2020 edition of ‘urban garden’, it was all Jalapeno plants. “I don’t know why, I don’t know what it was, I did a lot of research and they just seemed pretty easy at the time to grow. It just didn’t seem like a lot of effort at the time, you don’t have to water them every day, the only thing they really need is sun,” Nunemaker said. He had ten to fifteen plants growing for this first batch of peppers.
The urban garden, although small, required some ingenuity. Nate would compost his own soil; he would use what he calls the “bucket system” where he would set up a five-gallon bucket and throw his coffee beans and any type of organic waste into and layer in soil, which made for great topsoil, allowing his peppers to flourish. The urban garden is also where Farmer Nate’s would become a reality. He started the LLC, went through courses to get FDA approved and really began learning and practicing the art of perfecting his recipe, in-turn he had begun selling to friends and family.
During the pandemic, Nunemaker’s landlord and mentor had moved away from the city (Covington) to find more rural living arrangements, this would open a door for Nunemaker that he never even knew was there. His landlord had asked him for help tending to their farm, knowing that Nunemaker had a passion for gardening, and they had no experience with farming. She offered an exchange for his services, an arrangement that left Nate with some land on their farm to grow his peppers. This is where Farmer Nate’s Sauce would get serious. During the winter, he would take nine months to get all of his FDA certifications and ensure that his business was legal, this process would evolve into an official launch of Farmer Nate’s Sauce in November 2021.
Kentucky Tang- “It’s my mild sauce, it’s a jalapeno-based sauce with cinnamon, cumin, just tons of flavor and low on heat.”
Pairings: Makes a great cinnamon roll glaze, ice cream, chicken marinade
Nate adds that this pairs very well with Cincinnati Chili, especially a three-way
Curry Jalapeno- “This is my medium, it’s jalapeno pepper, serrano pepper and curry.”
Pairings: Rice, chicken, Bloody Marys and margaritas
Smokehouse Habanero- “My hottest, it’s a habanero-based sauce, I use a hickory smoked salt to give it that smokey flavor, ya know?”
Pairings: “Literally everything,” according to Nunemaker, tacos, Bloody Marys/Margaritas
Limited Releases- “From time to time, I’ll run limited releases. Last year, I did Farmer’s Revenge, it’s a super hot sauce, I use Carolina Reaper, Ghost Pepper, Viper and Scorpion Peppers. I also do collaborations, for instance, I worked with a friend from a design agency and made a jerk sauce called Lit Chicken.”
Nunemaker’s favorite sauce comes down to a tie between Kentucky Tang and Smokehouse Habanero. “I love the flavor profile of Kentucky Tang, very unique, has its own thing happening. The Smokehouse Habanero, goes on pretty much everything,” he said, “I actually went over to Moonrise (Doughnuts) a couple of weeks ago and had their team fill a glazed doughnut with Smokehouse Habanero, I know it sounds crazy, but it was really good.” He also puts Smokehouse Habanero on Oreos.
“I just released for pre-order this morning, my newest product, a taco seasoning called Covington Gold Dust. I’m not trying to necessarily move away from hot sauce, I may release another one to add to the line, but I want to expand my catalog,” Nunemaker said, “So far, the feedback I’ve gotten off taste tests has been mainly 10/10.” This seasoning will be hitting the website and stores by the end of October. Every pepper that goes into any of Nate’s products contains peppers grown by and processed by him.
Nunemaker is currently working on another collaboration with five of his friends, including the guy from the Lit Chicken collabo, and this time it’s going to be a ketchup and mustard. “It’s gonna be really unique, it’s gonna have it’s own style of ketchup and mustard, something the world hasn’t seen yet. We just got bottles in, the labels are being worked on and we’re gonna slowly launch that, selling it batch by batch to see where it goes from there,” he said, “we’re going to play it by ear, it may be limited, it may not."
Cranking up the Heat
For Nunemaker, the hardest part of this business, has been scaling. “I’ve now scaled up to the point to where I have to use a co-packer, everything as far as the bottle and bottling is concerned is now done by someone else. That’s hard, because, ya know, this is my baby,” he said. His newfound co-packer has helped him to scale from getting four cases of sauce from one cook to 60-80 cases. Before this, Nate was using a funnel and a glass to pour his sauce into bottles.
This year’s grow consisted of 200 plants in a 50’x50’ growing area, the plan for next year’s grow is to expand this to three 50’x50’ plots. This year, according to Nunemaker, has been tough due to weather. He said that around 100 of his plants were destroyed by the high winds and storms that hit Kentucky this growing season. The plan moving forward is to grow enough to account for events like this.
Farmer Nate’s Sauce is currently in 20 stores, mainly located in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area, some of the most notable being Cork N Bottle, Jungle Jim’s (both locations), The Roost and Dutch’s. Nunemaker says that the furthest his sauce has traveled is to the UK, but he has had orders that span the U.S. Nunemaker also has an apparel line available alongside his product line on his website at Farmernatessauce.com.
“The only way I can fail is if I quit,” Nunemaker said, “ya know, I was just out there pushing the freelancer life and this just happened.”