BY CELIA GRUNDMAN
The Chile Woman, a familiar figure at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market, is a finalist for a Green America’s Green Business People & Planet Award.
Susan Welsand, The Chile Woman, is a top ten nominee for Green America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to use economic power “to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.”
Welsand, who sells the chiles she grows at the farmers’ market and to mail order customers, could win $5,000 if she is one of the three winners to be announced at the end of this month.
“I think the values that Green America supports…are so tied into the values of Bloomington as a community,” says Welsand, noting the nonprofit’s emphasis on building sustainable communities and supporting small local businesses.
Welsand’s calling is to preserve chile pepper biodiversity, and she has a seed bank of more than 1,800 varieties—it’s her own version of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
After a tornado damaged her business in May 2011, Welsand made the most of the situation. The tornado cleared a heavily wooded area which she used to install a 5.2 K solar array that went online in January.
“My bill last month was zero kilowatts,” says Welsand.
Her partner, Terry Morgan, also capitalized on the tornado by building a solar kiln to dry boards from the felled trees.
This sustainable lifestyle is present in all her business practices. “On our farm, everything has a purpose,” Welsand says on Green America’s website. “We keep sheep so we don’t have to mow. The chickens range free plucking up bugs and working through manure. The llama guards the sheep and the chickens.”
Over the winter, hoping for financial assistance for the solar panels, Welsand sent a note about the tornado damage to several organizations, including Green America. She said it was an “exciting surprise” when they let her know she was a top ten finalist for the award.
Welsand would use the $5,000 to install a cistern, a project that has been delayed by the tornado, and to open a small store carrying local products as well as spicy food products made in Indiana. She’s also working on a cooking class that uses unusual seasonal vegetables called “Meet The Vegetables,” which will be held at WonderLab science museum.