They may have been first-timers  entering last year’s Cannon Grange Agricultural Fair, but that didn’t stop Tammy and John Ward from winning several first place ribbons, as well as Best in Show for their home-grown habanero peppers. Now they are busy preparing for this year’s event, the 86th edition, which takes place this Sunday, Aug. 26.

The duo has fully embraced moving from city life six years ago to life on the farm today, taking up gardening, canning, and preserving with gusto. But Tammy admits they only “stumbled upon the Fair” last year while looking for fun weekend activities to do with their young daughter Zoey.

About a year after moving into their Wilton home, John tried his hand at gardening. Soon he was hooked, and after installing a 600 sq. ft. garden, John believed a second 15-by-15-foot garden was necessary. That was soon followed by two beehives when John heard they would double his yield of vegetables.

“My husband is one of those people who subscribes to ‘go big or go home,'” says Tammy .

Today the Wards have 40-plus tomato plants and 10 varieties of tomatoes; 60 pepper plants and 18 varieties of peppers; seven tomatillo plants and seven varieties of tomatillos; 24 green and 24 asparagus plants; eight cucumber plants and eight varieties of cucumbers. (They did have several varieties of squash including zucchini, summer (yellow) squash, and pumpkin, however those were prematurely harvested by a hungry groundhog.)

To accommodate their ensuing bounty, Tammy turned to canning and preserving.

“It was almost out of necessity,” explains Tammy. “One simply cannot eat the 62 tomatoes John recently picked in one day.”

So, when the Wards learned about the Cannon Grange Agricultural Fair, John’s interest was not only piqued, his competitive nature kicked in and he decided to go big. It paid off.

The Wards entered their bell peppers, sweet peppers, and hot peppers, all of which came in first place in the Vegetables & Fruit category. They also entered their tomatillos, which won first place in the Heirloom category; their salsa, which won in the Culinary Arts category under relish; and finally their habanero peppers, which won the coveted Best of Show purple rosette.

It was a very good first showing to say the least.
This year, they will submit even more entries, including habanero-infused pickles as well as  some of Tammy’s jams and jellies. Tammy is a self-described jam-aholic after deciding she wanted to try her hand at making something sweet. She credits fellow Wiltonian Pam Lillis for nurturing this burgeoning interest of hers.

“Pam and I became friends through JoyRide Wilton,” says Tammy. “We soon discovered we shared a passion for canning, and that soon turned into Pam, a master preserver, becoming a mentor of sorts when I started exploring making jams and jellies.”

Tammy’s production now spans the following varieties, all tasted and approved by this writer:  Concord Grape, Simple Strawberry, Blueberry, Black Raspberry, Cherry Bourbon, Apricot Bourbon, Peach Bourbon, Peach with Lemon & Ginger, Strawberry Jalapeño, Orange Marmalade infused with Habanero, and Hot Pepper Jelly. All of Tammy’s jams and jellies are organic and low in sugar.

This impressive assortment is a nod to Tammy’s inherent creativity. “I’ve always been a very creative person and as my daughter is growing up, this is an incredibly fulfilling way to spend the time that has opened up for me now that she’s spending more time at school,” says Tammy.

And it’s a good thing that some time is opening up for Tammy, as keeping up with the gardens’ abundant yields requires an abundance of time.


“John easily spent 12 hours if not more, picking tomatoes and peppers and then making his salsa, which included chopping, blanching, mixing, and tasting,” explains Tammy.

After the salsa is made and approved, Tammy’s work begins. And despite John’s 12-hour efforts, a significant amount of work is required to get to the finished product. Tammy mixes everything in food grade containers to ensure consistency and lets them sit overnight. The next day the canning begins, and while Tammy has the capability to do both water bath and pressure canning, most of what she does is water bath. The water bath process includes properly preparing–washing, sterilizing, and warming–the jars and lids; warming the product to room temperature; releasing any air bubbles prior to sealing; application of lids and rings; immersion in warm bath; cooling, testing for proper seal; and finally, storing.

It’s certainly a labor of love. And Tammy wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My husband and I are committed to incorporating our hobbies. We believe that finding a way to do what we love, and to do it together builds a strong relationship,” says Tammy.

The Wards are looking forward to this weekend’s Fair, but also what might be ahead. Given the overwhelming positive response Tammy has had selling some of what they’ve produced at Local Soul and among friends who’ve sampled it (including this writer!), she is considering selling directly out of her house.

Both from the judges on Sunday as well as from the marketplace, the future is undoubtedly delicious for this Wilton-grown business.

For more information about the upcoming Cannon Grange Agriculture Fair, visit the 2018 Fair Book online and read last week’s article in GOOD Morning Wilton.