Masked bandits, giant pumpkins and the hottest pepper in the world at the Laurel Farmers Market

By: 
CHRIS MCCONNELL
Outlook staff writer
Courtesy photo. Leslyn Johnson, who owns Laurel Farmers Market south of Laurel with her husband Greg, is seen with her two raccoon-hunting dogs Roxy and Sister.
Courtesy photo. Leslyn Johnson, who owns Laurel Farmers Market south of Laurel with her husband Greg, is seen with her two raccoon-hunting dogs Roxy and Sister.

When people think of bandits, images of highway robbers in masks are sure to come to mind, but Laurel Farmers Market farm faces an ongoing invasion from a bandit that can’t take off its mask: the raccoon.
Each year between 60-100 of the critters descend on the farm to feast on sweet corn and chickens.
Laurel Farmers Market owners Leslyn and Greg Johnsonn have two dogs that patrol the property but the raccoons aren’t easily scared and some have to be “relocated.”
Greg said the critters mostly eat their corn and chickens, leaving the other vegetables alone.
The Johnson’s first started growing pumpkins on a nearby property in 1984 and have been at their current location since 1988.
They are on 70 acres with 30 used for the enormous garden.
Leslyn, a retired elementary school teacher said, “We have always had a big garden and started in pumpkins. This year we got seeds for the ‘Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin from a Miles City man who grew an 800 pound one.” She said they planted the seeds two weeks ago.
Besides pumpkins and corn, the Johnson’s grow, “10-ish” varieties of potatoes, eight varieties of green beans, five varieties of sweet potatoes, 15 varieties of tomatoes, “three or four” varieties of cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts, egg plant, onions, apples, plums and 10 varieties of peppers.
One of the peppers they grow is called by the ominous but appropriate name: The Carolina Reaper.
It is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest pepper in the world with an average Scoville Heat Index of 1.5 million, but can peak at 2.2 million.
The Habanero pepper is a “mere” 100,000-350,000 Scoville units, a Jalapeño is 2,500-8,000 and a Peperonicini 100-500.
A testimony from a 2014 Bon Appétit magazine article reads: “It took me 21.85 seconds to consume three Carolina Reapers...it took me approximately 14 hours to recover from the aftermath.”
“We make a salt out of it and add it to eggs and chili,” Leslyn said.
It’s the Johnson’s full-time job and they run the farm on a skeleton crew, using only two helpers.
“We had a college intern a couple of years ago,” Leslyn said, but it’s mostly just the two of them.
Laurel Farmers Market sells their fresh veggies at 2505 Highway 12 South, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Now if they could only surround their farm with a sweet corn/Carolina Reaper hybrid, maybe the masked bandits would “stay off their lawn.”

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