"Peppergate" shakes up gardening community amid mystery pepper harvest

Gardeners sowing confusion amid "peppergate"

WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. – There's a growing controversy in the gardening community. People are buying various pepper seeds and plants only to find out the plant is something different than the label. 

Online communities have dubbed this mystery "Peppergate" as cases have popped up all across the country.

"I've been gardening my entire life," said White Bear Lake gardener Erinn O'Keefe. "I try to grow veggies and flowers and potted plants, little bit of everything."

O'Keefe said this year she tried to make a salsa garden with jalapeños, onions and tomatoes. But the harvest is now sowing seeds of doubt.

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"We just got a surprise this year!" O'Keefe said.

Her jalapeño plant isn't looking spicy, let alone green.

"We've had a couple people suggest they're a sweet pepper, somebody said a candy cane bell pepper," she said.

The seed shake-up isn't just happening to O'Keefe in White Bear Lake. People across Minnesota and beyond are finding surprises in their gardens.

"The best we can guess right now is that it's a seed supplier issue," said Mother Earth Gardens assistant manager Kristi Fritsch-Churan.  


The northeast Minneapolis garden store said they've received a couple reports from customers who have bought jalapeño plants only for them to turn into something else. Most of their seeds come from local growers so they haven't been as impacted as larger stores, they said. Industry experts think it's a case of cross-pollination or mislabeling.

"Most likely mislabeling," Fritsch-Churan said.

With just four companies controlling the majority of the seed market, a mix-up at the top could cause widespread issues below.

"They are ending up being yellow, some people thought they were banana peppers, maybe yellow jalapeños, but just something different," she said.

Some find it disappointing, while others say it's a fun surprise.

"You work so hard at keeping a plant alive through the months and this growing season has been so weird, it's a little bit of a disappointment," O'Keefe said.

"Peppergate" proves there's never a dull moment in the gardening community.

"The online community has been very helpful in identifying a lot of people's mystery peppers. The support and offering each other produce and stuff like that, it's a great community," she said.

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It's not clear yet which exact companies are responsible for the mix-up.  

"I just say embrace it. It's quirky, it's fun, and hopefully it won't happen next year," Fritsch-Churan said.

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