Following a family tradition, Hayden Statz, a member of the Highland Prairie 4-H in Dodge County, earned a special merit award for the green peppers he grew in his 4-H project garden.
It's not surprising this fourth-grader should be interested in gardening. His passion stems from generations of enthusiasm for gardening — particularly for raising the particular variety of pepper that earned him the special award.
Hayden lives next door to his grandfather, Don Gubin, who provides lots of help and advice. Gubin's late wife, Margaret, enthusiastically raised about 500 pepper plants each year in the 2-acre garden where all of the Gubin children grew up working.
Hayden's mother, Dina (Gubin) Statz, said it was exciting to see her son earn a merit award for his grandma's pepper.
She said her mother saved seeds each year for the following year. Dina remembers paper plates full of seeds drying on top of their refrigerator. Only the biggest and the best of the year's produce would be selected to supply the seeds for the next growing season.
"Mom was always very particular about the seeds she saved," Dina said. "The pepper that Hayden entered at the fair is from a particular pepper plant that was very special to our family.
"It's a sweet pepper, never bitter, and it turns burgundy and then a deep red, and that's when it tastes best."
According to Dina, the seed for this pepper was carried to America from Hungary by her dad's grandmother. In her enthusiasm for gardening, Margaret maintained the variety for 60 years.
When Margaret was diagnosed with colon cancer, her daughters wanted to find something that would be a legacy to their mom and her passion for gardening. They contacted Jung Seed Company in Randolph to inquire about the possibility of preserving the pepper seed. They received help from Leanne Gensch who was a longtime family friend and was familiar with this unique pepper.
"We met Gubins through 4-H, and my mother was one of the people privileged to have Margaret share some seed with her," Gensch says. "Growing up I knew it as Margaret's Pepper."
After visiting with Margaret's daughters, Gensch obtained some seed and began producing the seed at Jung's with the purpose of offering it in their gardening catalog. Under normal circumstances, the company would have contracted with someone to raise the seed, but because it was so special to Gensch, she chose to produce it herself.
While the seed was being produced, Margaret Gubin lost her battle with cancer and passed away in 2005. Two years later, Margaret's Pepper was featured on the front cover of Jung Seed Company's 100th anniversary seed catalog.
The catalog describes the seed as, "the sweetest, biggest, most beautiful sweet pepper you'll ever grow. The fruits are huge, about 7 inches long, with color that transitions from green to orange to bright red and finally to rich burgundy."
In honor of Margaret and her own battle with cancer, the company donated part of the money from the pepper seed sold to cancer research.
Dina said Hayden really enjoys working with his 78-year-old grandpa in the garden, carrying on the family tradition. His grandpa also helps him with his other projects including raising pigs and chickens.
Hayden, who also earned blue ribbons at the fair on his pigs and chickens, said, "Grandpa raised barley this year for the pigs and chickens. He only had a few rows, and he harvested it with an antique combine."
Don helps his grandson raise the homebred chickens, hatching them in an incubator in a shed he built for that purpose.
"He insulated the shed so we can start hatching the chickens earlier and have them big enough for the fair," Hayden said. "We're one of only a few doing this."