News Release Archive

A second-year student of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College is
the winner of the 1997 Youth Entrepreneurship Skills (YES)
Entrepreneur Award for her efforts in growing a successful
organic pepper business.

Beckie Stephens of Brookfield, Colchester Co., will receive the
award and accompanying $1,000 scholarship from Nova Scotia
Economic Development and Tourism at the Young Entrepreneurs Going
Places 1997 banquet tonight (Friday) in Sydney.

Ms. Stephens spotted the opportunity and started her business
last year as she was looking for a summer job. Several grocers
and restaurant chefs had mentioned that they were unable to find
quality peppers; the only available supply was from Mexico or
Spain, and buyers often had to throw away three out of five

"I planned to provide top-quality organically grown produce that
would have a shelf life of up to several weeks," she said.

A professor at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College directed her
attention to the YES program run by Economic Development and
Tourism and that helped her start the business. A loan paid for
some supplies, a greenhouse and a truck to transport produce to
market -- it gave her the chance to convert an opportunity into a

Ms. Stephens said she knew it wasn't going to be easy. Peppers
grown in south and central America are perennials and come from
hardy bushes. Nova Scotia's climate will only support annuals.

"The plants are more flimsy. They need a lot of care and require
a longer growing season," explained Ms. Stephens.

She had to learn fast and overcome problems such as wind and sun
damage to the plants and insect infestations. Cutworms were a
constant problem. The caterpillar-like creatures break the plant
off at the stem's base; getting rid of them had to be done by
hand. "And they bite!" said Ms. Stephens, laughing.

The peppers were harvested in October, so to pay off her loan on
time and to keep some cashflow, Ms. Stephens also grew some
herbs, cucumbers, zucchinis and other vegetables. These helped
tide her over until the peppers ripened.

She learned another lesson here. "Timing is crucial. I'll be
harvesting earlier this year."

She was successful enough to employ another worker and this year
plans to hire at least three. She plans to apply for a second YES
loan, this time for equipment to improve productivity.

"The YES experience was invaluable. I learned some lessons in
bookkeeping, too. I'll be keeping track a lot better this year
because that means more profit."

Beckie Stephens knows she has high expectations. After a winter
of making soil adjustments and buying more pots, she's fired up
for a new season. In fact, for her, YES has meant more than a
summer job. This is something she wants to do for life.

"This is big time. I know it will be a lifetime endeavor. Organic
growing is becoming popular. There are specialty stores in
Halifax and I want to become a big supplier for them."

She's acting on those aspirations too. "I have my eye on 16 acres
of perfect land, I'm taking organic growing courses at the
agriculture college and I'm visiting other organic growers."

"Beckie has identified a niche market and is literally growing
her own business," said Richie Mann, minister of economic
development and tourism. "It's something more and more young
entrepreneurs are doing in Nova Scotia and we're proud to partner
with Royal Bank to give them their first chance through the YES

The YES award is the second this year for Ms. Stephens. In
February, she won a Young Entrepreneur Award of Merit from
Economic Development and Tourism. But for her, the real reward is
her own business, with prospects of a bright future.


Contact: Steve Fairbairn
         Economic Development and Tourism

trp                     May 2, 1997 - 1 p.m.