Gardening can make you feel more relaxed and peaceful. Focusing your attention on the immediate and physical tasks of gardening can reduce negative thoughts and feelings and help keep you in the present moment. Spending time outside around plants or having a variety indoors can ease stress for many people. That is why after a tour in Afghanistan, Marine veteran Al Winschel turned to gardening as a therapeutic way to relax from the stress of post-military service.
In 2010, Winschel settled back into his hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi, ready to transition into civilian life, and began his gardening adventure. At first, Winschel gardened Mississippi’s traditional backyard summer favorites in containers: cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, and more.
“Gardening gave me something to focus on and eliminated unwanted distractions,” explained Winschel. “I started focusing on what I needed to do to make the garden produce better, and a successful harvest is a rewarding experience.”
That summer, his aunt gifted him some cayenne peppers, inspiring him to make homemade hot sauce.
“I had never made hot sauce before but decided to try it,” Winschel said. “I winged the recipe, so the first batch was awful,” laughed Winschel. “But the second batch was popular enough with friends and family that I wanted to keep trying and made more.”
Winschel is no longer growing a variety of summer vegetables.
“Now, 99.9% of my garden is peppers,” shared Winschel. “I grow jalapeños, habanero, cayenne, tabasco, and ghost peppers, to name a few.”
And while Mississippi gardeners have the opportunity to produce vegetables almost year-round. Winschel spends the fall and winter prepping beds and making sauce, preparing to plant in the spring and summer.
Winschel’s brother’s enthusiasm for the sauce encouraged him to start the actual business. Winschel wanted to name it Fortress City Sauces, but his wife nixed that idea. Instead, she served up the name of Southern Siege Sauce Company.
“I liked it, she liked it, so here we are,” said Winschel. The logo also gives a node to Vicksburg’s historical architectural designs.
Winschel wanted a product that accentuated a dish and offered more than just heat. Southern Siege offers sauces you can’t find on the typical grocery store shelf. The small-batch mixes include locally sourced produce like onions, tomatoes, persimmons, and purple carrots, providing a unique depth of flavor for even the most basic dishes and BBQs. When you ask Winschel what’s his favorite sauce, he will tell you it depends on what he is eating.
“If I’m eating jambalaya, I prefer the Special Harvest, which is habanero based. Swamp Water, which is roasted garlic jalapeño, goes great on fish. The Jalapeño Persimmon is great to marinate chicken, keeps it juicy with spice and a zing.”
Customers can find Southern Siege Sauce Company’s products on its social media pages. Winschel started the Facebook and Instagram pages to connect with customers and local farmers to keep them up-to-date on inventory and help them find the sauces. And people worldwide, including rave reviews from Australia, are already finding it and enjoying the products. While a website is in the works for the future, interested customers can connect and order directly with Winschel through his social media apps.
What started as a distraction hobby has given Marine veteran Al Winschel a sense of purpose and connection to his local community. Both are essential ingredients all veterans need for a successful transition back home. You are part of the solution when you choose to support locally owned, veteran small businesses.