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‘Tis the season: The green has arrived

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The weather is just starting to cool, the school year is approaching and fall is around the corner. For New Mexicans, that means one thing: green chile.

Retailers around the city have pulled their roasters out of storage, set up tents and have begun roasting up New Mexico’s favorite crop.

Folks are already lining up — and from at least as far away as Georgia.

Randall Mahon of Woodstock, Ga., was busy Wednesday afternoon stuffing a suitcase full of the fresh crop at Chile Traditions in Albuquerque. He said he planned to fly home with 120 pounds to sell at his local farmers market.

“They go crazy,” Mahon said of his customers.

Many roasters began last week, which is good news for Elaine Mitchell, co-owner of The Hatch Chile Store which grows and exports green chile. Though the chile season normally starts in mid-August, Mitchell said the company began shipping two weeks ago. However, its most popular pepper, the medium/hot Big Jim, won’t be ready for another week or two.

“This time of year is always very exciting,” said Mitchell, who ships to roasters all over the state and “ex-New Mexicans” who have moved.

New Mexico State extension vegetable specialist Stephanie Walker said despite recent heavy rain in Hatch and Las Cruces, growers say the “chile is hanging in there.”

Heavy rain can devastate fields by helping to spread chile wilt, but there’s no indication the fungal disease has affected crops this year any more than in the past.

The disease, first discovered in the 1920s in New Mexico, affects a few fields every year, but “growers have become very savvy and are able to pump the water out quickly to save their crop,” Walker said.

Roasters don’t seem concerned, and many of them are already operating a full capacity.

The Farmers Market on Eubank, The Fruit Basket on Fourth Street and Chile Traditions at Montgomery and Wyoming, among others, have all started roasting.

David Salazar, the son of Chile Traditions’ owner Ken Dewees and the manager heading up the roasting, said the business began roasting last week.

The cost of a 40-pound sack is $37.95 — a dollar more than last year because of an increase by the supplier. The chile specialty store gets its green chile from Hatch, where a local farmer is its sole supplier.

Salazar said this year comes with a big treat: Miss June peppers. The “meaty and spicy” pepper is similar to the Big Jim variety, but it packs the heat of Sandia peppers.

“Most people who like the heat have to get smaller peppers,” Salazar said. “Those are harder to peel. Miss June is large and easy to peel.”

Pat Romero, owner of The Fruit Basket, said he has been moving through 100 bags a day, at 40 pounds a piece.

“It’s been good. Every year is a hell of a year,” said Romero. “It’s really taking off now.”

Journal photographer Marla Brose contributed to this report.