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Heating up the weekend

The Hatch Chile Festival celebrates the harvest during Labor Day weekend. ( Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – As summer winds down, green chile lovers celebrate the harvest over Labor Day weekend at the Hatch Chile Festival.

There’s much to celebrate this year as the appetite for New Mexico chile continues to grow.

“It was a great year. We actually sold more chile year-to-date this year than we did last year,” said TJ Runyan, owner of Mesilla Valley Produce, which ships fresh green chile across the country.

This year, the harvest is a few weeks late because of lower temperatures in the spring and the curly top virus in some regions.

“The plants were a little behind and never really caught up,” said Runyan.

Weather conditions affected the crop across the state, according to New Mexico Chile Growers Association Executive Director Sonja Schroeder.

“In Lemitar, the hail, Deming was the wind storm in the spring, and then Hatch, from what I heard, the chile was just late coming to fruit because of the late spring,” Schroder said. “Portales was hit hard because they didn’t have a lot of water.”

In southern New Mexico, the mild and medium chiles were the most impacted, according to the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University.

“This year, they’re having a rough time with curly top,” said Miranda Cisneros, program coordinator for the Chile Pepper Institute.

The virus did not hinder growth of the hot and extra hot green chiles, according to Cisneros.

The Chile Pepper Institute’s teaching garden near the NMSU campus helps students learn about pests and diseases.

Researchers at NMSU also cultivate new varieties of peppers. This year’s new chiles are the NuMex LotaLutein, which is packed with more of the vitamin that promotes eye health, and the NuMex Sabroso.

“It’s very flavorful, and the cool thing about the Sabroso, it’s supposed to have an easy peel so it’s easier for production,” said Cisneros.

Over Labor Day weekend, chile lovers converge on Hatch to celebrate New Mexico’s iconic crop. As in past years, the Hatch Chile Festival includes a parade, live music and the crowning of this year’s chile queen.

“The festival has been handed down from generation to generation,” said Tina Cabrales, who is organizing the event with her sister Katy Lucero.

The sisters grew up helping their parents, who participated in the festival every year. “It’s 48 years. It’s one of the most popular festivals throughout the whole United States. It’s known all over the world,” Cabrales said.

Local residents remain the backbone of the festival.

“It’s all … volunteers. All the volunteers have full-time jobs, and try to do this and plan this,” Lucero said.

The festival attracts about 20,000 people every year, lured by the smell of fresh roasted chile and the chance to enjoy the final days of summer.

“The chile festival does a lot for our little village,” said Cabrales.

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