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Chile pioneer honored

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Fabián García, a Mexican immigrant whose pioneering research at New Mexico State University helped influence agriculture nationwide, will be inducted into the National Agricultural Center’s Hall of Fame in Kansas, joining the ranks of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Eli Whitney, among other notable contributors to agriculture. (Courtesy of New Mexico State University Library, Archives And Special Collections)

LAS CRUCES – Fabián García, a pioneer in chile research, is the first New Mexican and Hispanic to be inducted into the National Agricultural Center’s Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of innovators in agriculture including presidents Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

García’s groundbreaking work in horticulture in the early 1900s laid the foundation for New Mexico’s chile pepper industry. In 1921 he released the “New Mexico 9” the first chile with a dependable pod size and heat that is the genetic precursor of all New Mexico chiles. He also introduced the grano onion breed key for New Mexico’s commercial onion production, and planted some of the first pecan trees in the Mesilla Valley, now the state’s top pecan producing region. He’s also credited with developing modern irrigated agriculture in New Mexico.

García’s accomplishments are remarkable by any measure but even more impressive because of his humble beginnings. Born in 1871 in Chihuahua, Mexico, he was orphaned early in life and raised by his grandmother who moved with him to the Mimbres Valley when García was 2 years old. She worked as a maid and was later hired by the Casad family in what is now Old Mesilla. The family provided García with a tutor and later sent him to what was known as Las Cruces College. In 1894 García was in the first graduating class of New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, now NMSU.

In 1914 he became the first director of the NMSU agricultural experiment station and the first Hispanic in the nation to lead a land-grant agricultural research station.

Chris Duran of Taos prepares to roast some extra-hot green chiles at a stand he and his family run in the parking lot of a Big Lots store on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“His ideas in breeding and growing better plants that people would use for a more reliable, sustainable and tastier food supply, transformed agriculture in New Mexico, the country and the world,” NMSU President John Floros said.

García’s impact at NMSU went beyond research. Later in life he helped Mexican-American students by providing them rooms at the horticulture farm while they attended school. Despite his accomplishments, he faced discrimination and would remind students they should be proud of their heritage.

“Don’t be ashamed to say you’re Mexican. I came from Mexico and I’m proud of it,” he would tell students, according to historians.

“His passion for education changed numerous student lives, which in turn contributed hugely in making life better for everyone,” said Floros.

García married Julieta Amador, a member of a prominent Mesilla Valley family, in 1907. Their son Jose died as an infant. After his death in 1948 García left his entire estate to NMSU to help fund a dormitory and provide scholarships for Mexican-American students because “I want to help poor boys, for I know their hardships,” according to historical documents.

Today at NMSU, a 45-acre research station, the largest dormitory on campus, the faculty-senate hall, and NMSU Center for Academic Advising and Student Support are all named for García.

Jim Lytle, owner of Solar Farms, holds green chile from his fields located in Salem, New Mexico. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“García devoted his life to agricultural science, and his work changed the face of New Mexico agriculture, and that of a nation,” said Paul Bosland, former Regents Professor of Horticulture, Distinguished Achievement Professor and Chile Pepper Institute director.

Bosland has long been an advocate for ensuring García’s historic contributions are not forgotten. Photos of “the elegant man and born gentleman” as Bosland refers to García are prominently displayed at the institute along with information about the chile pioneer.

“I had never heard his name until I walked in here,” said Megan Romero, a student working at the institute.

“I didn’t learn this in New Mexico History and I should have,” said Romero, a senior from Albuquerque studying Animal Sciences at NMSU.

New Mexico’s governor agrees.

“Fabián García is a name more New Mexicans should know,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “The impact he made on agriculture in this state and beyond is a legacy that endures,” the governor said.

NMSU announced García would be inducted into the National Agricultural Center Hall of Fame during Hispanic Heritage month. The ceremony is scheduled for next year in Kansas.

Dean Rolando Flores of the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences called García a role model for students of all ethnicities but also a “unique hero” who is a testimony to the large number of “Hispanic contributions to this great country.”

“Fabián García’s induction into the National Agricultural Hall of Fame should make the entire state of New Mexico proud,” said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte, who nominated García. “With his chile pepper research and development, he greatly influenced agriculture – not only in New Mexico – but in the entire country,” Witte said.

García joins giants in agriculture Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin; John Deere, who invented the first commercially successful steel plow; and scientist Isaac Newton among others in the National Agricultural Center’s Hall of Fame in Kansas.