Pluck a peck of peppers (or pumpkins or apples) - Albuquerque Journal

Pluck a peck of peppers (or pumpkins or apples)

Taylor Gonzales and her 10-year-old son Sullivan Gonzales pick green chile at Big Jim Farms on Sept. 15. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

As most any native New Mexican can attest, there’s nothing quite like the smell of roasted green chile.

As summer transitions to the fall in the state, it’s simply an institution for many residents to restock on the Land of Enchantment’s official state vegetable. Another tradition that’s gaining momentum is the U-pick phenomenon, which allows visitors at various farms and orchards to select their own crops, from green chile to apples to pumpkins – and more. Here is a look at some of those aforementioned U-pick options for the fall season.

While it’s relatively easy to secure a yearly supply at a local farmer’s market, grocery store or roadside stand, there’s something especially satisfying about picking a basket of green chile yourself. Big Jim Farms, located in the Village of Los Ranchos, has been growing green chile for more than 100 years, but it’s only been the past five years that the farm has offered the U-pick option with its signature crop.

“It’s an experience,” said Chantelle Wagner, who is the daughter of owner Jim Wagner, “There is no other U-pick farm for green chile anywhere. We’re the only ones. We’re also organically grown, so we don’t use any sprays or pesticides.

“You’re guaranteed to get the biggest, best chile because you’re going through the fields and picking the very best ones that you want. So you can fill your basket versus getting something from the store that’s usually smaller chiles.”

There’s no entry fee to explore the entirety of the nine-acre property and baskets are provided for the picking. A full basket of green chile is $30, while a half runs $20. Big Jim Farms is open every day from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. through Nov. 1, and families can make a day of chile picking, with designated play areas for children, educational stations and a petting zoo. On occasion, live music and food trucks are also present.

“We just like to give families that experience,” Wagner said. “It’s really nice growing up in the farm and in that lifestyle, being able to go in the fields and picking something and eating it straight from the plant. We really wanted to give that to the community. We wanted to provide that therapeutic value as well and the connection to our lands, New Mexico, our heritage, our culture. It’s just a direct tie to everything in who we are.”

Another popular seasonal U-pick option is available at Nichols Ranch & Orchards in La Luz, where the property boasts approximately 3,000 apple trees on 20 acres. Just as with green chile, there is no entry fee, and pickers will pay $2 per pound for a selection of apples that includes the likes of gala, golden supreme, honeycrisp, Fuji, and red and yellow delicious.

“It’s good just to be outdoors and have some really pretty views,” said R.B. Nichols, the son of ranch owners Bob and Sue Nichols. “But I think the appeal is seeing where your food comes from. You can see it actually growing on the tree and experience being at that tree and knowing that’s where your apple came from.”

Located in the Sacramento Mountains at an elevation of 6,800 feet, the orchard offers views of the Tularosa Basin and White Sands National Park in addition to a plethora of fresh apples. Nichols does recommend that pickers come adequately prepared for at least a moderate amount of exertion.

“You need to wear shoes that are comfortable to walk in. You’ve got to walk a quarter to a half mile full trip (for) picking,” he said. “It is uphill for part of it. Definitely bring water and prepare to get a little exercise.”

Over the course of a season, Nichols estimates that 40,000 pounds of apples are moved out of the orchard.

“You can fill your bucket literally in less than five minutes. It’s just the walk to the trees. Once you get to the trees, you have a lot of apples in front of you,” he said.

As Halloween approaches, heading out to a pumpkin patch can help one get in the spirit of the season. Both Big Jim Farms and Nichols Ranch & Orchards are among a multitude of options in the state that allow a chance to pick your own pumpkin.

At Big Jim’s, visitors can come out for the entire month of October and pick their pumpkin from the plant. All of the entertainment amenities available during green chile picking season are present, as well.

Nichols Ranch, meanwhile, offers access during the final two weekends of October, and places pumpkins from various New Mexican farmers throughout the orchard rather than growing their own. Prices tend to vary based on the size of the pumpkin.

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