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It’s chile time in NM again


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Once again, that sweet, pungent smell is beginning to fill the air as the green chile harvest ramps up and hundreds of roasters from Santa Fe to Las Cruces fire up.

Hatch-area chile farmer Scott Adams said he began harvesting in earnest July 28 – among the first growers to do so.

“The crop is beautiful now,” he said.

This year’s crop seems to be right on schedule, with prices about the same as last year and few disease problems.

Farmers Market’s two locations in Albuquerque – at 10020 Coors Bypass NW and 10110 Snowheights NE – are roasting 35-pound sacks for $29.99, according to a spokesman who said the price is always a bit higher early in the season.

Ken DeWees, owner of Albuquerque’s Chile Traditions, received his first shipment from Hatch last week – right within the usual time frame. He started roasting Saturday at his stand near Wyoming and Montgomery, and said he normally sells about 500 bags a week.

“It’s very, very good,” said DeWees, in his 24th year operating the stand. “There’s a lot of it right now – unless the rain messes us up.”

DeWees sells chile across the heat spectrum at $34.95 for a 38- to 40-pound sack. He offers roasting on sack purchases for free. He said the price is the same as last year, although he raised it by $2 in 2013.

He said he’s still waiting for his shipment of the real tongue-burners – the extra-hot and triple-X varieties – but should have those available by Saturday. While they’re not his biggest sellers, they do have a significant fan base. He used to just sell them on a special-order basis but said demand prompted him to stock them regularly.

“There’s a lot of numb people out there, because that stuff is just unbelievably hot,” he said.

Michael Garcia works the chile roaster at The Fruit Basket ABQ, 6343 4th St NW in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. (Marla Brose/Journal)

Michael Garcia works the chile roaster at The Fruit Basket ABQ, 6343 Fourth St. NW in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. (Marla Brose/Journal)

The Fruit Basket – with two Albuquerque-area locations – also began sales and on-site roasting over the weekend, staff said.

Smith’s grocery stores started roasting Hatch green chile Wednesday at its stores in Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, White Rock and Taos. It will sell for $15.99 for a box, according to a company spokeswoman.

A box is about 25 pounds and costs a couple of dollars less than last year, another spokesman said.

Sichler Farms, meanwhile, announced on its Facebook page that it will open its chile store on San Mateo on Friday.

In all, 3 percent of the New Mexico green chile crop had been harvested through the start of last week, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s roughly on par with an average that shows about 4 percent has been harvested by this point over the past five years.

The quality of the state’s crop is good, said Stephanie Walker, Cooperative Extension vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University.

“It’s kicking off at its usual schedule – usually first week of August,” she said.

Walker said she has noticed some disease problems, though not severe. That could change, however, with stormy weather in the forecast. Heavy or prolonged rains can drench chile fields, prompting plant diseases that can hurt the crop.

Although farmers on the whole have struggled with an ongoing Rio Grande drought in Doña Ana County, commercial chile growers have gotten by relying on groundwater and pumps to grow the crop.

Green chile harvesting will continue through late October or the first severe frost – whichever happens first.

The Las Cruces Sun News contributed to this report