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Hatch chile farmers unite to fight for certification mark

apl070811b/ASECTION/07.08.11/Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal_Jim Lytle, , owner of Solar Farms  holds  green chile from his fields located in Salem, NM, on Friday July 8, 2011. Lytle and many Southern New Mexico farmers are expecting a below average harvest this year due to the drought affecting the state.

A group of Hatch chile farmers is banding together to seek a certification mark for the well-loved product grown in southern New Mexico. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS CRUCES – The chile wars are heating up, and Hatch Valley farmers are banding together to protect the heritage of a homegrown, must-have food.

The Hatch Chile Association is actively pursuing an action with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, said Duane Gillis, president of the board and a fourth-generation Hatch chile farmer. The case, originally filed in 2012, also includes the company El Encanto, which does business as Bueno Foods.

At issue is use of the Hatch brand by the Hatch Chile Co., a Georgia-based company.

The local growers would like to see farmers in the Hatch Valley approved as a group to gain rights to a certification mark, which would essentially require marketers to certify that chile labeled as Hatch is grown within the Hatch Valley.

“We’re in a waiting game right now,” Gillis said. “We’re waiting for the proceedings of the trademark board on the certification mark. We just feel like the main goal is to defend fourth- and fifth-generation farmers in the valley. We’re very proud of our legacy and protecting it, and we should prevent people from registering Hatch as a trademark.”

While the Hatch Chile Co. holds the trademark for its yellow cans of processed chile, the farmers feel the Hatch brand should apply only to chile grown in the valley.

David Gregory, senior vice president for sales and marketing for Hatch Chile Co., said the ongoing dispute was not impeding the company’s day-to-day operations.

“We continue to grow our sales and expand distribution for our Hatch product line while remaining profitable,” he said.

He also expressed concerns that the recently formed Hatch Chile Association may not represent all growers in the valley and is a continuation of the 2013 actions initiated by competitor Bueno Foods.

“There are six green chile growers that are part of the newly formed HCA, but it is unclear the amount of acreage that is represented by these growers and the legitimacy of the association as a representative organization for all Hatch Valley green chile growers,” he said.

Supporters say the certification mark would give consumers an easy way to know that the products they are buying are made with authentic green chile grown in the Hatch Valley. It would also give grocers and food processors the ability to display that they source only authentic chile, and aren’t interested in misleading their customers as to the origin of their chile and chile products.

“Farmers have been growing chile here in the Hatch Valley for four-plus generations and, as everyone knows, Hatch chile is famous the world over,” said Preston Mitchell, a member of the Hatch Chile Association board. “We are incredibly blessed to be a part of the history and heritage of the valley and think consumers deserve to be able to tell if the chile they are eating is really grown here in the valley.”

Mitchell said the association, as a “certifying body,” aims to “protect and defend the Hatch name.”

“While we would love it if everyone using the Hatch name bought their chile here in the valley, this isn’t always the case,” he said.

Mitchell said the association cannot comment on whether the Hatch Chile Co. buys chile from the valley.

He said a simple licensing agreement is all that’s needed to use a certification mark with a product containing chiles from the southern New Mexico region.

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