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“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
If that phrase gets you singing a jingle and thinking of red and green, I’ve done my job today.
Except, I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about New Mexico red and green.
Some of the early harvest is already out, and soon every street corner in southern New Mexico will have that intoxicating aroma of green chiles roasting on an open fire.
Many regions have specialty foods and beverages unique to their area or ethnic heritage. Philadelphia has its cheesesteaks. Mississippi has its “tamales,” ones much different from ours. New England has its clam chowder. Kansas City has its barbecue. Alaska has its king crab. Hawaii has its ono fish (and Spam). Kentucky has its bourbon. The Rocky Mountains have, well, their oysters.
Perhaps nowhere else, though, are people as passionate about their products as New Mexicans are about their chile.
Last week, I got a side-by-side comparison of roasted Anaheim chiles and New Mexico chiles. I should correct myself; it was no comparison. The New Mexico chiles burst with complex flavors and heat, while the Anaheim was about as bland as a green bell pepper.
Many of you know Coloradoans who dare to call their native lifeless green growths “chiles.” They even act proud of them. Perhaps the cold weather up there has dulled their tastebuds.
Our green chile is the best, we know.
However, it is just one element of the vital New Mexico industry of agriculture.
The Land of Enchantment creates $3 billion annually in agriculture revenues, and 12 percent comes from Doña Ana County alone. Because of its agricultural diversity, our county ranks first in the state for crop value. Just drive around a bit and you’ll see that diversity: dairies down south, green chile in Hatch, corn, alfalfa, pecans all around. There are so many onions here you’ll see them on the highway, as they have a tendency to roll off the back of trucks.
There are 2,100 farms in Doña Ana County, covering 660,000 acres.
In America, with food readily available, it’s frighteningly easy to take agriculture for granted. But we do so at our own peril. Every farmer and rancher is one devastating event away from a lost season.
Whether by weather, pests, vandals, plant diseases, rules and regulations, or some other outside effect, agriculture is constantly threatened. It’s also affected by forces thousands of miles away, which can impact prices on equipment, feed and materials.
The global pandemic, combined with restricted border crossings, have put a huge dent in the temporary migrant workers our farms have historically relied on.
The first time I made red enchiladas from scratch, it dawned on me how native that meal is.
While not all the ingredients are always from New Mexico, they certainly could be. Tortillas made from New Mexico corn. Cheese made from New Mexico cows. New Mexico red chile. New Mexico onions. And on top, an egg from a New Mexico chicken.
A meal like that reminds you how connected we are to the place we live.
When you do your shopping, you have options. You can buy pistachios made in California. You can also buy pistachios made in New Mexico. You can buy pecans in a can from Planters. Or you can buy pecans that might have recently been hanging from a tree in Doña Ana County. You can buy mass produced beer pretty cheaply. Or you can spend an extra buck or three and get a six-pack brewed in New Mexico.
If you’re like me, you love the Land of Enchantment. So, let’s make a point of partaking of a few more products that actually come from our land.