Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pepper Conference Special Report, Touring the Fields

Special correspondent Susan Bennett continues her report from the International Pepper Conference.

A lovely day yesterday in the chile fields...first the research fields of the NM State University agriculture dept. ...and the chile pepper institute...wonderful colors, sizes and shapes of chiles...including the bhut jolokia, the hottest one in the world, originating from interesting arboretum, other experimental fields. People examining every row and type.

Then to the university research fields, with more chile fields, pecan trees, various types harvesting machines, hoop houses (PVC, wood and woven plastic screening that make simple greenhouses...they grow cow peas (black eyed peas)) in them in the heat of the summer...using the plants for animal feed, and cooler crops like lettuce and spinach in the winter, heating them in winter with 50 gallon steel drums painted black. These green houses are part of their extension education program for other areas of the state, to help growers extend the growing season.

Then fresh chile roasting and tasting, and green chile cheese burgers, grilled under the pecan trees...amazing...and wonderful...and more research project posters of young students from the ASSURED program, which has had a 9 year grant to work with children of migrant workers to teach them about agricultural science at NMSU, have them do research projects, and many go on to study other things (providing mentoring and education they likely would not have had before).

Met folks from even more countries during the day's events...Serbia, Kazakhstan (I believe) via Jordan, Columbia, folks from more areas of Mexico...and of course met more folks from all over the US...

Then the attendees divided into three tours, one to Hatch and to visit growers; on to red chile processing places (the new crop is not yet in, for another 2 weeks) and the "green" tour to Deming, where they are in high harvesting and processing season.

Toured Border Food, the biggest green chile processor in the US. Had to follow FDA regulations, just like the workers, and no open toed shoes, no jewelry, wore hair nets (even the guys, plus beard nets as needed) and helmets and used ear plugs. Washed hands as we entered...many of us started coughing almost immediately from the chile in the air...and were given masks to wear.

Outside there were large plastic bins of chile everywhere; fork lifts everywhere, moving chiles to the initial processing areas, with fast moving ramps to load the fresh green into big steamers, to remove skin, then to other parts of the process and into the plant for the workers to sort, package, etc...amazing and so many chiles it was mind boggling...

After "recovery" from the delicious smelling chile fumes, we got back on the bus, and were off to visit a grower who uses the drip irrigation system, which is more cost effective, efficient, cleaner and using less water than old irrigation techniques...beautiful chile and other crops there...then to another grower, a big family business, who sells and roasts chiles on premises, sells local onions and all kinds of melons; and they treated us to mixed melon salad and green chile stew tasting under the pecans, with seating on hay bales...wonderful!...and the chile stew was mostly chiles...made by the proprietor's wife, four varieties...all different flavor fave was the San Isidro hot, which was a bit sweet as well...

Then, back on the bus to Las Cruces, where our animated host gave out stuffed red chile toys, and DVD's of chile recipes, etc and had us laughing all the way back...even past the giant metal roadrunner next to the highway west of town. An indoor evening barbeque dinner and NM wine, discussion, talk with some NMSU professors, a seed seller who moved with his wife from England to the Midwest.

All in a all, a memorable conference...good fun, friendly and interesting folks from all over, great hospitality from NMSU AG Dept and Chile Institute, growers, processors, good food, and very interesting info on various aspect of the incredible world wide varieties of chile, and sweet peppers, and the challenges of pepper agriculture...and for me, the beauty of the chile fields that drew me here in the first place, still dazzles!

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