AZTEC — The owners of Sutherland Farms were named Farm Family of the Year at the 2012 New Mexico State Fair - honoring the Aztec-area purveyors of green chile, pumpkins and kid-friendly agricultural tourism.

Allen and D'rese Sutherland met Gov. Susana Martinez and were awarded a plaque Friday in a public ceremony.

The couple started Sutherland Farms in 1993 after moving from Estancia Valley, south of Albuquerque. They initially shipped most of the produce from their farm north of Aztec to Albuquerque and elsewhere.

The Sutherlands found local customers at farmers markets. Soon, eager locals began coming to the farm directly. The Sutherlands set out a produce stand in the late 1990s, and increasingly since then, most of their business comes from visitors.

"This was actually just an evolution," Allen Sutherland said. "It's been growing ever since. We just kind of rolled with it."

Sutherland Farms grows about nine acres of pumpkins and 16 acres of sweet corn, along with produce such as eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes. The farm has a barn out of which it does a bustling retail business, selling decorative chile ristras, snacks, drinks and other items. But green chile is the farm's best-selling product.

Allen Sutherland at first wasn't sure he could compete with Hatch green chile from southern New Mexico. It took years to learn how to grow the plant, he said.

Now, "chile is our best crop," he said.

Chile season is giving way to pumpkins, but on Monday the telltale crackle of roasting chile indicated it isn't over just yet.


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Sutherland Farms is selling red chile, the more mature version of green chile. They are the same plant.

Most years, the chile doesn't last long enough to become red. However, this year the chile matured more quickly than usual, a condition Allen attributed to the hot, dry summer.

"We've sold more red in the last five days than we have in the last 15 years," he said. "And it's just because it's there."

Saturday marks the beginning of Pumpkin Fest, when Sutherland Farms turns into a fall-flavored endeavor, offering hay rides, a corn maze and a huge variety of pumpkins for sale. School groups will trickle in beginning today. Each year Sutherland Farms brings in between 7,000 and 9,000 schoolchildren from New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.

The Sutherlands have two adult children: Robert, a teacher at Aztec's Koogler Middle School; and Amanda, a special education administrator in Estancia. They often help out at the farm - as do their five grandchildren.

"Allen and D'rese and their family are perfect examples of the people who make up the backbone of New Mexico agriculture," state Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte said. "Through hard work over the decades, they've grown wholesome food and they've opened up their farm to share that rich experience with others."

It's not clear what will happen to the 80-acre farm when Allen and D'rese retire. "We're going to retire someday, but we're not sure - probably at least five more years," Allen said.

Sutherland Farms has a rotating cast of about 12 employees, and a number of neighbors who help out seasonally. Allen acknowledged that the model of the small family farm is dwindling.

"There are not many of them," he said. "Most of them are gone."

Allen said he values the independence of farming, and couldn't see himself doing anything else.

"A lot of people have told me I could never work for anybody and I never have, so I don't know what it'd be like," he said. "I do have a boss - my wife - but we get along good."