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Green chile season in full swing

Hannah Grover
hgrover@daily-times.com

AZTEC — Days before the start of the annual green chile festival, the scent of roasting chiles greeted visitors at the gates of Sutherland Farms today.

Sutherland Farms owner Allen Sutherland looks over his green chile field Tuesday at his farm  in Aztec.

Bobby Sutherland roasted chiles as about half a dozen customers awaited their bushels of New Mexico's signature crop.

The annual green chile festival starts Saturday and continues Sunday at Sutherland Farms, 745 County Road 2900. The chile festival is the family-owned farm's biggest weekend as people come from all over the Four Corners region to buy the locally grown green chile.

Sutherland Farms began harvesting the fruit at the beginning of August. The Sutherlands are expecting a large crop this year, which is a welcome development, following struggles during last year's harvest.

Right before the Sutherlands started to harvest the chile last year, more than 3 million gallons of toxic-laden wastewater was released into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo.

The irrigation ditches off the Animas River that provide water to Sutherland Farms were closed for two weeks, leaving the family farm without the ability to irrigate. Trucks carrying tanks of water helped the Sutherlands, but their plants still suffered.

Sutherland Farms owner Allen Sutherland displays one of his green chile plants Tuesday at his farm in Aztec.

This year, the weather has been working in the chile farmers' favor.

"It's been great," Sutherland said. "It's been a good year."

Allen Sutherland, Bobby Sutherland's father, said the farm has about 10 acres planted with more than 100,000 chile plants. The Sutherlands and their employees will be picking the chile until the first major frost.

While the Aztec-based farm can't grow the large chile plants seen in southern New Mexico, its smaller plants are loaded with green and red chiles.

"(Southern New Mexico farmers) all brag on their chile, but I think ours are just as good," Allen Sutherland said.

He said the Sutherland Farms secret to good chile is freshness. When training employees to pick chile, the Sutherlands have simple directions.

Sutherland Farms workers Damion Dryer, left, and Chris Reid pack roasted green chile Tuesday at the farm in Aztec.

"Don't be in a hurry," Allen Sutherland said. "Pick the best chile."

While the farm has been stocking up on chile for this weekend's rush, Allen Sutherland said most of the chile throughout the season is picked and roasted within a couple of hours.

That has helped the farm gain a loyal following, which can lead to long wait times during the green chile festival. The Sutherlands encourage people to be patient during the festival, as it can take between 30 and 45 minutes for people to get their chiles roasted. Bobby Sutherland said people who arrive early in the day or toward the end of the day tend to have a shorter wait time. Other people choose to buy their chiles earlier in the week and spend the festival enjoying the live music, children's activities and vendors.

While the Sutherlands used to see people ordering a bushel or half a bushel, customers now typically order larger amounts. Allen Sutherland attributes this to the customers being familiar with the chile.

Allen Sutherland talks about growing green chile Tuesday at Sutherland Farms in Aztec.

"They know the chile, and they know what they want," Allen Sutherland said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

If you go

What: Green chile festival

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Sutherland Farms, 745 County Road 2900

Cost: Free

More info: sutherlandfarms.net