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The Daily Times takes a look at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry's Great New Mexico Chile Taste Off award winning Navajo Pride Green Chiles. Sam Ribakoff, Farmington Daily Times

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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry is known for potatoes, corn and alfalfa, but it is starting to make its mark in a staple crop of New Mexico – chile.

NAPI started growing Anaheim chile three years ago. On Sept. 21, the crop received a boost in recognition when it won first place in the red mild category at the Great New Mexico Chile Taste-Off.

Sonja Schroeder is the executive director for the New Mexico Chile Association and coordinator for the New Mexico Certified Chile Program. The competition in Socorro was sponsored by both entities.

This was the first year the event was held, which invited chile growers from across the state to compete in two competitions, a Judged Taste-Off and a People's Choice Taste-Off, and in categories for green mild, green hot, red mild and red hot.

Schroeder said the heart of the competition was to showcase the chile grown in New Mexico.

NAPI Marketing Director Hal Thompson said the competition shows there is room in the market beyond chile grown in southern New Mexico.

Through trial and error with previous crops, NAPI has figured out how to grow a crop that is competitive in quality and flavor, he said.

"We knew we had a good product and we wanted to see how it would stack up," Thompson said.

In addition to accolades for winning, NAPI received a membership to the New Mexico Certified Chile Program.

The certification program was formed to preserve the integrity of chile grown in New Mexico and it is the only certification program in the state for the crop, Schroeder said.

"If you see a sticker, you will know it is grown in New Mexico," she said.

Growing chile in the high desert climate has been challenging, but the results this year have been successful, according to NAPI personnel.

Using hoop houses built with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service program helps address the short growing season.

Shane Nezwood, conservation manager for NAPI, said the normal growing season at the farm occurs from the last frost in May to the first frost in October.

He explained that because of the time frame, NAPI transplants chile seedlings that are 6 inches tall into six hoop houses.

Last year was the first time using the structures, and approximately 13,500 pounds of chile were produced, Nezwood said.

When The Daily Times visited the farm on Sept. 27, workers were picking and packaging chile into 3-pound bags and 20-pound boxes.

Elaina Viola, NAPI's Native foods coordinator, said chile is picked twice a week and up to 400 pounds can be processed.

Tania Johnson, sales coordinator at NAPI, said the company sells the chile under its brand name, Navajo Pride, and it is sold locally at Farmers Market in Bloomfield and Flora Vista.

The organic green chile, which is certified by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, is sold at Natural Grocers in Farmington, she added.

NAPI also sells chile at its Region 2 Scales.

As for the achievement on Sept. 21, Johnson said that validates that chile can be grown in northwest New Mexico.

"I think that's where we like to shine and say, 'hey, we're from Farmington. The Four Corners can do that too,'" she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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