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‘A very hard year’: Hatch farmers struggle to get workers in the fields, chile peppers on your table

green chile
A batch of the Grajeda family's fresh chile sits in a roaster at their shop in Hatch, New Mexico.

HATCH, New Mexico - When the chile capital of the world canceled its iconic festival, Sergio Grajeda Jr.'s blood ran cold.

"My heart hurt," admitted Grajeda Jr., who has farmed the crop for thirty years.

For New Mexico's most iconic crop, 2020 might be the most challenging year in recent history.

"It's been a very hard year for us," Grajeda Jr. told ABC-7.

Restaurants have canceled their orders, tourists have canceled their trips and the Hatch Valley was forced to cancel the chile festival, scheduled for the first weekend of September.

"We're used to selling 200 or 300 sacks of chile a day," Grajeda Jr. said. "We're down to 60, 70 sacks daily."

On top of that, Grajeda Jr. told ABC-7 that his workers are afraid to tend the fields because they don't want to catch the virus.

"During this time of year, we're at about eight or nine people," he said. "We're down to two."

Down the block, the owner of the Pepper Pot said she's struggling to serve customers with the limited patio space she has outside.

"The air conditioner and everything is running, but we (can't) sit anybody in here," said Melva Aguirre.

On a normal year, the festival attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the Hatch Valley. Without having to cook for the tourists, Aguirre said she won't order the amount of chile she has in previous yeears.

"Every year, I make 3,000 chile rellenos for the festival," she explained. "This year, I'm probably going to make like a thousand. I don't need as many because we're not going to have this many people."

Biz/Tech / New Mexico / Video

Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is ABC-7’s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend evening newscasts.


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