HATCH, New Mexico — The coronavirus pandemic has canceled yet another beloved New Mexico annual event: the 2020 Hatch Chile Festival.
Organizers have officially announced that Covid-19 has forced the cancellation of the event for the first time in its 49-year-old history.
The fiesta is held annually over Labor Day weekend in Hatch — the chile capital of the world.
Tina Cabrales, president of the Hatch Chile Festival, said factors aside from the state’s mass gathering ban led to the cancellation of the event.
“(There are) several reasons not just due to Covid-19. The chile festival depends on sponsorships, and a lot of businesses have been closed since the first part of the year. We just don’t feel comfortable going out and asking people for donations to support the chile festival, that’s number one,” Cabrales said. “With the Covid situation and the social distancing, that’s really going to be impossible because we do host about 20,000 to 30,000 people. It would be impossible to keep every area clean and disinfected, that’s reason number two.”
Cabrales said that even though it’s disappointing, with over 15,000 cases of Covid-19 in New Mexico, it’s the right decision to cancel for the community’s health and safety.
“Most of the festivals and events throughout New Mexico have also been canceled. There’s no state fairs, no duck races, it’s just to keep people safe,” Cabrales said. “We have people that come from all over the world to this. In order to keep our community safe, it’s a good idea for right now. It’s not that we’re doing this forever, it’s just not the time.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Cabrales said if everything goes well, the festival will be back bigger and better than ever for its 50th year.
“We’ve talked about it, we still have plans for our 50th year. We have big plans,” Cabrales said.
New Mexico’s chile peppers have woven their way into the state’s cultural identity over centuries, and their distinct flavor has been adopted more recently by palates as far away as Korea.
The state in 2014 even adopted its own trademark and certification program to protect the reputation and integrity of its signature crop, much like Idaho has capitalized on potatoes, Maine has its lobsters and Florida has its fresh fruits and juices.
According to the university’s Chile Pepper Institute, the cultivation of chile peppers likely began 15,000 years ago when the first humans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. People would select them for various traits and new varieties also are quickly developed since the plants are good at cross-pollinating.
While the acreage of chile planted in New Mexico is half of what it once was because of labor and irrigation pressures, federal agricultural statistics show the 2018 crop increased 4% from the previous year to 8,400 acres. Value also jumped to nearly $54 million.