Skip to main content

The Spicy Story of Green Chiles

Posted by Ed Avalos, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs in Food and Nutrition
Jul 31, 2013
Hatch green chiles can be used in everything from potato salad to lemonade.
Hatch green chiles can be used in everything from potato salad to lemonade.

It’s no secret I love New Mexican grown green chiles.  So does Melissa’s World Variety Produce in Los Angeles, California. So much so, that during a recent trip to California, I attended a spicy workshop and reception hosted by Melissa’s, featuring New Mexican Hatch green chiles.

“When I grew up, I thought there was only one kind of chile: we just called them green.” says corporate chef Rodriguez who grew up in El Paso, Texas.

Southwesterners like Ida and I may just call them “greens”. However, the rest of the country is quickly getting to know these meaty, flavorful Hatch green chiles, named after Hatch, New Mexico, epicenter of state’s chile growing region.

The event was a Hatch chile lover’s dream: green chile salsa, guacamole, and deviled eggs made with green chile.  Green chile cornbread, shrimp and club sandwiches.  There were green chile cookies and green chile ice cubes in my lemonade and ginger ale.  I felt like I was home.

But why were the green chiles I know and love from New Mexico being celebrated in California?

USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBG) certainly played a role.  This program, authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill and administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), promotes fruits and vegetables and other specialty crops nationwide.  State Departments of Agriculture apply to the USDA for block grants to expand markets for the unique specialty crops of their state.

New Mexico received SCBG funding to support educational workshops, events, marketing, and promotions featuring green chiles. As the biggest producer of chiles in the country, this crop provides over 2,000 full time and over 10,000 part time jobs to New Mexico. However, between 1992-2011, New Mexico’s production acres for green chiles dropped from 34,500 to 9,500.  The green chile needed some help.

That’s what brought me to Melissa’s chile extravaganza. The event at Melissa’s was part of the SCBG effort to strengthen New Mexico’s green chile industry and expand the market for this important crop.  With each new green chile lover in California and elsewhere, a New Mexican green chile farmer benefits.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant is due for reauthorization.  The Food, Farms and Jobs Act would do that.  However, the bill is currently awaiting Congressional approval. Secretary Vilsack recently outlined 10 reasons why Congress needs to pass the Food, Farm and Jobs Act.  Supporting our nation’s specialty crops is another.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition