For centuries the chile trade bound together the remote Hispano villages of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, provided the culinary glue for fall family get-togethers and gave linguistic flavor to countless conversations on the topic of chile across the state.
In the late 20th Century, a large commercial chile industry boomed in the southern part of the state near the Mexican border, drawing in thousands of immigrant farmworkers who earned a seasonal if precarious living from hand-picking the spicy pods that delighted connoisuers everywhere.
Nowadays, the fortunes of New Mexico's cherished chile crop are on the downside. Just ask Jose Rocha. A veteran farmworker with nearly four decades of experience in the fields of New Mexico and the US, Rocha says he once worked "first class fields" in a wide swath of the borderland chile-growing belt.
Today's farm is very different than the one before, according to Rocha. "Sometimes the land gives, sometimes it doesn't," the Mexico-born worker says. "There are bad (chile) rows and and good rows." Nowadays, Rocha encounters slimmer pickings, job-killing machines that methodically pluck rows of ripe chile where humans once treaded and fewer dollars in his pocket.