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Farmworkers Bear the Brunt of New Mexico Chile Crisis

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Farm issues page, and our New Mexico Resource page.

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.