“The mom and pop chile stands that used to be everywhere, where are they?” Socorro County Commissioner and chile farmer Glen Duggins said in a press release from the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association. “They’re gone.”
For Duggins, owner of 5 Star Farms, and other farmers in the Rio Grande Valley, 2020 has the potential to be a good year, following a challenging decade. In the 36 years since he started his farm, the roadside produce vendors and small local markets that once purchased the chile he grew have all but disappeared.
In Socorro County, where half of the population resides in the city of Socorro, leaving the rest of the county sparsely populated, agriculture plays a central role in the economy. According to the New Mexico State University's Arrowhead Center, farming employed over 10 percent of the county's population in 2017, compared to only 2.6 percent of the state as a whole and 1.4 percent of the U.S. population.
Since he started his farm, Duggins has sold his chile throughout New Mexico.
“What we’re known for is our chile. What has really floated our boat is chile,” he said.
Beyond growing chile, Duggins has woven his farm into the community as a regular gathering place and as a reminder of the importance of farming.
“We’re trying to keep people connected to farming,” he said.
Duggins now relies on the growing local foods movement to keep him in business and says with the help of the NMFMA he will be selling much of his 2020 chile crop to local stores of a large national grocery chain.
“It’s huge, for the NMFMA to connect me, the farmer, with the market,” Duggins said in the press release. “It deserves a huge thank you because how do you find the right person in a big corporation? And if you do find him, how do you get him to slow down long enough to talk to you? It’s hard to get their attention.”
The NMFMA was formed in 1994 with a mission to ensure the future of New Mexico’s local food economy by providing technical assistance, education, and marketing support directly to farmers like Duggins. But a healthy local food economy also requires individual consumers to demand more local food from their grocers and food establishments..
Small-acreage, local farms need many types of support to overcome common hurdles such as accessing sufficient markets, meeting USDA food safety standards, and finding the capital to invest in needed equipment and infrastructure, among others.