Above: José Gonzalez earned the Farmer All Star award from the Santa Fe Farmers' Market's Market Institute in 2015.
IN A HUMID, tree-curtained corner of the Española Valley, José Gonzalez walks among rows of chile plants growing beside sunflowers, corn, beans, tomatoes, peas, squash, and a few stalks of wheat. The bulk of his harvest goes to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, where the ruby strands of chile ristras and wreaths lie across the Gonzalez Farms table alongside freshly washed produce and cheerful flowers. Gonzalez says he’s tried other jobs, but the farm calls him back. He likes the plants, he jokes. They seem to like him, too.
I'VE BEEN FARMING pretty much all my life, since I was five years old helping my grandparents in Mexico. After we came here, it was totally different. I used to work for my grandparents just to get a hot meal; here I do it to make a living.
I start seeds in the field, but I have some spares in the greenhouse, too. That way, if we have a late frost, I don’t have to worry about it. That’s my main product—the chiles. I grow chile pequin, Sandía, Big Jim, and this year I started with Chimayó chile. I want to start making my own seed out of that.
We harvest them all by hand. It’s really easy to harvest the Big Jim or Sandía. The chile pequin is so tiny it takes more time. We fill baskets or buckets, boxes—whatever we find. I wait until all my chile peppers are ripe red, because my wife has learned how to make ristras and decorations, so we have to harvest them when they’re all red. The smell, when you roast them or you’re cooking with them, is so nice.
When we’re going to be at the farm for a long time, we bring the kids. They play in whatever they find; the little one, he likes the muddy puddles. I want to encourage my kids to like farming. I would prefer they go to college first and then decide what they want to do.
Even if you’re tired, when you see the plants growing and all healthy, it pays off. —As told to Elizabeth Miller
Read more from our "Ultimate Guide to New Mexico Chile"
The Mystery of Big Jim
A 10-year effort to restore one of New Mexico’s most distinctive chiles underscores how memory thrives in our taste buds.
The Ultimate New Mexico Chile Tasting Guide
We asked two experts to describe the flavors of New Mexico’s best chile varieties.
The Making of Chile U
One of the only scientific institutions devoted to a so-called condiment flourishes in Las Cruces.
Matt Romero: The Chile Roaster
Rooted in family history, Matt Romero brings that heavenly scent and his special flair to the Santa Fe Farmers' Market.
More Than Just Salsa
Capsaicin does more than make chile hot, it is used in medicinal creams, bear repellent and in foods to give captive birds and fish a reddish hue.