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NMSU chiles celebrated in Washington, D.C., Chile Pepper Fiesta

New Mexico State University took part in one of the hottest parties of the summer earlier this month, the New Mexico Chile Pepper Fiesta. The event was a celebration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's People's Garden in Washington, D.C., and some of its spiciest specimens - chile peppers bred by NMSU.



Deputy U.S. Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan assists New Mexico's District 3 U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in planting chile peppers at the New Mexico Chile Pepper Fiesta in Washington, D.C. (USDA photo)

"This was a great opportunity to reach out to a portion of the country that really doesn't get a chance to see chiles grow," said Danise Coon, a senior research specialist for NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute. "Throughout the summer, a lot of people will be able to see chile growing and see where it comes from - not just as the food on their plate or the spice in their recipes."

Earlier this year, NMSU sent seeds from more than 20 chile varieties bred by the university to the nation's capital for the People's Garden, a giant display garden on the National Mall that demonstrates conservation and growing techniques. According to the USDA, the garden is meant to help illustrate the many ways the agency works to provide a sustainable, safe and nutritious food supply while protecting and preserving the landscape where that food is produced.

The USDA constructed two raised planting beds specifically for the NMSU chiles. Because the agency had such success growing the chile seeds in their greenhouses, they also gave away another 500 chile plants during the fiesta. Chips, salsa and a mariachi band rounded out the New Mexico-themed activities.

Along with the chile seeds, NMSU sent Curtis Smith, an Extension horticulture specialist, and Carol Sutherland, an NMSU entomologist, to Washington earlier this year to help train USDA Master Gardeners who are volunteering to tend the garden. Smith heads NMSU's Extension Master Gardeners Program and represented NMSU at the celebration.

"They certainly have some hot stuff there, with the selection of peppers they've grown," Smith said. "The different peppers are also very colorful so they should really make for a nice display for those walking by."

The National Parks Service estimates 24 million people visit the National Mall each year.

"Chile peppers are New Mexico's signature crop and bring in almost $50 million annually to the state's economy," Coon said. "They are very nutritious and I think more and more of the general population is considering chile peppers a part of their everyday diet in some form or another."

Because Washington's climate is cooler and wetter than New Mexico's, chile grown there is likely to be milder than chile grown in New Mexico.