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NMSU's REDTT Program Helps Organize 'Holiday Hoe-Down' in Cuba

ALBUQUERQUE - Instead of cutting ribbon, Gov. Gary Johnson will slice into the world's longest burrito on Dec. 8 in Cuba to celebrate the opening of U.S. Highway 550.


The burrito-cutting ceremony--which features an 8,000-foot bean and cheese burrito expected to make the Guinness Book of Records--marks the start of a month-long "Holiday Hoe-Down" in Cuba that New Mexico State University's Rural Economic Development Through Tourism Program (REDTT) and local groups jointly organized.

Apart from commemorating completion of U.S. 550, which the government widened to four lanes from San Ysidro to Farmington, the burrito festival and other December Hoe-Down events aim to draw tourism dollars into Cuba. The REDTT program, which expanded to Sandoval County in April 2000, has provided $6,500 to promote Cuba as a tourist destination.

"The REDTT program has really motivated people to work to increase tourism," said Rudy Benavidez, Extension agriculture agent in Sandoval County and co-coordinator of the REDTT program in Cuba. "It's paying off because they're bringing a lot of people into Cuba for events like the Holiday Hoe-Down."

A licensed surveyor will attend the Dec. 8 event to measure the town's burrito.

"We're going to break Guinness's previous 7,710-foot burrito record that was set in March 2000 in Matamoros, Mexico," said Hazel Herrera, co-owner of the Cuba restaurant El Bruno's and mastermind behind the burrito-cutting ceremony. "Our burrito will be about one and three-quarter miles long, and we'll have about 800 or 900 people on hand to roll it up and serve it."

Bruno's is donating and preparing all the ingredients, including 8,333 tortillas, 2,500 pounds of beans and 250 pounds of cheese. The burrito will be laid across 500 tables lined up along Main Street in Cuba and staffed by volunteers from as far away as Farmington and Albuquerque.

"When I blow the whistle, everybody will start to roll, roll, roll," Herrera said. "There'll be 4,000 feet of burrito in one direction and then it'll do a horseshoe turn and come back another 4,000 feet."

At 1:30 p.m. Gov. Johnson will cut into the burrito. Red and green chile stations will provide salsa for burrito slices distributed free to spectators, along with thousands of biscochito cookies, also donated by Bruno's, plus coffee and hot chocolate.

KOAT news anchor Nelson Martinez will act as master of ceremonies and will play with his mariachi band at the event. Martinez and other entertainers will sing the national anthem in English, Spanish and Navajo, and all participants will be asked to join hands in a collective prayer for peace.

The day's festivities will include an all-day Christmas bazaar at Cuba's Guadalupe Hall, an antique car show at Cuba High School, and a "Stars and Stripes" Christmas light parade starting at 7 p.m., followed by a bonfire, fireworks display and dance.

Promoting existing local festivals and creating new ones like Cuba's Holiday Hoe-Down is a central goal of the REDTT program.

REDTT offers technical assistance, training and grants to 13 New Mexico counties to encourage tourism in rural areas. REDTT funds help set up local tourism councils to identify a region's tourism assets and market them.

In Cuba, REDTT funds have paid for banners and welcome signs to draw in highway travelers. The program has also created promotional brochures and allowed the receptionist at the Cuba visitors center to move from a part- to full-time schedule.

Tourism council members in Cuba say that from March to November of this year, 975 tourists stopped by the visitors center, a 77 percent increase compared with the 550 visitors registered in the same period last year.

"REDTT hasn't given us a ton of money, but the funds and technical assistance we have received have helped us immensely," said Ethel Baca, information receptionist with the Santa Fe National Forest Service's Cuba Ranger District and a member of the tourism council.

Benavidez says the program has provided momentum for organizations to work better together, particularly the Forest Service, the Fire Department and the Village government, plus local businesses like Bruno's. "They've pooled their resources to have a great Christmas celebration," said Benavidez.

The month-long Holiday Hoe-Down will include a hospitality booth at the Forest Service station the first two weekends of December, a live Nativity scene at the Cuba Baptist Church Dec. 14 and 15, and free toys from Santa at the Fire Station Dec. 16. The Immaculate Conception Church will also sponsor nine evening posadas from Dec. 16 to 24.