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A tractor pulling a trailer with sacks of chile sits in one of Miguel Esquibel’s fields. He says they harvest around 10 acres worth of chile per year if all goes well.

Chile holds a special place in family, tradition and culture for many Valencia County residents, and for some families, such as the Esquibels, it has become a fundamental part of their lives.

Miguel Esquibel is a third generation owner of the Veguita Trading Post, which has long been considered a staple in the area by locals. The local store was established in 1976 by Esquibel’s parents, Edwin and Kathy Esquibel, and his grandfather, Sylvester Sisneros.

Esquibel, who owns the store with his wife, Miriam, bought the business from his mom about five years ago and has been hard at work ensuring the future of VTP.

“We have a little bit of everything and, if we don’t have it and you need it, we’ll get it,” said Esquibel. “That’s kind of how the whole chile thing came to be.”

VTP began selling chile about 13 years ago after Esquibel noticed the need for it in the community. When he was younger, he worked for his parents and said a lot of people would come in and ask, ‘Where’s the best farm for chile?’ Esquibel noticed there were not a lot of chile farmers in the area.

“I had a light bulb and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to grow some chile,’” he said. “I started from not knowing anything or even owning a tractor.”

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photos

Esquibel’s mother-in-law tosses a package-ready piece of chile into the pile. Chile is an important part of the family’s traditions and livelihood.

Miguel Esquibel, a third-generation owner of Veguita Trading Post, presents some chile from his field. VTP began selling chile about 13 years ago after Esquibel noticed the need for it in the community.

VTP’s chile has since become renowned and treasured by many. He even has a regular buyer in California who runs a New Mexican restaurant and travels to buy the locally-grown chile. 

To meet demand, Esquibel says they harvest around 10 acres worth of chile per year if all goes well. While he says farming has been going steady, there are many challenges involved with growing chile.

“I really take pride in the chile. It’s a labor of love, and it has a very good return on investment,” said Esquibel. “But the other thing is it’s such a risk. The investment is huge to put into chile and if it doesn’t come back, it’s going to hurt.”

Esquibel said you only get one shot a year, and since he’s been farming chile for 13 years, he’s only really attempted it 13 times.

“It’s been all over the board. Some years have been really phenomenally good and then there was a year where I got paid nothing for my work and ended up owing $800 on a credit card,” he said. “You learn so much every year; no two years are the same and the problems will never present themselves the same, but we’re pretty steady now in that we’re consistently pulling good chile.”

Esquibel said one of the most challenging aspects of farming is that there are many factors outside of your control, so even when you do everything right, you could still not have the haul you’d hoped for.

Peeled, roasted green chile awaits packaging. Esquibel said the two main New Mexico staple-strains to grow are the New Mexico Lumbre and Sandia Hot.

“Currently in New Mexico, the water situation is not good,” he said. “But labor, I would say, is the biggest challenge.”

Esquibel said finding people to do field work is extremely difficult and finding consistent workers is even harder. The climate of each growing season also has a significant impact.

“It was a really weird year. Spring was wetter and cooler than normal, and then the middle of the year was extremely hot, so it was a struggle to bring the plants out this year and they were a lot later than normal,” he said.

Despite the difficulties, growing chile is Esquibel’s passion and is an important part of he and his family’s livelihood.

“(Chile) was something that I just wanted to add to the store, to have another product, but it’s everything to me now; it’s something I feel like I sleep and I breathe,” said Esquibel. “Right now, we’re just beginning to pick, but I’m looking at my other fields already thinking of next year.”

Esquibel said they have a few favorite chile strains they plant most years and they have something for everyone.

“You say in Spanish: ‘Si no pica, no es chile.’ meaning if it doesn’t have a bite to it, it’s not chile. So for the first five years or so, I would refuse to plant Big Jim. Then years passed and I thought well, this is not all for me. I got to have stuff for people who don’t want something that hot, so we plant everything now.”

Miguel Esquibel and his two children, Maximus and Marian, help out with the field work. Esquibel said the family assists with all aspects of the chile farming and roasting process.

Esquibel stores sacks of chile in a refrigerated room to keep them fresh until they are roasted or transported elsewhere.

Esquibel said the two main New Mexico staple-strains to grow are the New Mexico Lumbre and Sandia Hot.

“Those are probably the two most sought after. The one that we plant really for yield is Ms. Junie. Sandia Hot and Ms. Junie have a similar heat level, but Lumbre is on a whole other planet — it’s fire.”

Esquibel says they have a traditional and organic-as-possible approach to farming.

“We try to bounce around into old alfalfa fields,” he said. “They probably give you the best chile because one of the main byproducts of alfalfa is nitrogen, which chile loves.

“Also, I don’t put any herbicide or pesticides. I don’t even like spraying the ditches around the chile. It makes me nervous cause everybody knows how bad it is for people, and my product goes directly from my field to your table, so we do it as healthy as possible.”

You can purchase a sack of roasted chile at the Veguita Trading Post for $40 a sack and smaller portions of fresh or frozen chile for $3.99 a bag. They also carry a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as fresh meat.

Looking to the future, Esquibel said they are eager to continue to serve Veguita and beyond  based upon the needs and wants of the community.

“That’s why we call ourselves the little store with a big heart, because we actually developed for the community and how people wanted us to be and we still listen to them, even to this day, and what makes me really proud is that we’re still here.” 

The Veguita Trading Post is located at 1249 N.M. 304, and can be reached at 505-864-7391.

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.