PERALTA — Chile may be the top crop in New Mexico, but to the Pereas it’s more than that — it’s family and tradition.
“It’s our livelihood, it’s hard work but, in the end, it’s what brings people to New Mexico,” said Jimmy Perea, one of the co-owners of Perea Farms. “When you think of New Mexico, of course you think of chile — not necessarily green chile, not necessarily red chile, you think of chile and people love that.”
Perea Farms, whose chile and watermelon stand is now a mainstay along N.M. 47 in Peralta, celebrates 50 years in business this year with Perea being a third-generation farmer himself.
While the paperwork and the roadside stand date back 50 years. Perea said through stories his grandparents used to tell him, he believes the farm has been in business much longer, starting with selling chile and trading straight from the fields.
“I remember my grandpa as a little kid, I remember him selling to the Native Americans from Isleta. They would come to buy the wood, the coal,” Perea said. “They would buy chile and we traded. So, back then it wasn’t really money. They traded is what they did. So, when I say business that’s part of it there and we just kept growing.”
Although their fields don’t grow much more than chile and melons, at their stand, visitors can buy a wide array of local produce ranging from green apples to tomatoes. Just like his grandpa did in the early days of the business, Perea said they still welcome trades with local growers bringing their surplus crops.
“They’ll come and they’ll say, ‘You know what, I have an abundant supply of apples, can we trade for chile?’” Perea said. “Definitely — definitely, because we don’t have apple trees, but if they can provide apples, then we will give them chile.”
While Perea Farms sells chile all year long through their frozen supply stored in their five on-site freezers, their stand is only open during chile season, roughly from July to October.
As soon as the season ends, they roast and bag the unsold chile to get it ready for storage — ready for anybody who missed out on their chile fix earlier in the year.
The business stays within the family with Perea’s sister, Victoria Valladarez, working the register, sometimes making tortillas or her famous salsa and swapping recipes with anyone who asks. His great nephews haul watermelons to the stand or learn to roast chile.
Ruben Valladarez, age 11, one of Perea’s great nephews learned how to work the chile roaster this summer, and has since lent a helping hand at the family stand. He said he prefers roasting and peeling chile to some of his other responsibilities on the farm, like picking melons.
“It’s not about making money. If you look at this (roadside stand) here, by this time we should have had walls, we should have had better flooring, a little bit of everything,” Perea said. “We should have enclosed this already after 50 years; we should have had doors.
“The thing is, I’m going to stay by what my uncles and grandpa used to say, ‘Keep it mom-and-pop shop — a business on the side of the road. You’re looking at tradition; you’re looking at community. You know people love to see that kind of stuff.’”
The family holds their faith close to their heart with a Bible verse being written on a white board behind the register, and the stand being closed every Saturday to observe the Sabbath.
“We owe everything to the Lord,” Perea said.
The farm will hold a raffle to celebrate their — at least — 50 years in business on Sept. 20 with special guest former state senator Michael Sanchez, who is a close family friend of the Pereas. First prize is 50 pounds of chile, second a 4-foot chile ristra and, third a 2-foot chile ristra, with no purchase necessary to enter to win.
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history.