Green Chile | Hatch,NM, Chile River Farm, September 2015
The harvest of green chiles at the Chile River Farm in southern New Mexico, just outside of the small town of Hatch, begins in late July and continues until early October or until the first freeze. With an average rainfall of 10 inches a year and an altitude of 4058 feet, chiles enjoy an arid climate and long late summer days. Hot days are required to make the chiles have their spicy flavor and cool nights allow the plants to recover from the heat of the day. The chile plants at harvest are usually about waist high and spaced a couple feet apart, with thick leaves and stocks that completely obscure the footpaths between them. The harvesters move between rows on their knees, picking the chiles and putting them into 10 gallon rubber buckets. There are about 15-20 harvestable chiles on each plant and it takes around 5 plants to fill a bucket. A full rubber bucket of chiles weights 25 to 30 pounds. After the bucket is filled, the pickers carry their buckets to a trailer carrying large bins pulled by a tractor following the harvesters down the rows. A foreman takes the buckets and dumps the chiles into the bins, giving the harvester a token for each bucket which is later redeemed for payment. The workers receive around $0.85 to$1.00 per bucket and can do 150 buckets on a good day - or half that if they are not feeling up to it, as one picker told me. Even though some harvesters are faster than others, they all move down the rows fairly evenly because the trailers with the bins have to be in the middle of the harvesting group. Most harvesters stay in their own row, but if one picker is moving faster than another, he or she can move to other rows to pick more, as long as this doesn't affect the work of the others. Everyone is friendly and works respectfully because the overall task is to completely harvest all the ripe chiles in the field. Most pickers wear long sleeved shirts, hats, and long pants. Even though temperatures typically do not reach triple digits during peak harvest season, because of the altitude and long days, the sun can be very intense and burn the skin easily. During the late period of harvest season in October - the weather is pleasant with highs in the 80's F and lows in the 40's F, so harvesters may even wear jackets early in the morning.