Hot chile, cool weather perfect combo

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The sky was pale blue and rippled with streaks of tiny clouds that were illuminated by the sun rays creating fantastic displays for the inaugural VIVA New Mexico Chile Festival last weekend.

The weather changed dramatically Friday night, threatening to ruin the festivities, but in the end, it only made the festival comfortably cool on Saturday, and not quite so hot on Sunday.

“I think people stayed longer, because of the cooler weather,” Roxanne Wagner said.

The chile festival is the latest development of Wagner’s Farmland Experience, a business started on six acres in Corrales in 2005 by Jim and Roxanne Wagner, and expanded to Los Lunas around 2010.

The couple come from a family farming business with a long history in New Mexico.

They started the “experience” to allow non-farm families the opportunity to experience the family fun a farm can provide.

The Los Lunas farm was added when the couple decided to help solve the problem of dangerous dust storms on Interstate 25 just east of the property in Los Lunas.

The state had owned the land, and the Wagners purchased it to cultivate the land and curb the dust problem, as well as for the development of seasonal agri-tourism that includes demonstration gardens, on site outdoor classrooms and most recently, the VIVA New Mexico Chile Festival.

More than 10,000 visitors attended the two-day event, a greater number than the Wagners anticipated.

They ran out of entry wristbands Sunday, and had to resort to rubber stamping for the remainder of the guests, Roxanne said.

“I’m pleased,” she said. “We haven’t had any major things go wrong.”

Some of the best local bands and a few popular out-of-town bands were scheduled to provide music all day, each day, nonstop.

The lively Spanish music inspired people to dance where they stood, or gravitate with their partners to the large dance floor.

The layout of the event, the booths, stage, seating, tables, food vendors and attractions were well organized, and arranged in a spacious fashion to accommodate the traffic flow of the large crowd.

On the far east side were chile fields and a big green John Deere tractor to pull the long wagon stacked with hay bales for seats. Next to that was the petting zoo, pony rides and horse drawn buggy.

Felix Aquilar brought his horse, Huera, and his beautiful buggy to offer families, children and couples rides around the parameter.

There were corn mazes at the north end of the festival, with a lovely wooden bridge in the center.

Space Walk jumpers were a great allure for the youngest children, and on the far west side, two large tunnel slides made from corrugated metal culverts elicited shrieks of joy.

Most of the tables, shade tents and vendor booths were centrally located and included food, jewelry, woven goods, paintings and other arts, specialty breads and chile pesto, funnel cakes, sno cones and a raised beer garden.

The live music stage was set up on the south end and had a large dance floor and seating area.

“It’s the nicest thing they’ve got going in Los Lunas,” said Los Lunas resident Marsha Otero. “The music is awesome. It’s nice to have something local to celebrate with the community.”

“A lot of these people don’t even know each other,” said Josh Pando. “I like the networking.”

There were visitors from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Veguita, Corrales, Belen, Los Lunas, a recent Chicago transplant, a vacationer from Georgia and others from around the state.

“It’s wonderful,” said Nadine Ramirez from Albuquerque. She and her Georgia friend, Kathy Pearson, were perched on bar stools looking out from the beer garden people watching, she said.

“The music is great, the food is good and the beer is cold,” Ramirez said with a laugh.

Pearson had never even heard of chiles or tried New Mexico chile, she said.

“Red doesn’t hurt me as bad as green,” she said.

Rosemary Lopez from Penasco admired the woven handbags and silken scares at Mariñes Perez’s booth of Guatemalan goods.

Perez has a shop in Santa Fe and said business was good at the VIVA New Mexico Chile Festival.

“There’s been a good response so far, for being a small town,” he said. “Right now, it’s fiestas in Santa Fe and I just said, ‘I’ve got to get out of there!’”

He said he enjoyed being out on the farm.

Adolph Lopez, the village code enforcer supervisor pointed to the ground and said it used to be grass, now it is worn away to dirt.

“People are happy, their families are happy, they’re enjoying themselves,” Lopez said. “This is a super success. Everybody whose been here says they want it back next year, and they think it’s only going to be bigger and better. Vendors are happy, too.”

The grounds were populated by the young and old alike. There were children with their families, toddlers on fathers’ shoulders, mothers with strollers, people in wheelchairs or using walkers, boyfriends and girlfriends, and older couples. It was an event for every age group, with activities for each.

By twilight Saturday, a cool breeze picked up and the sun cast a brilliant glow across the chile and corn fields.

Tobias Rene was signing his autograph on his latest CD, while the local band, El Gringo was about to take the stage.

“I think this is my third opportunity to come out and see him when he’s playing and I’m psyched — totally psyched,” said Los Lunas resident Patty Roberts.

People gathered in front of the stage in anticipation.

“This is so New Mexico,” said Dolores Smith, a native of Los Lunas. “It’s the music, the chile, Tobias Rene, it’s like what we’re all about.”

For additional information or to schedule a group for Wagner’s Farmland Experience, call 505-459-0719.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.