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Colorado and New Mexico Governors Spark Green Chile War

Things are getting a little hot for Governor Jared Polis, who recently sparked an interstate war of words over green chiles. On Saturday, July 6, the governor posted this message on his Facebook page:

About time! Whole Foods Market will soon offer Pueblo Chile, widely acknowledged as the best chile in the world, in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Whole Foods will stock 125,000 pounds of Pueblo Chile in Colorado, Kansas, Idaho and Utah. New Mexico stores will unfortunately not be offering the best chile and will instead keep offering inferior New Mexico chile.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was understandably fired up by the dig at her state's most famous crop, and on July 10 she responded with a burn of her own on Twitter:

If Pueblo chile were any good, it would have been on national shelves before now. If Colorado wants to go chile to chile, no question that New Mexico can bring the heat - Hatch chile is, has always been and will always be the greatest in the world.

Polis was quick with a retort:

I agree with @GovMLG on a lot of things, but we disagree on this one. I challenge @GovMLG to a chile taste-off in Trinidad! Let’s put this to the test.

This isn't the first time the two have traded barbs. Back in January, Grisham publicly congratulated Polis for his gubernatorial victory, but not without reminding him of her state's supposed chile superiority:

Congratulations to @jaredpolis, the newly inaugurated Governor of Colorado! I look forward to working together and growing the partnership between New Mexico and Colorado. As long as you remember that our green chile is the best...

We could take sides, but first we'd like to clear the air about green chile misconceptions — some of which are perpetuated by both governors. First, we're talking about the vegetable here, not the sauce/stew. When Polis announced that Whole Foods is offering "Pueblo Chile," it sounds as if the grocery chain will be serving up vats of the stuff that gets ladled over burritos, burgers and chile rellenos in every cantina, roadhouse and home kitchen from Greeley to Las Cruces. If we're talking about the emerald pods that get roasted by the bushel by roadside vendors every fall, the plural is "green chiles." We'll cut the governor some slack, though, since the Pueblo Independent Magazine story he linked to uses "Pueblo Chile" and "Pueblo Chiles" interchangeably.

Grisham makes some missteps of her own. In the heat of the battle, she equates popularity with quality — understandable for an elected official.

But the fact is, mass production often leads to an inferior product. We hope never to see rows of cans labeled "Pueblo Chiles" on grocery-store shelves, because who'd want to eat canned chiles (whether from Pueblo or Hatch) when the best are sold fresh and immediately roasted?

The main reason for the widespread popularity of Hatch chiles is the sheer acreage involved. In a story he did for NPR last fall, author and chile expert Gustavo Arellano noted that New Mexico's Hatch chile crop covered 8,100 acres, compared with only about 600 to 700 acres of Pueblo chiles in Colorado. The total production is so small in this state because Colorado has far fewer areas where the plant thrives than does New Mexico, but Pueblo has the right combination of soil, sun and water to produce a standout chile.

Arellano also pointed out that the City of Pueblo received a $143,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant in 2015 so that farmers could form the Pueblo Chile Growers Association and work together to push their chiles.

According to Donielle Gonzales, the association's executive director, her organization applied for another grant of about $100,000 this year, but the grant was denied, primarily because of the limited funds available and the large number of applicants. Still, Gonzales says, the Pueblo Chile Growers Association's marketing budget didn't depend on that grant, so there's enough money available to continue spreading the word about the quality of Pueblo chiles.

We're rooting for New Mexico's governor to take Polis up on his suggestion of an interstate chile throwdown in Trinidad — equidistant between Denver and Santa Fe. In the meantime, though, the end-of-summer harvest is fast approaching, as is the 25th Annual Chiles & Frijoles Festival in Pueblo, running September 20 through 22 in that city's downtown district. Get a taste and decide for yourself.

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