Back in 2019, when Governor Jared Polis posted a statement on Facebook saying that Pueblo's namesake crop results in "the best chiles in the world," he sparked a heated debate with New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Hatch partisan.
While a promised chile throwdown between the two governors never took place, a recent snafu at the Pueblo Chieftain shows that the topic remains sensitive. "For the record: Chile pepper story was not intentional," read the headline of an August 12 Chieftain post. Long a locally owned publication, the Chieftain was sold to GateHouse Media, a national conglomerate, in 2018; the next year, GateHouse closed a $1.1 billion takeover of USA Today publisher Gannett.
Gannett supplies some of the stories used by the Chieftain, including a piece originally published in the Abilene Reporter-News touting the merits of Hatch chile peppers — while not mentioning Pueblo chiles at all.
After "Pep Talk: 10 easy ways to use freshly roasted Hatch chiles" was published in the August 11 edition, (daily papers traditionally include a food section on Wednesdays), the Chieftain posted this apology from news director Luke Lyons:
An article appearing in Wednesday's The Pueblo Chieftain about Hatch chile peppers was part of a nationally syndicated food page, prepared by Gannett to distribute nation wide.
The article was not chosen by The Pueblo Chieftain editorial staff.
While the staff here dictates local coverage, it does not always dictate much of the wire and nationally syndicated content that goes into the paper.
National wire and content has been run in The Chieftain even before Gatehouse/Gannett purchased the newspaper. Food pages have run in the paper in our lifestyle section since 2018 when Gatehouse purchased the newspaper.
The article that ran in Wednesday's paper was not meant to cause harm or to infer that the Hatch chile was superior.
The Pueblo Chieftain has long reported on the Pueblo chile, and will soon cover the Chile and Frijoles Festival that will celebrate Pueblo's beloved pepper A story in Friday's paper about Blazin' Bagels talks about a Pueblo chile cream cheese bagel sandwich.
The Pueblo Chieftain understands the importance of the Pueblo chile and will continue to report on that importance.
We apologize for the harm and offense the story has caused.
"We did have a conversation with them at the local level about how this could happen," says Donielle Gonzales, executive director of the Pueblo Chile Growers Association and tourism director for the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce. "Many of the local representatives of the Chieftain were also appalled."
The root of the problem: a lack of Pueblo-centric oversight at the town's only newspaper. "It's a stark reminder to the southern Colorado region that we don't have a local paper watching our back," Gonzales notes. "We did have a local editor and some local writers that initially were [in Pueblo] after the sale, but they were phased out." While the Pueblo Chile Growers Association pays for weekly ads in the Chieftain, Gonzales says that there has never been a similar story published about Pueblo's most notable local crop.
"I think no matter where you live, you support local," Gonzales explains. "Hopefully, you have a sense of community pride in the community you're doing business in to support whatever local causes there are."
In any given season, twenty to thirty Pueblo area farms produce chiles. This year's crop is expected to be bountiful, and after some slow sales in 2020 because of the pandemic's effect on demand, trucks of Pueblo chiles are already heading to Denver and beyond; the chiles will land in grocery stores around the region, including Whole Foods, as well as in products like tortillas, hummus, sausages, beer, spirits and more. Colorado company Jojo's Sriracha even moved its production to Pueblo in order to be closer to the product, which it uses as one of the main ingredients in the sauce.
You can sample Pueblo chiles yourself at the 27th Annual Chile & Frijoles Festival, which is taking place in Pueblo September 24-26 and is expected to draw over 200,000 attendees. After a pared-down, throwback-style festival last year, Gonzales is excited to move on from the Chieftain debacle to this year's festivities. The fest will include over 150 vendors, a Chihuahua parade, a jalapeño-eating contest, a salsa showdown and a Saturday night performance by comedian George Lopez.
"We're excited for a full-scale festival really bringing together the community and celebrating the harvest and our agricultural assets that we have here in Pueblo County," Gonzales says.
No Hatch chiles allowed.