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A new breed of Chile Cheese Festival starts

2020 Chile Cheese Festival, Graves Farm and Garden folks
Lisa Dunlap Photo James "Buz" Graves and Billy Geib of Graves Farm and Garden of Roswell prepare Friday afternoon to roast chiles for the Chile Cheese Festival.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The annual festival to support the region’s agricultural industry and cheese producer, economic powerhouses in Chaves County, started Friday afternoon, although the coronavirus crisis has given it a different flavor this year.

The Chile Cheese Festival started about 28 years ago, spurred on by Leprino Foods Co., according to a board member for the nonprofit that organizes the event.

2020 Chile Cheese Festival attendee, Sept. 4, 2020
Lisa Dunlap Photo
Bethany Shannon of Roswell studies the Chile Cheese Festival scavenger hunt map Friday afternoon on the first day of the annual festival that has been held in Roswell for 28 years.

They like to help out the community,” said Molly Boyles of MainStreet Roswell about the cheese and dairy by-products manufacturer. “The Chile Cheese Festival started as a way to celebrate the dairies, the farmers, the chile growers and Leprino.”

Leprino is the county’s largest private employer with about 580 workers.

Boyles says all the producers of agricultural goods and cheese, as well as local residents and businesses, create a synergistic whole that are essential to the region’s economy.

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The two-day 2020 Chile Cheese Festival has been forced by circumstances to go “virtual,” MainStreet Roswell staff and volunteers have said.

By that, they mean that the festival won’t be focused on a large gathering of visitors or vendors selling food and crafts, as in the past, and it won’t include the popular tours of the Leprino plant on Omaha Road, which typically is off-limits to visitors.

Instead the festival will encourage people who start at the event tent at the Chaves County Courthouse lawn to participate in a scavenger hunt of sorts involving about 37 downtown merchants.

People who visit the participating businesses will find a code word that they write on their map. They have until the close of the festival at about 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5 to turn in their maps and code words for a chance at a $500 cash prize or a gift basket, with money and items donated by local businesses and event sponsors. The more answers scavenger hunt participants have found, the more chances they have in the drawing.

Other giveaways from event sponsors such as Albertsons, Xcel Energy, Southwest Printers and Sparklight also will be available. Some live music will be performed at the courthouse, while a local radio station will air information about the festival during the event. Information also is available on MainStreet Roswell’s social media pages and website.

Saturday morning, the event starts at 7 a.m. and also coincides with the Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Market at the courthouse.

James “Buz” Graves and Billy Geib of Graves Farm and Garden began roasting chiles Friday afternoon, which he said could continue today depending on demand.

Graves calls himself among the “last of the Mohicans” in terms of chile growers in the Pecos Valley. His family has been growing the crop for about 20 years, he said.

According to New Mexico Department of Agriculture statistics, the state’s chile crop brought in about $53.77 million in 2018, making New Mexico the No. 1 chile producer in the nation with about 53% of the country’s production. New Mexico also ranked fourth in cheese production and ninth in milk production in 2018.

Chaves County is the state’s largest milk producer, with 2.09 billion pounds in 2018. That year, the county also was the state’s second-largest livestock producer, with cash receipts of $416.27 million, and the state’s fourth largest crop producer, with cash receipts of $55.67 million.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.