Enchanting People of New Mexico - Dr. Fabián García

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Episode 2 - Dr. Fabián García

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is brought to you from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Hit subscribe to automatically get the Podcasts. Every Monday and Friday we have regular Historical Podcasts and on Wednesdays, today we celebrate someone important to our area.

I want to talk today about Dr. Fabián García. Even though he passed in 1948, two years before I was born, I think of him often, usually with a mouthful of delicious Green or Red Chile. That is Chile with an e on it. Not Chili with an I or “It is chilly with a y in Minnesota in the winter.

Dr. García is often given the title, The founder of New Mexico commercial food production. While we think of him often for his work on Chiles Peppers, he also was instrumental in the research on pecans, onions, alfalfa, and cotton. There are a couple buildings named for him on the NMSU campus and the Fabián García Agricultural Research Center west of campus.

He was a kind, gentle scientist who inspired several generations of horticultural scientists who spread all over the world. At his death in 1948 he left his entire estate of what would be 1.1 million dollars in today's currency to build a dormitory for students who were financially challenged.

It was a special synchronicity that brought him and his leadership in scientific horticulture research to Southern New Mexico just as the Rio Grande Project produced Elephant Butte Reservoir so farmers of this area had abundant water for their commercial growing fields along with the railroads so produce could be shipped all over the United States. The agricultural potential of Southern New Mexico was realized by the three coming together at the same time.

Fabián García was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1871 and orphaned at age two. His paternal grandmother brought him to New Mexico which was then a U. S. territory. He ended up in the Mesilla Valley in 1885 when his grandmother was employed by the Thomas Casad family. The Casad Orchard at that time was a large fruit orchard and being around it as he grew up gave young Fabián lots of work to do with the crops and dealing with the fruit pests.

At age 18, Fabián became a naturalized U. S. Citizen and in fact was in the first graduating class of New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1894 which in 1960 changed its name to New Mexico State University. Agriculture and scientific research were his passions, but even though he was a small thin student, he played on the football team. The football field was where Skeen Hall is currently southwest of the intersection of University and Espina on the NMSU campus. Coach John Miller was the player coach who recruited every boy in the college to just have enough players. He was a team member because the team needed every player. The field was called Miller Field after the coach and was that way until Aggie Memorial Field was created many years later.

Fabián García was always interested in growing plants, so after graduation he attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York where he received a Master of Science degree specializing in Horticulture. In 1906 he returned to his beloved Mesilla Valley and became a Professor of Horticulture which he remained until his retirement in 1945.

In 1913, in addition to his duties as Professor of Horticulture, he became the Director of the State Agricultural Experiment Station, which allowed him the research ability to which he is remembered today. Part of that research was centered on the irrigation made possible by the at that time largest Man-made dam in the world, Elephant Butte Dam and reservoir.

Previously, the spring floods came and then the water was mostly gone the rest of the year. The Rio Grande Project was started in 1895 with a survey of where a dam could be built. Initially the current location was selected but there was concern that the rock floor would leak so for a while the selected spot was at El Paso where 1-10 goes currently. But that would flood miles and miles of good growing land. The engineers found a way to adequately plug the floor of the current location of the Dam and 1913 was when the dam started filling. By 1917 the Elephant Butte Dam and reservoir was full.

The researchers at the State Agricultural Experiment Station dove into the research because farmers in the Mesilla Valley, Hatch Valley and northward appeared to put too much water on their crops. For once, there was plenty of water available to water fields of crops but quickly it became apparent that watering fields was scientific. Farmers much use just the right amount of irrigation water. Too little or too much harmed the commercial crops and the research into this was a testament to Fabián García’s leadership. And, of course, which plant varieties produced the best commercial crops was a top priority.

Early on, New Mexico 9 was a Chile variety released by Dr. García’s researchers, which combined a couple of local peppers to create a milder pepper. With new residents coming to New Mexico, the traditional peppers available were too hot. So here was a Chile that had a great flavor but was not as hot, with capsaicin better suiting new residents. There was also a desire for smoother Chile Peppers that would ship in a container better.

It is interesting the partnership between plant research and commercial farmers to produce crops effectively and efficiently. It is why Southern NM is so agriculturally centered.

Over the years, much of the commercial production in Southern New Mexico was driven by research such as Chile, making the taste more commercially acceptable and the shape of the Chile better for placing in cans for shipment. Likewise, there were constant improvements in alfalfa, cotton, onions, pecans, turf grass, and many more commercial products. None of these improvements in the products and efficiencies of the crops happened by accident. It is what an Agricultural Research Facility does.

It is interesting that the onion production program at NMSU is one of only two public onion breeding and production programs in the United States, and one variety currently of onion is the NuMex Fabián García variety of onions.

Now let me mention something: over more than a hundred years, lots of agricultural products have been constantly improved for shape, flavor, pest resistance, growing season length, and a myriad of other details that we rarely think of as we enjoy Chile, Pecans, Onions, and many other harvests produced in Southern New Mexico. Of course, the benefits are not just in Southern New Mexico; much of the research started and sustained by Fabián García and those that followed him has spread to most of the world.

There is a Fabián García Research Center near the intersection of South Main and University Avenue in Las Cruces. The center was first started in 1906 when 23 acres were purchased of what is currently about 41 acres. Over the years, more was purchased though seven acres were used on Interstate 10 directly east of the Fabián García Research Center.

The Research Center houses the Teaching and Research gardens of the Chile Pepper Institute, which has an office in Gerald Thomas Hall on the campus of New Mexico State University. It is a great place to visit, with coin-operated parking meters just south of the building. Among many others at the Research Center is a viticulture program which has many grape varieties to support wine production in the area.

The reason to mention Fabián García at the same time as the construction of Elephant Butte Dam is that four things were required to make Southern New Mexico a viable agricultural production area: water, sunshine, transportation as in a railroad, and robust ag research.

Even around that time, there were small amounts of Chile, Pecan, Grapes, Onions, and other crops, but not on the scale now. Again, the expansion of the commercial ability in our area did not happen by accident. Rather was literally thousands upon thousands of days of research.

And it took the Agricultural leadership of Dr. Fabián García and the ones that followed him to make New Mexico Agriculture as fine as it is now. I will be talking about some of the research leaders in the coming weeks, such as Dr. Roy Nakayama, who in 1975 released my favorite Green Chile, Big Jim. Dr. Nakayama has a great story which I will tell soon.

In fact, in August, there will be 2023 Big Jim Hatch Green Chile available in a jar. Fresh Chile is now offering a special reserve release of the Hatch Green Chile varietal Big Jim in a 16-ounce jar. Varietal means that this product will only be made with Big Jim Chile, which is sweet and has a medium heat level. Big Jim is very popular in New Mexico restaurants & homes. The harvest of the Big Jim crop is anticipated to be in the middle of August 2023, with the first product available a few weeks later. Customers can preorder this product now at The Fresh Chile Company website: freshchileco.com

Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. These Podcasts are sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Hit subscribe if you want to automatically get these podcasts. Thank you for your time today.

We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on this Podcast, If you have something you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes, and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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