Enchanting People of New Mexico - Roy Nakayama

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Episode 8 - Roy Nakayama

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 from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Hit subscribe to automatically get these Podcasts. Every Monday and Friday we have regular Historical and Cultural New Mexico Podcasts. Wednesdays, today, we celebrate people important to our area.

Today, I am thrilled to bring you Dr. Roy Nakayama, and at the same time I understand that I could spend hours and hours talking about Dr. Nakayama. But I have 15 minutes so if you hear interesting things, there are several sources to further research this great agriculturalist.

A few weeks ago, on a Wednesday which is when I talk specifically about people who made enormous contributions to our area, I presented Fabián García who preceded Dr. Roy Nakayama, but both were so vital to the development of New Mexico Agriculture. Both are noted for their work on Chile Peppers, but the story is more complex. Both provided research insights on many other crops such as Pecans, Onions and Paprika to name a couple crops.

What isn’t known is that both researchers were fabulous professors of Agriculture who influenced a generation of students in the field of agriculture. That is especially true of Dr. Roy Nakayama who is mentioned often about his plant breeding programs and research but what I have noticed is the students he had were inspired by his teaching. The Roy Nakayama Scholarship in the NMSU Department of Horticulture is a lasting reminder of his ability to mold the students into great agricultural personnel. The Nakayama family had quite a positive influence on our area. Dr. Nakayama’s brother Joe established two research professorships at NMSU, one at the College of Engineering and one in the Agricultural area.

Dr. Roy Nakayama was born in the Shalem Colony area of north Las Cruces and worked on the family farm growing up selling vegetables locally under the Naky label. At Union High School in Las Cruces, Roy showed lambs and judged dairy cows and was part in 1938 of the winning team at the Southwestern Livestock Show. He was one of eight children from parents who emigrated to the United States from Japan. The Nakayama family has been part of the agricultural scene in Southern New Mexico for generations.

Roy Nakayama attended the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, which we now know as New Mexico State University. He was there a couple years when the second world war broke out and he enlisted in the Army. He was small in physical size and was part of the administrative team as a soldier. Unfortunately, he was captured by the Germans and spent seven months as a prisoner of war in very harsh conditions. When liberated he only weighed 87 pounds and for the rest of his life he was very bothered by cold weather and had lost his ability to do hard physical labor on the family farm.

Even worse, due to his Japanese heritage even though he was born in New Mexico and served his country honorably in the U. S. Army, he was discriminated against when he returned to college to finish his bachelor’s degree. and initially he was not allowed to register.

Fortunately, some of his former professors took up the cause and convinced the college administration that he should attend which was granted. Dr. Nakayama was quite sensitive as to racism his entire life and was always a champion of students. The official president of the college at the time was Army General Hugh Milton II, who was not on campus due to his military assignments in the Pacific Theatre of WWII.

Dr. John Branson, Dean of Arts and Sciences was the acting president, and it is my understanding he acted quickly to make sure Nakayama could attend and importantly, was welcomed home from his service in the military. Again, the racism against Nakayama made him a champion of students who were struggling, and a champion of students from all over the world. During his time at NMSU, the number of foreign agricultural students increased dramatically and the research done here at NMSU was spread over the entire world.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

After graduating in Las Cruces with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture, Dr. Roy Nakayama got his Master of Science Degree and his Ph.D. from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, in plant pathology. Roy was sensitive to cold after his injuries in WWII, so he happily came back to Las Cruces and started half of his most important work, that of plant development and breeding. His other half was teaching and helping other researchers. There were three main issues: plant disease, making the plants better commercially such as how they grow, are harvested and shipped, and consumer enjoyment of the plants such as the Chile Peppers.

Example: NuMex Big Jim Chile was developed by Dr. Roy Nakayama and is to this day very popular in New Mexico restaurants & homes. In 1975, Big Jim was listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest Chile Pods, perfect for Chile Rellenos. It is a hybrid of New Mexico Chile Peppers and a Peruvian pepper Nakayama and fellow researcher Jim Lytle combined. Big Jim is named for Jim Lytle who died unexpectedly at that time.

Now America and especially New Mexico was changed. After the release of Big Jim and other Chile Peppers, the consumption of Chile Peppers in the United States doubled and continues to this day to increase. In 1987 I moved to the Ventura area of Southern California to take a job for two years. They had an Anaheim Chile in the grocery stores that had almost no capsacium therefore looked right and smelled right when roasting but tasted like I had cut up a Bell Pepper. I was so disappointed. But there was no way to get New Mexico Chile at that time other than driving home, roasting some Green Chile then packing it in ice and bringing it to California which I never did. Instead. I returned to good Chile in 1989 and have since remained.

Chile Peppers were just one of Dr. Nakayama’s interest. Working with Dr. Esteban Herrera, they developed the Sullivan and the Salopek Pecans, and they continuously refined cultivation of these products along with every plant. Even to this day it is a constant that each commercial crop is evaluated daily as to improvements in the growth, yield and value.

And again, at the same time as rigorously researching commercial plants and working with farmers of the Hatch and Mesilla Valley, Dr. Roy Nakayama was an inspiring professor for the students at New Mexico State University.

In the middle 1980s Dr. Nakayama retired but his work was continued by many other agricultural researchers. One is Dr. Paul Bosland who came in the 1980s and is recognized as one of the foremost experts on Capsicum with more than 100 scientific papers deal with Chile genetics, breeding and evaluation. He is the co-founder and director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, located at the Fabián García Science Center which is part of the NMSU Agricultural Experiment State just west of Main Street on University Avenue.

Now in terms of culinary enjoyment, the research and development of many crops have been part of the Enchantment of New Mexico. In dollars from almost nothing 120 years ago it is now 410 million dollars in Chile Peppers, Cotton, Hay, and Pecans. Along with that is the small and middle-sized farms that employ New Mexicans to gather and work the crops.

More importantly, over the years and the millions of sessions of research, the ability to improve crops has been to the forefront of the industry. One of the recipients of Nakayama’s work is Onions, specifically Sweet Onions. It all began in Georgia where in the 1930s a farmer noticed some of his onions were not as pungent and over the years the onions were deemed sweet since they were not as pungent. Fast forward to New Mexico State University research in Sweet Onions, NuMex Sweet Onions which make up 10 percent of the Onions grown in New Mexico. Again, it goes back to Fabián García and Dr. Roy Nakayama who formed a bond with the research and the commercial farmers. And, one other group, the students of these great men who themselves became agricultural icons. I have been blessed to know several who said that it was the teaching of Dr. Roy Nakayama that had the greatest lasting effect because every day they teach it is a conduit from Nakayama to their students and beyond. We are so blessed that the Nakayama family moved here and Roy Nakayama was a researcher and professor.

Let me speak of something from our sponsor, The Fresh Chile Company of Las Cruces New Mexico. In the next month there will be 2023 Big Jim Hatch Green Chile available in a jar. It is 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. 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. You can preorder this at The Fresh Chile Company website: freshchileco.com

Now I want to tell you about something just about to be put on the shelves of the Fresh Chile Company and yes, I had an advance taste of a jar which went fast in my household. It is Hatch Sweet Onion Dressing. Everyone knows that the Hatch Valley is renowned for its Chile since it is the Chile Capital of the World. Onions from the Hatch Valley and surrounding fields are some of the sweetest of all well-known varieties and sweeter than most.

This Hatch Sweet Onion Dressing combines those Hatch Sweet Onions with avocado oil and our very own Green Chile Dijon Mustard to create a dressing that’s so good you can marinate and baste with it as well as douse your salads and fruit with it. Coming very soon. I certainly will mention it on the podcasts when it is on the shelf and ready to be ordered.

Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com The same is true if there is someone you would like me to talk about who was or is important to our little slice of paradise. 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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