"It's hammer time."
That’s how Dalton Milberger, a second-generation chile farmer in Pueblo describes this season. "We're busy, picking chile all day long, as much as we can."
Milberger dedicates 80 acres of his 400-acre farm to the peppers, though he said not all of them are of the Pueblo variety. He is, though, the President of the Pueblo Chile Growers Association, a group of farmers who all grow the local specialty: Marisol chiles also known as Pueblo chiles.
It's crunch time this year, he said, because the cooler spring means a later harvest. And a later harvest means a tighter window to pick the crops.
"Just because there's a later harvest does not mean there will be a later frost,” he said.
At Milberger Farms, they pick by hand. More than a dozen people are out in the fields, and on a good day, he said they can pick 1,000 bushels a day. The plants are about 3-4 feet tall, so once the pickers are out there, they can be hard to see. "Every once in a while, you'll see a head pop up, a sack get tossed."
The chile roasters will be spinning at his stand and others at the 29th annual Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival this weekend in the Steel City. He said he likes to watch people try the Pueblo chiles.
"Sometimes you get somebody new out there who thinks they're awesome and can eat anything. Give them a nice hot Pueblo chile, and it kind of shuts them up a little bit. And then they come back about 30 minutes later and buy a bushel."
The festival is a big event for the area farmers, Milberger said, and rewarding.
"We get to visit with lots of people, answer lots of questions about what we do, how we do it. And then we get to share what we raised and watch the enjoyment of everybody."
Milberger Farms will take up to around 1,500 bushels to the festival, but throughout the weekend, he expects close to 10,000 bushels of chiles to be on sale across seven farm stands.
The festival also features a chihuahua parade, chili and salsa showdown, and a jalapeno eating contest, along with live music and dozens of other booths and food vendors. It takes place in downtown Pueblo, Friday 3 p.m. to midnight, Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
And if you happen to miss the festival, Millberger said farm stands like his are open all along Highway 50 just east of Pueblo.
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