New Mexico Pecan Festival: At Long Last!

Much of the appeal of the Mesilla Valley at the peak of summer is the breathtaking pecan orchards at almost every turn and in almost every direction. One of the most impressive is an area down south on Highway 28 where pecan trees majestically line a long stretch of road. The lush green forest hovers over the road like natural topiaries, shielding cruisers from the searing sun and bringing relief from the 100° desert temperatures down below. There is, however, so much more to pecans trees than simply shade and beauty.

The Salopek and Stahmann families have been farming pecans in the fertile Mesilla Valley for decades and together —along with other smaller family farms— they have helped put Doña Ana on the global map as the largest pecan producing county in the world. Their orchards combined stretch out over 10,000 acres, making pecans the number one economical crop in the state. Depending on the crop cycle, New Mexico alternates with Georgia as the top producer of pecans in the nation. In 2014, New Mexico produced upward of 65 million pounds of pecans with a crop value of more than $130 million.1

Historically, our State has been host to a variety of festivals, many dedicated to commemorating the chile, apple and cherry harvests. Then, there are the more eclectic celebrations like the Hopfest, Salsa Fest, Lavender & Garlic Fest, Chocolate and Coffee Fest, various wine festivals and an old local favorite The Whole Enchilada Fiesta. But a Pecan Festival, in recognition of such a copious crop, there is not… at least not until this year.

The idea of a Pecan Festival came about during negotiations between Heather Salopek of Legacy Pecans and Heather Hume of LuLu’s, who will now carry Legacy Pecan products. It was Hume that asked the question: “Why do we not have a Pecan Festival?” Although Heather Salopek had entertained the idea of doing something to honor her family’s legacy in the pecan industry, she admits that a pecan festival had never crossed her mind.

Soon, Salopek and Hume joined forces with Morgan Switzer-McGinley and Irene Parra and formed a coalition to get the concept off the ground. They adopted the mission: “To preserve the Mesilla Valley's rich agricultural history through educational and interactive initiatives that promote tourism and the community.” The four ladies are all serving as Board of Directors in charge of… well everything. 

“Without the invaluable support we have received from our sponsors, NMSU and NMDA, and the relentless enthusiasm of the community, the first annual New Mexico Pecan Festival would not be possible,” admits Heather Salopek.

Finally, this October, Legacy Pecans and the Town of Mesilla will host the inaugural event celebrating one of the largest agricultural commodities in the state. The NM Pecan Festival will be unlike any other street festival Mesilla has seen. It will be free of charge and is set to take place on the plaza the weekend of October 8th. To kick off the eventful weekend, a Hot Air Balloon Send Off is scheduled on Saturday morning.

The Pecan Fest is slated to incorporate the participation of different businesses along Avenida de Mesilla to host things such as a beer tasting, wine tasting and even a taste of pecan gelato. Innovative events like a Classic Car and Tractor Show and a Run Like a Nut 5k Fun Run, Toss Like a Nut Cornhole Tournament and Best Pecan Pie in the West Contest will make the Pecan Fest a memorable treat for the entire family. 

Adults can enjoy local and regional artisans and food including alcohol vendors representing local vineyards and breweries. There will also be a diverse lineup of local and regional music with a free Harvest Dance in the Plaza featuring a headline act to be announced in coming weeks. While children can enjoy the kid’s petting zoo provided by NMSU School of Agriculture 4H program and hands on educational events all weekend, there will also be amusement rides and a multitude of activities such as gunny sack races. 

A Pecan Festival such as this has long been needed, and at last we will have one. It has taken the collective energy, talent and zeal of an entire community to bear fruit from a budding idea and it promises to be very unique and different from the festivals we are accustomed to. 

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Summer 2016


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