MBJ Packing

By Gloria Vaquera, Photography by Damacio Bernal & Courtesy of MBJ

Angel Baquera learned just about everything he knows about agriculture and business from his father, Manuel. He was a determined man who started with nothing but his bare hands and worked his way to having his own successful farm. However, Angel acknowledges that it was his mother, Josefina, who taught him the meaning of hard work as she was right there alongside them on the field. 

“Mom would wake us up really early and say, ‘Vámonos a trabajar, ya se está asiento tarde,’” recounts Angel. “She would say, ‘Let’s go get the work done early, before the sun gets too hot then you’ll have the rest of the day to play.’ She must have gotten up at the crack of dawn because by that time, she had already made breakfast and lunch for all of us. By 2:00 pm we were back home and from then on, it was our time. We spent most days outside in the canal or playing with rocks and sticks.”

Mr. Baquera harvested mainly green chile in the Hatch Valley and he often had his children helping to pick the chile, load it into sacks by hand and then load the pick-up. He would make several trips a day to Albuquerque until it was all sold. The red chile was a different process Angel recalls. “Those were definitely different times. The red chile was dried either on the ground or on the roof of the house. Then my dad noticed that the neighbor across the street had a quicker and more efficient system of drying it.” This piqued his interest and in 1972, Mr. Baquera built his first tunnel to dehydrate the red chile. This was an integral part in how the processing plant, Baquera's Chile Products, got started.

Mr. Baquera dabbled in businesses other than farming and the chile plant; he also owned a small country store and a café in Arrey. In 1985, his health caused him to retire and it became necessary for each of the children to take over his business ventures. There were six children in the Baquera family; Sylvia, Angel, Dolores, Lydia, Saul and Manuel who passed away at the age of 18. Sylvia took over the café, Lydia bought the store, Angel purchased the chile plant and Saul, the farm. In 2005, five years after Mr. Baquera passed away, they stopped farming completely. 

Angel admits that Yvette, his wife of 32 years, has been his driving force and has helped him overcome many challenges in business as in life. As a homemaker Yvette has always been dedicated to raising her children and taking care of their home. They have three sons; Manuel, Angel and John who is adopted as well as a daughter, Grace and eight grandchildren.

Today, MBJ Packing is run by Angel and his son, Manuel. “He’s doing really well in distribution. When we first bought the label, our product was in only at four stores in Belen.” Angel adds that because of Manuel’s efforts they are now in ninety stores throughout New Mexico including Wal-Mart, Albertson’s, Lowe’s Food Store, Smith’s and Save-mart. The four Wal-Marts in Las Cruces have expressed an interest in carrying their label and Manuel is also talking to another chain that has stores in NM, AZ, UT, and CO. 

MBJ Packing specializes in processing both red and green chile. “Processing,” Angel explained, “is when the fresh product is brought to us from the field, passed through a dehydrator, which goes through a cleaning system, and is then dried in tunnels. Once it is dried, we grade it, steam it, pack it and ship it out.” The red chile is sold as dry chile pods, Caribe or crushed as well as in powdered form. MBJ contracts and works closely with local growers for the freshest green chile. 

Eva’s Blue Ribbon Chile is MBJ’s red and green frozen chile line. In manufacturing it, they take chile that has already been processed and take it one step further. The process involves soaking the pod, liquefying it, seasoning it, putting it in containers and finally freezing it. Instead of buying the pods to make a chile sauce, the consumer can purchase the chile sauce (red or green) already prepared and ready to be used in any recipe. Before they acquired Eva’s Blue Ribbon Chile, Eva the previous owner, bought the chile directly from the Baquera’s. She was 83 years old in 2005, when she decided to sell them the label. 

“Since the 80s, when we added the processing plant, this was always my vision; to do exactly what we are doing now.” Angel adds, “But, in recent years I’ve found that regulations, laws and competing with foreign markets are an entirely different beast. I still think this a very rewarding industry, but having been in the industry for 50 years, I’m used to doing things differently,” he said jokingly.

Keeping pace with the changing food industry is something that a younger generation may be able to adapt to more easily. Angel is excited about the possibility of turning the business over to Manuel because then, he would have more time to focus on ministry. He has been an ordained minister for the past 24 years and has a bilingual church, New Creation Ministries, in his hometown of Arrey, NM. 

To Angel keeping the tradition alive and in the family is very important. To date, his mom Josefina –who is 78 years old and the epitome of hard work– can still be found working at the plant. Manuel’s son, 12 year-old Manuel Eziquiel, also helps any chance he gets. Eziquiel would make it a four-generation family affair if he continued with the company. 

Spring 2017

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