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Hot Stuff: NMSU Chile Pepper Institute Opens New Headquarters

LAS CRUCES - Paul Bosland is counting down the days to the official grand opening of the new headquarters of New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute. The director of the recently completed facility roams through the Southwestern-themed office, giving students a quick smile and making sure that everything is ready for the Sept. 12 open house.

Paul Bosland, director of New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute, holds a specially commissioned poster by noted graphic artist Louis Ocepek commemorating the first decade of the self-supporting research group. The art work, along with a ristra cutting and chile tasting, will be showcased at the official grand opening of the institute's new Southwestern-themed headquarters office Sept. 12 at 1 p.m. in Room 265 of Gerald Thomas Hall. (08/27/2003) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

"We're so excited to have an official office so the public can come and learn about chiles," said Bosland, a chile breeder and professor with NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station. "This facility would not have happened without the help and support of our members, local supporters and the chile industry."

The event gets underway with a ristra cutting officially opening the new office by Jerry Schickedanz, dean of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics, and Emma Jean Cervantes, chairwoman of the Chile Pepper Institute, at 1 p.m. in Room 265 of Gerald Thomas Hall. Other program highlights are lessons on ristra tying, a flavors of the Southwest tasting display and sales of several jalapeno varieties.

Noted graphic artist Louis Ocepek will also be on hand to sign copies of a specially commissioned poster commemorating the first decade of Chile Pepper Institute.

Located on the western edge of campus, the institute is a self-supporting education facility dedicated completely to chile pepper science. It is the epicenter for NMSU's many-tiered efforts aimed at producing better pepper pods, in addition to promoting and marketing the fiery fruits.

Peppers have become an icon of the American Southwest since U.S. palates started developing a taste for the hot stuff in the 1970s. Once picked and processed, chile is New Mexico's most valuable vegetable, worth more than $200 million annually.

In terms of research, NMSU's chile institute is a funneling point for newly developed lines of peppers, Bosland said. Among the university's latest chile releases are a habanero pepper that was born to be mild and a paprika that produces the reddest pigment commercially available, he said.

Danise Coon, the institute's assistant director, added that one of the organization's hottest attractions is its chile demonstration garden, which has more than 150 varieties of spicy-sweet smelling peppers. It is one of the largest public chile gardens in the world, she said.

"During the growing season, visitors can walk through a sea of fresh summer peppers that blaze in a mix of red, green, yellow, purple, brown, ivory and orange," Coon said. The half-acre demonstration garden, which has been in operation for the past seven years, is located 1.5 miles west of the campus at the Fabian Garcia Research Center in Las Cruces.

In addition, she said, the institute features more than 25 chile seed varieties for sale on its website (http://www.chilepepperinstitute.org), as well as updates on upcoming chile-oriented conferences and meetings. The online database also has information on books and publications about the pungent pods, and an electronic version of the program's popular newsletter, which features updates on research and regulations affecting the industry.

For the kids, the Chile Pepper Institute has produced an interactive kiosk display with educational material about chile. The kiosk features animated characters explaining the many uses of chile, including elephant repellent and natural coloring agent in some of the children's favorite foods.

Earlier this summer, NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute began a two-year project, funded with a $120,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which created a summer program called Assured, short for Agricultural Summer Science Undergraduate Research and Education Program. The program introduced 10 students with migrant backgrounds to the agricultural research process to broaden their interest in scientific studies.

For more information or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the open house, please contact Coon at (505) 646-3028 or e-mail her are hotchile@nmsu.edu before the event.