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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Feasting through the centuries: Taos Trade Fair

A turkey is a feast for anyone. But imagine that you’ve been living in the mountains for the better part of the year – hunting and trapping. The air is starting to hold a little chill and you know that before long the leaves will be changing and it’ll be time to head down the mountain and into Taos Valley for the trade fair. That wild turkey -- stuffed with chives and spitted over a pinon fire – must have smelled like a little bit of heaven cooking on earth.

Dwain Bland, nationally renowned turkey caller and hunter will be the featured presenter at this year’s Taos Trade Fair at Hacienda de los Martinez September 24 and 25, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Admission is $6, $3 for children six to 16 and $15 for families of parents and children. Bland will teach the art of turkey calling stalking, bushwacking and the handling of muzzle loading guns, Saturday afternoon.

Every year the hacienda hosts the Taos Trade Fair which celebrates the past and keeps the tradition of Taos as a gathering place for people to trade goods and exchange. It’s become a family tradition to attend, sample some of the traditional foods, enjoy the hacienda and grounds brimming with music, entertainment along with skill and craft demonstrations. Also artisans will display their wares for sale and there’s a full program of folkloric music and dancing groups who will be performing.

The hacienda

Admission to the Trade Fair gives visitors an opportunity to join in the festivities, but also there is time to take in the hacienda and its exhibits. Located on the banks of the Rio Pueblo, this fortress-like building with massive adobe walls and no exterior windows is one of the few remaining northern New Mexico style Spanish Colonial haciendas open to the public. With parts of the hacienda dating to back to 1780, it served as a safe refuge for neighbors and valuable livestock during Commanche and Apache raids.

Don Antonio Severino Martinez purchased the land and a small building of four rooms in 1804. Right away he began enlarging the building to accommodate his large family and the trade business. At his death in 1827 the structure consisted of 21 rooms with two interior courtyards. Don Antonio owned a number of carretas or wagon carts used in caravans that carried supplies along the Camino Real to and from Chihuahua, Mexico.

The tradition of the Taos as a rendezvous point

During prehistoric times Taos Pueblo was an important southwestern trade center.
Trade goods were bartered as all the various tribes would gather at Taos Pueblo for the annual trade fairs.

At these fairs, held usually just after the harvest, the Pueblos exchanged pottery, agricultural products (corn, beans, squash and chile), woven cotton goods, and turquoise with the nomadic plains and mountain tribes for beautifully processed animal hides, buffalo robes, jerked meat, tallow, salt and captives. The fairs have continued in the Taos area through the eras of occupation by Spanish and the U.S. government.

The Taos Trade Fair reach back through the centuries and is part of the seasonal cycle of celebrations and festivals that sets Taos apart from the rest.

Taos Trade Fair at the Taos Historical Museums’ Hacienda de los Martinez

Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $6, $3 for children six to 16 and $15 for families of parents and children. For more, visit TaosHistoricMuseums.com, or, call the hacienda, 505-758-1000, Taos Historic Museums, 505-758-0505 or email thm@TaosHistoricMuseums.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Outstanding in his field

Curtis Miller is one of those charmed individuals who can grow just about anything. In an area where you aren’t supposed to have enough growing season to produce butternut squash – Curtis has a field of big ones ready for harvest. He’s sold his crop to Cid’s food market – a grocer who makes a point of buying organic produce from local growers.

Butternut, acorn and other kinds of squash are hidden under the deep green and broad leaves of the vines where they are secretly ripening. Most farmers have experienced the heartbreak of an early frost that devastates a squash patch.

It’s no secret to anyone who’s tried to grow anything around in and around the Taos Valley, the climate can change by simply crossing the street. One property might be able to eke out a decent subsistence while another can barely keep grass alive. It just depends.

Miller’s fields are in the Taos foothills, an alluvial plain which forms a rich slope that seems to capture all the sun has to offer. It is also shaped just right to maximize any moisture nature cares to bestow.

He’s married to Taos Day School first-grade teacher and Taos Pueblo tribal member, Nola Romero-Miller. They are adding to their fields when they can, hoping to expand next year. With a serious green thumb in the family and some of the best planting land around, the rains this year along with the warm days has helped produce a potent harvest with no need to introduce pesticides of any kind.

“I hate bugs,” Miller said and toed his way through the squash and pumpkins to show off where a particularly huge pair of pumpkins were sleeping.

“I call them The Twins,” he said, chuckling. “Once they turn orange, they are ripe. There is no advantage to keeping them on the vine any longer.”

He’s grown three different kinds of corn – crops for chicos, popcorn and sweet corn. He tore off five ears and handed them over.

“I’m willing to bet this is the sweetest corn you’ve ever tasted,” he said with confidence, then opened the door to the shed to show where the chicos are strung up, drying.

Miller owns the animal feed store Critters Nutrition Center, 203 Bertha Road, plus he’s also known for his beekeeping. The hives are arranged in his field -- just so -- making use of the industrious pollinating bees. They seem to have blessed Miller not only with their honey but with a bumper crop of organic vegetable goodness. He is truly a man outstanding in his field.

For more info, call 505-758-0888.