Researchers work to spread traditional New Mexican crop by Ximena Tapia

Blue corn has been getting a lot of national attention in the past few years because research has shown that pigmented foods tend to have high nutritional value. Richard Pratt, director of the Semi-Arid Cropping Systems Research Innovation Program and professor at New Mexico State University, has spent many years researching corn, and he says that this blue corn craze is good for New Mexico. 

“More and more people are interested in authentic New Mexican cuisine. Part of our cultural heritage is these traditional varieties of corn that make really good food products,” he said.

Blue corn is well known in many of the New Mexican pueblos and is grown by the Navajo and other Native Americans and traditional communities in New Mexico. 

“It is becoming increasingly mainstream due to the success of blue corn chips, the awareness that colored foods provide good sources of anti-oxidants and the interest in having more local foods in our economy and our diet,” Pratt said. 

He has been researching corn for about 30 years, but has been conducting blue corn research for about 10 years. Pratt says he and his colleagues are trying to find out more about the many blue corn varieties in New Mexico. 

One of the studies they have conducted is trying to see whether corn grown in Northern New Mexico will adapt to the lower elevations in the borderland, and vice versa. Pratt said they have seen, “instances of specific adaptation where they don’t go to higher or lower elevations very well,” but they have also seen varieties with broader adaptation. 

Pratt also serves on the advisory board of the New Mexico Landrace Corn Project. The mission of the project is, “getting seed out of the seed banks and into the fields again so it can help people and communities improve their well-being and their bank accounts,” he said. 

When the project started a little over a year ago, they obtained enough seed to plant about 150 acres of blue corn. Through the project, the university helps New Mexico farmers sell their corn to bigger companies.

“We have producers, buyers and the university working together. We’re trying to help the farmers not just produce corn that has higher value, but also help them with sustainable agricultural practices,” Pratt said. “There is a growing body of consumers who don’t just want the product, they want to know that it came from sustainable farms.” 

They work closely with the Masienda Bodega company to achieve this goal. 

“They are reaching out to work with small farmers and find who still has those traditional varieties,” he said. 

Masienda is a New-York based company that sells specialty corn tortillas with corn imported from Mexico. When starting the New Mexico Landrace Corn Project and beginning to work with Masienda, Pratt thought, “If they can import corn from Mexico, why don’t we grow our traditional varieties in New Mexico as well? They’ll have lower transportation costs and we’ll have economic opportunities for small New Mexico farmers, too.” 

Pratt says it is important to make New Mexico’s blue corn known because “it’s a gem of New Mexico.”

New Mexico State University Professor Rich Pratt has been conducting blue corn research for about 10 years.