A 1930s tractor pulling a trailer stacked with hay bales chugs past farm stands overflowing with fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes and chiles. Horses clop down main street past musicians strumming folk music. These sights are juicy slices of Americana, and they aren’t scenes of yesteryear. In Corrales, they unfold during the annual Corrales Harvest Festival, held Oct. 15–16.
Farming has deep roots here—from the Tiwa Puebloans who resided in pit houses here around 500 A.D. to the two-dozen Spanish families who settled along the floodplain of lower Corrales in the 1700s. In the 1800s, gourds gave way to grapes when French and Italian immigrants planted vineyards. Later, prohibition stamped out these vineyards, and cattle ranching, orchards, and cornfields moved in.
The Harvest Festival has more contemporary origins, though. When the San Ysidro Church decided to forgo its own seasonal celebrations, Corrales grand-dam Evelyn Losack decided to continue the festivities in her own way in 1985. (Losack passed away earlier this year.) That year, Al Knight, an early volunteer, visited Disneyland and marveled at the way the vacation spot transported visitors from the parking lot to the main gates. He and a few friends, including Roy Soto and Rick Harris, gave the system some local flavor, revving the engines of their tractors and hitching trailers to transport visitors from La Entrada, down Corrales Road, to the Old Church. Since then, the hayride circuit has been the festival’s marquee attraction—and primary not-so-rapid-transit system. Continuing the festival’s tongue-in-cheek nature, the trio even made themselves Corrales Yacht Club jackets to wear while driving. The Kiwanis Club of Corrales Foundation took over organizing the festival a few years ago, giving the grassroots effort a bit more formality.
Now, 31 years later, the festival continues to celebrate the village’s rural past and present, even as Albuquerque and Rio Rancho—the state’s largest and third largest cities—press against its borders. The town’s thoroughfare is still stop-light-free, and car traffic wends along at 30 miles an hour or less, past shady cottonwood lanes and fields. Its name reflects its pastoral and equine origins, and it remains the self-proclaimed horse capital of the state.
Although few of today’s residents make their livings from the land as early settlers once did, “Corrales is a rural community,” says Jack Reynolds, treasurer of the Corrales Kiwanis Club, which organizes the harvest festival. “Farming has just moved inside,” he says, pointing to ARCA’s La Paloma project and Silver Leaf Farms’ greenhouses. The grower’s market also testifies to the fertile grounds here. Farmers and local producers like Heidi’s Raspberries and Hip Chik Farms set up on Sundays throughout the season, as well as during the festival.
“We’re carrying on the traditions from years ago to promote our heritage. You cross the border [into the village], and you’re in a different world,” says Sandy Rasmussen, executive director of Corrales MainStreet, Inc. During the harvest festival, Casa San Ysidro, Alan and Shirley Minge’s recreation of a 19th century rancho, affiliated with the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, hosts its own events, including demonstrations of Spanish Colonial lifeways, such as weaving, blacksmithing, and horno bread-making.
The village’s greatest recent agricultural successes, however, have grown from its vineyards, which made a comeback in the 1970s and ’80s, along with the state’s wine industry at large. Visitors can sip the fruits of the local vines at the wine fair, where four local wineries will be serving. “Corrales has become a winery capital. There’s a greater concentration of wineries in Corrales than in any other area of its size in the state,” Al Knight, proprietor of Acequia Vineyards & Winery, says. “There’s not as much farmable land in Corrales as there used to be because the land is more valuable for homes. But this has always been a wine growing region.” (In addition to Acequia Winery, Corrales Winery and Pasando Tiempo will also be pouring.)
A white may pair well with the donut burgers from Basil Home Cooking, one among the fleet of food trucks that will be present. A red would go nicely with Las Ristras’s carne asada burritos. Las Ristras, a newish restaurant, is one of several merchants who are working together to welcome visitors—in this case, with the scintillating aroma of beef on the grill—during the festival.
Newcomers are often surprised to discover Corrales’s commercial district, which includes the Corrales Bosque Gallery, a co-op that reflects the bedroom community’s artistic leanings. During the year, creatives welcome visitors to the May studio tour and set up for Art in the Park on Sundays. Painters, photographers, jewelers and other artists will set up booths in La Entrada Park during the harvest festival.
The town’s musical leanings are also center-stage over the town days, with three bands playing live folk and Americana music. The Curio Cowboys, a Western swing band, headline the Harvest Hootennany dance, Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m., which harkens the barn dances of old, under the stars.
The family fun starts early on Saturday with a kids’ pet parade in the morning that feels more Mid-Western than New Mexican. This being Corrales, the kids’ pets are often pigs, llamas, chickens, rabbits, and other farm animals, all dressed for the occasion. This year’s theme—Halloween—is sure to bring out rolls of orange-and-black ribbons and cans of spray-on hair dye. The candidates for the town’s pet mayor will also walk in the parade. This year, in the hotly contested race for the honorarium, two dogs, two roosters, and a pig vie for attendees votes. Festival goers must pay to cast a vote, because in the end, this is a fundraiser.
The Kiwanis Club funnels the admission fee—$6 for the festival, $7 for the wine fair, and $15 for the Hootenanny—back into the community. Each year, some $20,000 funds fire department social-service projects, music in the schools, the library, and sends 20 to 25 local kids to a Kiwanis summer camp for a week. It’s a by-the-people-for-the-people event.
Jack says another of the town’s greatest assets is its human capital—in this case, the scads of volunteers who, like him, sell admission tickets, direct tractor traffic, and roadie the bands that play live music. Perhaps it’s another holdover from decades gone by, when neighbors gathered together each fall for the hard work and great joy of the harvest.
Corrales Harvest Festival, corralesharvestfestival.com.
Story by Ashley M. Biggers