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Our Youth Are Our Light: Updates From NMAA Youth Education Initiatives

By Emily Arasim & Donne Gonzales, NMAA Youth Education Co-Coordinators

Despite the changes and challenges caused by the pandemic, our youth education team has continued to be hard at work connecting youth and families across the state with learning opportunities to deepen their understanding of and passion for acequias!

Learn more about recent projects below! For more information about any of our youth programs contact: emily@lasacequias.org and donne@lasacequias.org

Con Fuerza y Querencia’ the 2021 Acequia Culture Youth Leadership Institute

We are so excited to celebrate the graduation of our cohort of 2021 Acequia Culture Youth Leadership Institute students!

Over the past five months, 16 middle school, high school and college aged youth from across the state have gathered for learning and skill building sessions on topics including the history and importance of acequias; the meaning of querencia; acequia farming, ranching and seeds; language and oral history; the movement to prevent commodification of water; challenges facing acequias and youth solutions for health and justice; acequia music, art and poetry; and traditional skills such as remedios, adobe work, and butchering.

In early September, we held a graduation celebration and heard from youth leaders about the visions they have for their role in their communities, as well as beautiful projects such as maps of their acequias and gardens, family seed story boxes, remedio identification projects, poems and art pieces!

The future is bright, as we know they are just some of the many young people who have a deep love for their cultures and histories, and are dedicated to protecting the health of their communities, and the land and water of New Mexico.

2021 Acequia Culture Youth Leadership Institute Graduates:

~ Orlando Pino, Des Montes/Valdez

~ Diego Salazar, Pilar

~ Elaine Mitchell-Gonzales, Placita/Vadito

~ Guadalupe Savannah Gallegos, Villanueva

~ Michael Lucero II, Dilia

~ Cruz Martinez, Cordova

~ Ignacio Gonzales, Chamisal

~ Joseph Salazar, Valle de Atrisco/Albuquerque

~ Keira Marquez, Shiprock

~ Matejo Heitzman, La Mesilla

~ Maira J. Juarez Martinez, Santa Fe

~ Jonathan Gonzales, Anton Chico

~ Joaquin Romero, Mora

~ Angel Chavez, Valle de Atrisco/Albuquerque

~ Veronica Griego, Mora/Guadalupita

~ Anya Manzanares, Abiquiu

Sembrando Semillas Youth Project

Sem Sem youth in Taos experiment with several different methods for growing potatoes
Sem Sem youth in Chamisal clean their harvest of havas

Over summer 2020 and 2021, our Sembrando Semillas intergenerational learning sites in Chamisal, Abiquiu, and Taos have continued to meet in small, covid safe groups.

At the Chamisal site, youth continued to grow their knowledge in preparing soil and fields, maintaining acequias, caring for and choosing seeds and bulbs for planting, irrigating, weeding and harvesting diverse fields with their mentors. Youth also learned about care of fruit trees, and participated in the seasonal work of pruning, watering, harvesting, and processing value added goods including jams and dehydrated fruits. Older youth also had the opportunity to gain new skills in caring for chickens, guineas, geese, and turkeys – as well as a herd of 35 sheep, which included daily care, fence and pasture maintenance, shearing and butchering.

Sem Sem youth in Abiquiu work together to build a horno

At the Taos site, youth worked together to raise chickens, and learned about proper care and how to address different sicknesses and seasonal challenges facing their animals. Other projects included learning to grow heirloom wheat, experimenting with different methods for growing potatoes, and building skills in food processing and preservation, including pickling and canning to make value added farm goods. Taos youth also focused on honing their digital skills by learning to film, edit and manage data of photos and videos capturing their seasonal work and farm learning.

At the Abiquiu Sem Sem site, youth learned to plant and care for their own patch of potatoes, and worked together to design and build a large horno which was used as part of Fall projects in sheep sheering, meat processing and matanza celebration. Abiquiu youth also took part in a multi-day training on how to plant trees, and took a deep dive into learning about the many uses and health benefits of the fruit trees they tended.

We love our Sem Sem youth, and can’t wait to continue to see them grow next season.

Online Class Presentations

While we have not been able to present in-person in classrooms during the pandemic, we have still been able to meet with hundreds of youth via online class presentations. The positive light of this change has been the chance to connect more easily with youth in the far southern and eastern areas of the state. Teachers, school, and youth group administrators are encouraged to reach out to us to schedule an online acequia education presentation anytime!  We look forward to resuming in person presentations when we can do so safely. Youth activity print-outs to use at home or at school are available on our website: www.lasacequias.org/presentations-curriculum

March 2021 Acequia Career Day

During the online Acequia Career Day event, over 250 youth and community members from across the state gathered to learn about the many different career and livelihood opportunities they can follow to be caretakers for acequias and acequia community and culture.

We began with a panel discussion where youth got to hear about the passions and life-paths of amazing mayordomos and commissioners – poets and musicians – engineers and infrastructure specialists – farmers and ranchers – remedio makers and food business owners – adoberos and leñeros – historians, documentary film-makers and storytellers – lawyers and policy advocates. Youth were then able to choose which area interested them most, and went into small groups to ask questions and learn more. Our NMAA team was deeply inspired by the huge turn-out and positive feedback for this event, and is committed to offering more acequia career and mentorship opportunities into the future.

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