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Soil Health For Storing Water

Written by Linden Schneider

Robust monsoon predicted. On Wednesday April 11th folks gathered to learn and teach about soil health at the NMAA teaching farm in Chamisal.  This drought year is the perfect time to think about soil health; most of the water we will receive will be from the intense monsoon rains.  Almost all climate models are predicting a robust monsoon season and this comes with particular challenges for our soils and plants. When this intense, heavy rain falls we want it to penetrate deep into our soils, feeding the plant roots, and recharging our aquifers. Having healthy soils with lots of organic matter, good structure, and a covered soil surface will help us keep the little water we will get ( See Figure 1).

Diversity. Acequia irrigation systems require us to have community consciousness making both our plant and human communities robust in times of change. In the workshop we heard about the many unique soils and farming goals all the participants had. A diversity in farming perspectives, techniques, management and adaptation plans are absolutely necessary for resilience. The same goes for soils!  A diversity of life and components within soils makes them healthier and more resilient!


Time and change. The beautiful rich topsoil on the Chamisal farm is some of the best in the state for growing food. It takes about 500 years for one inch of that soil to form. However, the degradation of soil health through intensive agricultural practices such as over tilling or over grazing can happen in a season or two!  Restoring soils to their previously healthy state can take decades if it is possible at all.  Soil degradation destroys the ability of soils to capture and store water (see Figure 2).

New Mexico Soils. Not only is New Mexico’s seasonal weather pattern unique, but so are the soils themselves. At the bottom of this article you will find resources specific for our New Mexico soils as most other farming and gardening literature is meant for eastern or coastal soils and climates.

New Mexico Soil Health Indicators. There are a few key factors to consider when thinking about the health of our New Mexico soils:

  1. Soil texture- This is the ratio of the three soil particle sizes to one another: sand, silt, and clay. Knowing your soil texture will help you determine things like
  2. A. Will water runoff or infiltrate?
  3. B. Will nutrients stick to the soil particles, making then available to plants or will they run off?
  4. C. Will tillage greatly deteriorate the soil structure or can the soils stand up to light tillage?

At the bottom of this article is a reference to a chart to help you determine your soil texture by feeling damp soils with your hand.


  1. Soil structure (aggregation)- This is how the particles (the sand, silt, and clay) that make up the texture, along with organic matter, all stick together. Knowing about your soils aggregation helps you understand how stable your soil will be when it comes in contact with water:
    1. Low aggregation- formation of soil crusts and water runoff
    2. High aggregation- water infiltration and storage, oxygen infiltration (good for healthy roots)

The biggest threat to high soil aggregation is tillage (see Figure 2), the more we till the more we break up the structure of the soil. It is very hard to increase aggregation, but you can do so by adding organic matter like compost or manure. Figure 1 and Figure 2

  1. Organic Matter content- This is how much organic (plant, animal, microbial) material we have in our soils and it is important for aggregation and holding and supplying water and nutrients. You can get a rough idea of this by looking at soil color, if it is a beautiful dark brown, you know you have high organic matter (see Figure 2, 2 soils on the right).  In New Mexico we have some very beautiful soil colors: yellow, red, light brown…however all these colors indicate very low organic matter.

4. pH- This is the main descriptor of the chemistry of your soil. Knowing the pH of your soil will tell you things like what plants you can grow and the availability of nutrients to your plants. In New Mexico we have neutral to high pH soils, this means:

  1. We have limited availability of the essential nutrients phosphorus, potassium, iron and manganese
  2. We have a hard time growing plants like blueberries and blackberries.

We can change the pH of our soil slightly by adding elemental sulfur usually sold as ‘Soil Acidifier’, but this takes a lot of monetary investment.  Instead we can choose to add phosphorus rich amendments like chicken pellets and grow crops tolerant of our high pH soils like carrots, cauliflower, corn, garlic, lettuce, winter squash and peppers.

Soil Health Tests. Some of the workshop participants had their soil’s health tested. Here are a few pointers on things that you should make sure the testing lab does for you:

  1. For testing phosphorus make sure you get the Olsen Test: this will tell you about how much phosphorus is available to your plants at a pH relevant to your soil
  2. Make sure they give you the sodium adsorption ratio: this will; tell you about the stability of your soil aggregates when watered.
  3. The results that you receive can be difficult and frustrating to interpret, contact your local NRCS office for help: https://goo.gl/sgD1Yr
  4. Lastly, if you plan on applying your own compost or manure to the soil as an amendment get that tested too.


Soil Texture by Feel https://goo.gl/KZPp9C

NRCS Soil Health https://goo.gl/DkQAK5

USDA WebSoilSurvey https://goo.gl/4cLgtT

NMSU Western soils http://westernsoil.nmsu.edu/

Soil Slaking Test https://goo.gl/6hksGG

Linden Schneider, author of this article: linden.schneider@gmail.com




Inspection of Public Records & Acequia Record Keeping

Grandfather’s Ledger -Photo taken by Sarah Rivera-Cordova from Socorro, NM

















Written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

Acequias and land grants are prominent public bodies that demonstrate a history of good record keeping practices. Today, secretaries and other officers possess maps, membership lists, bylaws, and financial records that go back hundreds of years. These repositories are a beautiful testimony of how local governments like acequias are serious about preserving the acequia system for future generations.  Maintaining records is only part of the preservation efforts. Community access to records not only provides a healthy, transparent system of governance; it also provides a concrete link to prior generations of acequieros.

For those of you who are new to acequia governance, community ditches are political sub-divisions of the state and must comply with the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), Sections 14-2-1 to 14-2-12, NMSA 1978.  The IPRA ensures that citizens have access to public records, including acequia records and documents.  For additional information, you can contact NMAA or access the New Mexico Attorney General’s Inspection of Public Records Act Compliance Guide at http://www.nmag.gov/consumer/publications/inspectionofpublicrecordsactcomplianceguide2009

Recording keeping is one of the essential aspects of operating an efficient acequia.   While managing water distribution is often the primary role of acequias, maintaining records is necessary to keep the association afloat. Here are some tangible tips for good record keeping:

1.Choose a Good Record Keeping Tool: Acequias have kept a historic ledger that captures the activity within the acequia and tracks workers, assessments, and delinquencies over years of operation. Find a tool that is accessible and user friendly like a written ledger, Excel, or QuickBooks depending on the professional experience of your commissioners. All are sufficient if you can quickly generate a report for your upcoming meeting, complete your Tier certification with the Office of the State Auditor, or manage an infrastructure improvement plan.

2.Keeping the Right Records: There are a few different types of records for acequias that are important to the institutional memory of the association and documents required by state law. Here is a list of just a few of the records that should be preserved and organized so that when they are needed, they are easily accessible: minutes of meetings, bylaws, budgets, bank statements, contract agreements, Infrastructure Improvement Plans (ICIP), membership lists, water right declarations, and hydrographic surveys and maps

3. Give Your Records a Home: Many times new commissioners will inherit filing boxes filled with acequia records. It is always important to keep your records safe and protected from the elements. Consider purchasing a filing cabinet or other durable storage container that can be passed on from one commissioner to the next during periods of transition. Acequias may consider asking local organizations or partners – like irrigation districts – if they would be willing to provide a more permanent home to older acequia records.

Now that you have good record keeping skills here is what to expect if your acequia receives an Inspection of Public Records Request:

  • The request should go to the commissioner, usually the Secretary, who has custody of the record requested.


  • The IPRA only apply to written record requests. If the acequia receives a verbal request, the acequia should still provide inspection of the records but will not be held to the timelines and other provisions in the IPRA.


  • The request must include the name, address, and telephone number of the requestor, and identify the records sought with enough specificity to allow the custodian to identify and find them. No reason for inspection is necessary.


  • The custodian must respond to the request in the same medium it is made. If the request is mailed, respond by mail.  If the request is e-mailed, respond by e-mail.


  • Within 3 days of receiving the request, the custodian must permit inspection or explain in writing when the records will be available for inspection or when the acequia will respond.


  • Within 15 days of receiving the request, the custodian must permit inspection or provide written notification that additional time is needed to respond. Additional time is only allowed if the request is “excessively burdensome or broad”.  Otherwise, a request not granted within 15 days will be deemed denied.  The requestor can then pursue remedies authorized by IPRA, including damages.


  • To grant the request, redact protected information from the document(s). If you have a question about what information is “protected information” or exemptions from disclosure, please call NMAA.  The exceptions are few.  Some examples of protected information that the acequia may have in its custody include attorney-client communications and some “protected personal identifier information” which includes taxpayer identification numbers, driver license numbers and financial account numbers.  For the latter, the last digits may not be redacted.


  • Allow on-site inspection if requested. Provide electronic documents if requested and they already exist.  Provide paper copies if requested.  You can charge up to $1.00 per page of paper copying and the actual costs of downloading and/or transmitting electronic or paper copies by mail, e-mail, or fax.  You can require advance payment before making copies and must provide a receipt upon request.


If your acequia has any questions about IPRA or needs a treasurer worksheet to more effectively manage your financial records, please call NMAA for further assistance (505) 995-9644 or lasacequias.org  

Through The Drought We Will Survive: A Few Thoughts On How

A Santa Clara Acequia On A Rainy Day -Photo taken by Maya Peña

By Serafina Lombardi, NMAA Staff

The drought we are facing is real – while I continue to hope for precipitation there is no avoiding what is. We can look to history that analyzes drought in terms of tree ring growth and people’s teeth. It was not long ago that a small harvest meant eminent hunger for a community. While we may have alternative means of feeding ourselves, the economic impacts of drought for those who live off the land can be quite profound. Without plentiful hay harvests, the price of pastura skyrockets, and many folks are forced to sell off large amounts of their livestock holdings. Farmers under the MRGCD are looking at the possibility of being cut off from water in late June, a very short season especially for those market farmers who depend on the water to make a living. And yet drought after drought the people of this land have persisted. Drought means hardship, and the best way to address hardship is to see it as an opportunity, a chance to be creative, and a reminder of how precious our world is.

Historically, acequias have prioritized kitchen gardens in times of drought – because this was the most nutritious food that was needed to survive. As witnessed in the Article “Repartimiento, Drought and Climate Change” acequia values are sharing and drought tests our abilities to do this. But it also calls on us to be our best, kindest self, most called to generosity. During these times of shortage, folks have historically left many acres uncultivated, knowing there would not be enough water to go around to all parcels. None-the-less I have heard it over and over again, “siempre sembramos, con fe” (with faith, we always plant). Earlier this winter I commented anxiously to my 91 year old neighbor “it is so dry . . . what will the year hold, what will we do?” With great calm and patient words he told me, “Sometimes there is water, sometimes not much, but always a little . . .” and something to the effect that “it will be ok, you’ll see.”

Now is a time to be grateful for our locally adapted seeds handed down through generations with the memory of surviving drought (See Ideas for Growing, Saving & Sharing Local Seeds This Year). Now is a time to question what crops can survive on little water and make our selections carefully. Miguel Santistevan is ever promoting the garbanzo as extremely drought tolerant. You can begin by asking the elders in the community, what did they do to survive in dry years? For many farmers drought is a motivator to experiment, particularly with irrigation methods such a drip tape, cisterns, piping laterals. Ask farmers in your area or look online about how that might work on your field and visit your local NRCS office to see on what  farm improvements they can help you with. Those with wells will make careful decisions about how much to pump in times of less recharge. For smaller gardens, using shade cloths to reduce the intensity of the sun as well as plantings that will shade other crops is a strategy. Mulching around plantings to help retain moisture in the soil is an old trick, and almost anything can work; cardboard, grass clippings, woodchips, pumice etc. The golden rule of drought resilience is healthy soils rich in organic matter that dramatically retain more moisture. One resource is:


The long view has us eager to care for our watersheds and considering how to be careful with our aquifers. There are myriad ways to adapt and survive a drought all which will be unique to your goals and land. We encourage you to share with us your stories and the strategies that work for you so we can share them with the statewide acequia community.

While severe drought may be intermittent, we know we have been entering hotter drier times challenging the plants and animals we care for. Let us be aware of how we live on this earth and attempt to tread as lightly as we can for the sake of future generations.

One final thought, what-ever your faith, pray for rain!

Please share your drought practices with us at: serafina@lasacequias.org

What Can I Do To Protect My Water Rights In Drought Years?

Rancho La Fina Dry -Photo taken by Patricia Quintana

By Enrique Romero, NMAA Staff Attorney

New Mexico law, including our Constitution, our statutes and State Engineer regulations, all point to beneficial use of water as the limit of one’s water rights.  Specifically, Article XVI, Section 3 of our state Constitution provides: “Beneficial use shall be the basis, the measure and the limit of the right to the use of water.”  If, in times of drought, there is no water, or little water, to use, how does the legal requirement of beneficial use impact our water rights?

Conditions beyond the owner’s control.  At first glance, the forfeiture statute appears rather harsh on this issue of beneficial use during times of drought.  If a water right owner “fails to beneficially use all or any part of the water claimed by him…for a period of four years, such unused water shall, if the failure to beneficially use the water persists one year after notice revert to the public and shall be regarded as unappropriated public water.”   However, the statute provides on out: “forfeiture shall not necessarily occur if circumstances beyond the control of the owner have caused nonuse, such that the water could not be placed to beneficial use by diligent efforts of the owner.” Therefore, a shortage of water due to drought is beyond the owner’s control, and our Supreme Court has so held on to at least one occasion. In Chavez v. Gutierrez, the court held that there was no case for abandonment where several factors rendered “irrigation impractical or impossible”, including droughts producing a shortage of water, the progressively increasing depth and width of a canyon running through the parcel at issue, and the owners actively irrigated when water was available.

Water banking. If there is some water flowing through the acequia during a drought, acequia parciantes can take advantage of water banking to protect their water rights while still encouraging others to actively irrigate.  The water banking statute protects acequia water rights from claims of non-use while those water rights are in the bank.  One of the purposes of the bank is specifically called out: “to augment the water supplies available for the places of use served by the acequia.” Water supplies are short, of course, during times of drought, and this statute allows one person’s water rights to be used on other irrigated parcels on the acequia without penalty to the water right owner.  You can also look at the water bank as a form of water sharing between parciantes.  One parciante forgoes irrigating so other parciantes have more water to irrigate their parcels.  State law, via the water banking statute, codifies this customary practice and specifically protects water rights placed in the water bank.  The theory, consistent with our Constitution’s mandate on beneficial use, is that the water rights in the water bank that are appurtenant to one particular place of use are being beneficially used elsewhere on the ditch.

Pay your dues and maintain your headgates.  Just because there is no water, or less water, in the acequia does not mean that you should stop participating on the acequia.  Your assessments are more than just a fee for water.  They are integral to operating a local, public body and go to paying all expenses of the acequia, including potentially improving infrastructure to make the best use of what little water may be available to the members.  Participation on the acequia has individual benefits as well.  Remember that if there is ever a disagreement about whether it is “impractical or impossible” to irrigate due to drought, your actions as a water right owner will be called into question.  Proving an intent to abandon water rights becomes easier as the years of continuous non-use increase.  The State Engineer or others who are calling into question the validity of your water rights will look to other evidence besides actual irrigation.  Did the parciante remain in good standing with the acequia during the period of non-use?  Did the parciante maintain their “on-farm” infrastructure like headgates and laterals?  Did the parciante keep invasive species under control during the period of non-use in order to beneficially apply water when, or if, it becomes available?  Hopefully, during this extremely dry year, you will answer yes to these questions whether you irrigate or not.

Conserving water does not diminish your water rights.  At least that is what is suggested in 72-5-18 (B), NMSA 1978.  I think it is worthwhile to provide the exact statutory language: “Improved irrigation methods or changes in agriculture practices resulting in conservation of water shall not diminish beneficial use or otherwise affect an owner’s water rights or quantity of appurtenant acreage.”  Some folks have expressed some concern that if they use less water, whether during times of drought or otherwise, they will be penalized by the State Engineer by having their quantity of water or their irrigable acreage reduced.  This statute appears to protect existing, vested water rights and however they have been exercised prior to the conservation practice taking place.

It’s disconcerting to see little or no water flowing through the acequia during times of drought.  But don’t lose hope.  Instead, show the world that it’s business as usual during this unusually dry period.  Pay your dues, go to meetings, keep your headgates maintained, and prepare your land for water when it eventually comes.  It will.

Honoring Out Ancestors: 13th Annual Owingeh Ta Pueblos y Semillas Seed Exchange

Los Luceros Historic Rancho -Photo taken by Lucinda Vigil

On Earth Day, April 21, 2018 over three hundred farmers and seed savers rejoiced the gifts of our ancestors for the 13th Annual Owingeh Ta Pueblos y Semillas Seed Exchange. People from near and far gathered at the beautiful Los Luceros Ranch to be enveloped by the hundreds of apple tree blossoms and the Acequia Madre de Alcalde flowing with grace. The gathering was a celebration of the sacred traditions of farming and seed saving with the mission of reconciliation, healing, and honoring the history of the land based people of the Rio Grande Valley. To open the day, Marie Markestyn provided a historical background of the indigenous Pueblo communities and waves of colonization and settlement that came with the Spanish, Mexican and later American people to Northern New Mexico. Marie set the tone for the gathering with the call to be truthful about this history in order to heal wounds of the past.

Farmers exchanging seeds-Photo taken by Serafina Lombardi

The ceremony began with a prayer for rain to our Patron San Yisidro by Los Hermanos Penitenties de La Morada de Nuestro Señor de Esquipula (Chimayo), La Cofradia de la Santísima Trinidad (Santa Cruz), La Morada de San José, y otras Moradas. Following the alabados, seed, earth and water offerings which were brought from all 4 directions, the Rain Dancers from Santa Clara Pueblo blessed with their dance and song. In the afternoon, we were also honored to have Josiah Enriquez from Pojoaque Pueblo with the Lightning Boys Foundation close the sacred circle with a Hoop Dance.

The NM Food and Seed Soverignty Alliance awarded Madeline and Fidel Naranjo with the Anciano Se:daa Lifeways Award for their outstanding contribution and commitment to teaching their family, community, and others about the sacredness of seeds and cultural life-ways. We also had powerful presentations by Ralph Martinez of San Pedro, “Un Valle Unido y Fuerte” and Paula Garcia, of the NM Acequia Association regarding the Seed Bill HB161. Ralph gave a very personal and compelling testimony about his battle with addiction and how important plating seeds of resilience and healing in our communities is so important. Paula Garcia discussed the history of the NM Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance and House Bill 161 as it appeared to be the handiwork of the biotech industry, which was attempting to prevent local governments from enacting regulations on the cultivation of seeds. Marian Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo closed the gathering  with a prayer for all those living within the sacred mountains to respect them as the Tewa church, honoring our past and working toward healing and reconciliation as land based people.

We are honored and thankful for this gathering and want to give great thanks to those who traveled and made the journey to celebrate the sacredness of our seeds, traditions and culture!”

Paula and Marian sharing seeds, smiles, and prayers of healing

The NM Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance would like to thank the following for their support with the gathering:

Los Hermanos Penitentes

Santa Clara Pueblo Dancers

Marie Markestyn

Land and water offerings:

(North) Donne & Ignacio Gonzales, (West) Amos Peña & Amber Wasson, (South) Kasey Naranjo & Ethan Naranjo, (East) Mitchel Gray & Levina Gray

Margaret Garcia of Taos Real Food for the delicious and healthy lunch

All of the volunteers for giving us your time and good energy

David F. Garcia and Jeremias Martinez for the wonderful music

All of the families and individuals who brought seed — you are our reason and inspiration for this gathering!

Que Viva la Gente de la Tierra!

Special thanks to all our sponsors and donors who made this event happen!

American Friends Service Committee, Communities for Clean Water, Los Sembradores, Priscilla & Raymond Romo, Los Rios River Runners, Sprouts, Iconic Coffee, Four Bridges, Better Day Coffee, Eve’s Farm, Sage Bakehouse, Emily Arasim, Gilbert & Rosa, Ghost Ranch, Shane Tolbert, Richard Barnard, Tesuque Pueblo Farms, Plants of the Southwest, Eloy and Frances Trujillo, ABQ Costco, Albertsons, Santa Fe Farmers Market Gift Shop, La Mesa Organic Farm, La Cocina, Newman’s Nursery, Herbs Etc., Farmhouse Café and School Lunch Program, Espanola Community Market Co-op, Buckin’ Bees Honey, Second Blooms Farms, Sembrando Semillas de Chamisal, Cids Supermarket & Lore Pease.

 Please contact NMAA to become a sponsor of next year’s Seed Exchange! We accept in-kind and monetary donations (505) 995-9644 or Juliet@lasacequias.org

Repartimiento, Drought, and Climate Change

Regando Sostenga Farm in Española -Photo taken by Donne Gonzales

Written by Sylvia Rodríguez

 Faced with too little water to irrigate as usual this spring, many acequia officers are currently holding stream wide meetings to talk about how to share and manage the shortages. This is done according to local custom. Traditional acequia governance is geared to accommodate conditions ranging from the abundance of water to extreme scarcity. Within a single acequia system or association, the Mayordomo allocates water to parciantes in good standing according to principles of equity, proportion, and need. Within a stream system, the river is shared among upstream and downstream acequias according to principles of need and equity as well as a customary proportional or rotational procedure for dividing the water (repartimiento). Such customary agreements have been worked out over generations of recurrent negotiation between neighbors under fluctuating “normal,” plentiful, and adverse conditions. Each is tailored to its own particular history and place. Some ultimately achieve the status of legal decrees while others may remain unwritten but are nonetheless clearly understood by all who inherit and observe them.

For example, in times of abundant or average flow, some acequias adhere to a proportional division of a stream. But when the flow is low, upstream acequias may agree to close their headgates for a designated period of time so that the water can reach those lower on the stream. Parciantes may petition their mayordomo for an auxilio or special dispensation of water for a few hours to water livestock or a small kitchen garden that puts food on their table. There are times, however, when there is too little water in a stream to even reach the headgate. This can happen late in a normal irrigation season, or early on in a drought year such as 1996 or 2018. Preparing for the worst, yet ever hopeful for better times to come, acequia farmer-ranchers may decide to buy less seed, plant less acreage, and sell or butcher livestock during an especially difficult year. Unable to irrigate, resourceful parciantes will instead focus their energies on repairs to headgates, ditches, and desagües, and on clearing property of brush that can fuel wildfire. They can revise or fine-tune their Bylaws to include protective provisions for water banking and that empower commissions to evaluate proposed water right transfers.

Drought tests the integrity and resilience of an acequia community. Acequia farming, management, and governance depend on a combination of subsistence practices as well as principles, values, and attitudes that some scholars call a moral economy. The core principles of the acequia moral economy include reciprocity, mutualism, confianza (trust), and respeto (respect). How well an acequia fares in times of drought depends also on the character, dedication, and personal example of individual officers and parciantes.

onatella Davanzo, Digitally Altered

Regando en Bernalillo -Photo taken and altered by Donatella Davanzo

Acequias have proven a resilient and sustainable system for managing water as a commons during four centuries of adaptation to New Mexico’s unforgiving, semi-arid environment. But today, in addition to the impacts of economic, social, and political forces that escalated during the twentieth century, these small-scale farmer-managed irrigation systems are challenged also by climate change. Scientists and our own perceptions confirm that climate change is upon us. Climatologists’ broad consensus holds that the US Southwest is undergoing not just periodic drought punctuated by unpredictable patterns of precipitation, but an overall process of aridification. No one knows for sure what the future will hold, either for traditional land-based agrarian or concentrated urban populations.

The time has come when we must ask ourselves what practices, values, habits, and policies are more likely to sustain future generations under conditions of increasing pressure on limited resources, especially water. Will public policy favor the privileging of individual advantage over public welfare, harnessing itself to a state-sanctioned engine of continuous growth for private economic profit? Will a top-down, zero-sum game of prior rights to a monetized vital resource totally supplant a moral economy of shared shortages, reciprocity, mutual commitment, and living within our means? Or will the time-tested lessons and deeper wisdom of acequia governance help to illuminate a viable path through the coming uncertain decades?

Sylvia is professor emerita of anthropology and former director of the Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. Her research and publications have focused on interethnic relations in the Upper Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and the cultural impact of tourism, identity, and the conflict over land and water. She sits on the board of the Taos Valley Acequia Association and is a commissioner on Acequia de San Antonio de Valdez while conducting research on acequia matters and the politics and anthropology of water. Her publications include prize-winning book Acequia: Water Sharing, Sanctity, and Place.


Ideas For Growing, Saving & Sharing Local Seeds This Year

These hands earth and seeds will bring life -Photo taken by Emily Arasim

By Emily Arasim, NMAA Farm Apprentice

The practice of saving and passing down seeds from hand to hand, amongst families and neighbors, has been maintained for countless generations amongst New Mexico’s Indigenous and traditional acequia farming communities.

Over time – economic, social, and other changes at the state and global level have pressured farmers to stop saving their own seeds; and have in many places resulted in fewer exchanges of diversity, knowledge, stories, and skills between elder and younger generations.

However here in New Mexico, roots run deep, and many have quietly held tight to treasured varieties and know-how.

As we look towards a year of stress on our watersheds and acequia systems, it could not be more clear why we need to continue to protect, save, and share local, traditional seeds. Traditional seeds – such as our many place-based types of maíz, habas, beans, sunflowers, and chiles – remember, and grow stronger and more resilient with every year of good care, as they adapt to specific local soils, waters and unpredictable weather conditions.

Saving our own seeds can also reduce yearly farm costs, and bring us the best health and happiness, as we select and save what tastes and works best for our families, businesses and diverse cultural uses.

Saving Maiz Seed -Photo taken by Emily Arasim

In case you need a refresher as we prepare for planting – in case you don’t have abuelos or neighbors to advise you – in case you have never tried your hand at saving seeds before –  here are a few tips for the year.

  • The best seeds are local seeds from fellow farmers and seed exchanges (such as Owingeh Ta in April!). If you need to buy from companies to get started – open pollinated and organic are important terms to look for, and you can also search for traditional NM varieties in several catalogues.


  • To maintain the strength of a seed, it is important to grow out at least a small group of the same variety (not just one plant!), and at the end of the year, mix together the seeds from as many individuals as possible. This ensures good diversity for re-planting next year.


  • If you are growing multiple varieties of the same crop (such as two different types of squash), and you don’t want them to cross-pollinate – try keeping space between varieties, planting varieties so they flower at different times, and/or planting hedgerows, such as sunflowers, in between varieties.


  • Seeds like to mature on the plant and/or in their pods or fruits for as long as possible, before being harvested and laid to dry in an area with shade and good air-flow. Traditional corn braids and chile ristras are both beautiful and functional ways to dry and save seeds long-term.


  • After drying, it is important to clean out excess soil and leaf matter, which can cause mold when seeds are stored. Using screens or kitchen strainers will do the trick, or try the wind or a small fan to blow away debris.


  • Glass jars are ideal storage containers for keeping moisture and pests out! Cloth sacks, paper bags, envelopes, baskets, clay vessels and metal cans also work – just try to avoid plastic.


  • Seeds are happy stored in a cool, dry place – and can last for many years (or even decades or hundreds of years) under optimal conditions. Lucky for New Mexicans, most adobe homes are naturally perfect!


  • Remember to label your seeds with as much information as possible – What is it called? What year was it last grown and where? What were the growing conditions, and what was learned about this variety? Who gave you the original seed? What is the origin story or history of the seed? What is its history within your family or community? What are favorite ways to enjoy eating or making medicine with it?


  • If you have old seeds and are not sure if they’re still good for planting – a germination test can help check before spending time and energy in the field. Simply fold a paper towel in half a few times; lay out a row of seeds on the towel and fold them in; label the outside (seed name, date, total number of seeds); thoroughly wet with a spray bottle; put in a plastic baggie; seal it closed; and place in a warm place. After a week or so, carefully open up the towel and check out your (hopefully!) sprouted seeds. You can count the number of sprouts, and divide this by the total number of seeds to find your germination rate (15 sprouted / 20 seeds = 75% germination).


  • At the end of the season, share your seeds and stories! If you can, pass these precious gifts on to the next generation of young farmers.

The deepest thanks go to the mentors who have shared seeds, teachings, and encouragement with me; to every farmer and family across the state saving their heritage; and to the New Mexico Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance (of which NMAA is a part), which works to protect our right to continue these vital practices.

I hope these tips will encourage you to reclaim your relationship with the seeds which sustain us.

Acequia Community Spotlight: Cordelia Coronado Acequia Rio de Chama Medanales, NM

Cordelia Cornado Medanales NM -Photo taken by Teresa Maestas, Daughter

Interviewed and written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff

“The Acequia does not let me want for nothing! The acequia feeds our friendships, people, animals and crops. You don’t have to work hard at it just make yourself available for the land and your neighbor and the acequia will continue to take care of us!”

-Cordelia Coronado 84 years old, Parciante of Acequia del Rio Chama

Cordelia Coronado was born on January 8th 1933 in the Chama Valley to Agueda Martinez and Eusebio Martinez.  Eusebio was originally from Chimayo of the greater Ortega weaving family and Agueda learned her weaving skills from the Ortega’s. Agueda supported her family by selling her woven goods and subsistence farming. Eusebio was a school teacher for many years until 1945 when he became the Post Master in Medanales, NM where he moved his family and they began their new life. Agueda taught all her daughters how to weave and became a nationally renowned weaver who was featured in National Geographic and Smithsonian Museum. Agueda has been acknowledged as the matriarch of the weaving community in Northern New Mexico as she continued this cultural tradition of weaving and passed it on to all of her daughters. Cordelia was one of ten children in the Martinez household who farmed all summer and wove all winter.

Cordelia is now 84 years old now and has eight children of her own who live within walking distance of her home and family farm. They continue to work together, weave, and carry on a long cultural tradition in the sacred Chama valley.

What is the history of your acequia community, as you know it (or as you’ve been told)?

La Acequia del Rio Chama was first used and dug between the years 1702-1714 according to archival and acequia records. When I was growing up in the valley I remember the large gathering of the neighbors and relatives to gather the harvest! Anywhere between 20 to 30 people would go from one house to the other to till and plant with horses, thresh wheat by hand, and husk corn. It was such a special time as a young girl and one of my favorite memories was harvesting corn in the fields. Our elders would hide a watermelon between the rows of corn and whoever got to the watermelon first got to keep it! Our people have always worked so closely together and helped one another but not so much these days. A few weeks ago we had our acequia meeting and nobody can afford to give up their time to be Mayordomo. You see, back then people were working for staples, not money. It worries me that I am the second oldest in the community and can barely find anyone to help me for pay. However, I am incredibly blessed to have children who come help me every weekend and as new people have come into the community there is interest to get involved with our acequia.

Cordelia Coronado, President of the newly formed Medanales Farmers Food Coop -Photo by Center of Southwest Culture

What kinds of crops does your acequia community grow?

We grow everything except head lettuce because of the heat. Corn, beans, squash, and melons do well in our valley. Last year I and three other farmers formed a food co-op with the help of the Center of Southwest Culture out of Albuquerque. The center helped us with seeds, soil testing, crop growth and marketing our produce. With their help we learned how to nurture our soil to keep it more productive, weigh and package our produce, and get assistance in taking it to the Ghost Ranch Conference Center for the farmers market. I have learned so much through this process and mostly the hard way but now I have very healthy soil and a strong crop every year! I have cultivated and protected a very special heirloom Chimayo chile seed that I got from my family. The seed grows best in the Chama Valley and I have people coming from all over the North to buy my crop!

What traditions and practices does your acequia community maintain? (Food and agriculture, limpia, etc.)

Next weekend we will clean the ditch and every parciante will send 1 worker per 10 acres. People come from the neighboring community to clean the acequia and we are hoping to have water as soon as possible! When that water is flowing that is the greatest feeling in the world.

Our community has a yearly Dia de San Yisidro celebration in which we choose a different farmers field every year that we will gather at to pray and celebrate. San Antonio is our Patron Saint and in the good ol’ days they blessed people fields after a procession of at least 4-5 miles long! At the end of the procession one farmer world open his farm and we would have a huge fiesta with a potluck and where the musicians from our church choir would sing and play music all day! We are all one human family and no matter where you come from if you are here we can all eat, plant, and celebrate together on this day and every day!

What is your irrigation season? (Time frame)

Acequia del Rio de Chama irrigation seasons starts now in the latter part of March and then we run all the way until the end of October. We close it up in the winters now because the Gophers make holes everywhere!

What are your commissioners and mayordomos doing this time of year?

We have very active commissioners who frequently apply for funding through our legislature, and persue grants for infrastructure repairs. Normally it is not a big load because we have a strong board and about 52 members. When I was younger, there was fewer people but with more acreage. We recently have had a big influx of new comers from California, Arizona etc., but it is important to remember that everyone is a part of this human family and their participation and influence is what will help the community and acequias to survive!  I have had people from Peru and Ugondad join me at my table and people from all around the world. Did you know that we all have the same problems, wants, joys? We are all the same! It is our leaders that are turning everything upside down. People all over the world have grown the same foods but prepare it differently. They share the same values of the land or a late ancestor once did and we cannot forget that! So I share my food with them because if you don’t have anyone to share the food you grow with it just doesn’t taste good.

What makes your acequia special?

The acequia is the glue; it’s what keeps a community together. Even if we don’t see each other every day I know that my neighbors are here for me if I need them. It is the glue that keeps the people together because it feeds the friendships, people, animals and crops. You don’t have to work hard at it, just be yourself and be available and the acequia will take care of us. I go to the store once a month if I am lucky just for coffee and sugar but my freezer keeps me going through the winter until I start filling it again in the summer. The acequia doesn’t let me want for nothing, I go outside and farm and have all the means to cook. Because of the acequias I have lived a very rich life and am very blessed. I know where my food comes from and I am thankful and want to teach others about where it comes from, honor and give thanks to our water and mother earth and all she provides for us.



Acequia Easements & Jurisdiction Over Laterals

Acequias are endangered but for how long Glenn Oakley

By David Benavides, Attorney with NM Legal Aid

  1. If a conflict arises on a lateral of our acequia can we as the officers of the acequia stay out of any involvement? We have always had a policy of non-involvement when it comes to laterals.
  2. If the conflict involves someone not getting the water they are entitled to, you should get involved as the acequia officers. There is no real basis in the law for a “non-involvement policy” for laterals when it comes to people being deprived of water.

If you think about it, everyone who pays their acequia dues and has a valid water right has a right to get actual wet water delivered to their property.  It is the job of the acequia officers to make sure that happens and that everyone’s rights are protected.  If someone on a lateral is blocking or preventing another parciante from getting water, that parciante is entitled to get help from the mayordomo or commissioners the same as anyone else.  Consider, if it was you who was being blocked by a neighbor on a lateral from getting any water, and you had paid your dues and done everything else that is expected of you as a parciante, wouldn’t you expect to get the same assistance as everyone else from the acequia officers in enforcing your rights?  After all, you have a valid water right, so no one has the right to prevent you from exercising it.

These ideas are in fact set out in the state acequia statutes.  Section 73-2-64 prohibits anyone from blocking, interfering with or stealing water without permission from any acequia or dam, “or any contra or lateral acequia thereof”.   So laterals are specifically mentioned as having the same protections as the other sections of the acequia.

These same statutes authorize the mayordomo or commission (and in some cases the district attorney) to take one of several legal actions against the offending party, including civil and criminal prosecution.  So it is not correct to assume that it is up to the parciante to take legal action on their own.  In fact, the authority for the officers to take action is much clearer in the law than it is for an individual parciante.

Of course, most acequias are able to figure out ways to resolve the situation without going to court. However, the point here is that the acequia officers have the clear authority – and the duty – to step in and try to resolve the situation — informally at first, or through formal legal action if necessary.  If the offending party is not responding to the complaints of their neighbor, involvement by the mayordomo or commission is sometimes realistically what it takes to resolve the situation so that the parciante gets the water.

It is a different matter if an acequia has a policy that the parciantes on a lateral are responsible for cleaning that lateral without help from the other parciantes.  Some acequias have that type of policy and there is probably nothing legally wrong with that type of non-involvement.  Some acequias have a policy of allowing the parciantes on a lateral to figure out among themselves a rotation schedule for the water.  That type of non-involvement is probably fine, too – as long as everyone is getting the water.  But when a parciante is blocked from getting water, the people who are in charge of the overall delivery system – that is, the mayordomo and commission – have a duty to get involved.

Seeds Preemption Bill Tabled in 2018 Legislative Session

The collection of seeds in acequia culture -Photo taken by Miguel Santistevan

Submitted by NM Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance

During the 2018 session, a bill with the words “seeds” and “preemption” in the title caught the attention of farmers and seedsavers in New Mexico. The bill appeared to be the handiwork of the biotech industry, which was attempting to prevent local governments from enacting regulations on the cultivation of seeds. The opposition to the bill was swift and strong. Tribal officials and farmers, who advocate for protecting heirloom/landrace seeds from cross-contamination by genetically engineered seeds, mobilized against the bill, and it was tabled in its first hearing. This bill was revealing about the national agenda of the biotech industry to preempt local laws and about the extent of opposition from grassroots organizations comprised of gardeners, seedsavers, and farmers.

One might ask why a pharmaceutical corporation such as Bayer would be pushing for this bill in New Mexico. It has been reported in recent months that Bayer and Monsanto are seeking a merger, and Monsanto is well known as the dominant transnational corporation that aggressively develops and markets genetically engineered seed. Beyond that, Monsanto has aggressively “protected” its seed patents by suing farmers who were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s DNA. Farmers are rightfully concerned about having Monsanto, or Bayer-Monsanto, as a neighbor. In addition to the risk of contamination, genetically engineered seeds (also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs) have been associated with the emergence of “superweeds” that evolve to resist the herbicides in GMO seeds.

So, why did these corporations want to pass a preemption bill in New Mexico? First, it is important to explain the term “preemption.” Preemption is a strategy used by industry to enact laws at the federal or state levels to preclude local governments from enacting regulations, specifically if those regulations are more stringent than state or federal laws. Several other states have enacted laws that preempt local governments from enacting ordinances regulating seeds. In the US, 29 other states have enacted preemption laws that prevent local counties and cities from regulating the cultivation of seeds.

The likely reason that Bayer and Monsanto are pushing preemption is that the industry wants to prevent local governments from passing regulations that restrict, prohibit, or otherwise regulate the cultivation of genetically engineered seeds. There are several reasons for local governments to enact local regulations, including protecting existing farmers, especially those cultivating native, heirloom, or organic seeds, from cross contamination from GMO seeds. At this point in time, there have been no local governments in New Mexico that have enacted or proposed enactment of such ordinances, but it appears that industry wants to preempt their ability to do so before local governments have an opportunity to even consider any ordinances concerning seeds.

Seeds ready to be shared -Photographer unknown

HB 161 proposed to amend the “New Mexico Seed Law” in Chapter 76, which was enacted in 1967. The Seed Law sets forth the laws for certifying seeds for commercial sale to ensure that, when consumers purchase seed, the seeds meet standards for purity and germination rates and also that the seeds are properly labeled. The Seed Law also defines the certification agency for implementing the Seed Law from the NM Department of Agriculture and the NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. The law currently does not appear to include explicit language that outlines jurisdiction that regulates the location of the cultivation and production of seeds.

Around the US, there are some states, such as California, where local governments have enacted ordinances that restrict the cultivation of GMO crops. In Hawaii, counties enacted ordinances banning GMOs and/or pesticides/herbicides but those were overturned in the federal courts. Whether local governments can adopt ordinances regulating or banning depends on the specific language in state laws, where there may be expressed preemption or where state law occupies the field. In cases where it is not specific whether state law completely occupies the field, there is concurrent jurisdiction, in which local governments have some ability to regulate, provided it does not conflict with state law. It appears that HB 161 was an attempt to change state law to completely preempt local governments presumably because local governments in New Mexico may have some jurisdiction to regulate GMOs.

The NM Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance was founded in 2006 and is a collective of organizations and traditional farmers from Pueblo and acequia communities dedicated to protecting native seeds from contamination from cross pollination from genetically engineered seeds, or GMOs, genetically modified organisms. The Alliance includes Tewa Women United, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, the Traditional Native American Farmers Association, and the NM Acequia Association.