When we started the Sembrando Semillas Program (“Planting Seeds”) in 2006, the purpose was to create an inter-generational agriculture program to inspire the next generation of parciantes (acequia irrigators) and increase the cultivation of foods that are culturally and spiritually meaningful to our communities.
Many of the youth in the program have an innate knowledge of food traditions and acequia culture by way of being raised in agricultural communities. What we’ve come to experience is that the youth who participate in Sembrando Semillas are often unaware of how much wisdom they already have about food traditions, natural resources and the challenge of growing food in the high desert.
We believe that having a background in acequia agriculture gives these youth a unique platform from which to become community leaders on issues that affect land-based people. We believe that the key to creating positive social change in our communities comes from a deep love and respect for our land, water, air, seeds and community. For that reason, we strive to foster a sense of querencia, or love of place, within our local youth by affirming their identity as land-based people, or gente de la tierra.
In the Sembrando Semillas Program, youth learn about seasonal agriculture activities from mentors in their respective communities through hands-on experiential learning. The main demonstration site is in Chamisal, led by mentors Juliet and Edward Gonzales. Other sites include a project in Alcalde through La Tierra Charter School, in Mora through the Family and Community Gardening project, and there are a few other sites that are in the planning stages. Each site is unique and creates its own projects.
The preservation of native, landrace seeds is another focus of the program. Some of the traditional crops grown from seeds that have been passed down for many generations include: alverjón (peas), habas (fava beans), maíz concho (white corn), papas (potatoes), calabaza (squash), chile, pinto beans, as well as various fruits.
While planting activities are the fundamental basis of the program, a sense of querencia comes from more than just planting; it comes from pride in one’s heritage and sense of place. To cultivate this querencia, the youth participate in many other activities. In the past several years they have built an horno (outdoor oven), learned how to make capulín (chokecherry) jam, made chicos (traditional roasted corn) from the corn they grew, learned about traditional uses of herbs, orchard maintenance and beekeeping. Subsequently they have given numerous presentations on their learning and work. We also include trainings and workshops for the youth on leadership development, policy advocacy and acequia issues in general.
The youth are our future. It is our hope that the Sembrando Semillas Program can help support our local youth to become the generation that maintains a part of our culture that is essential: that we are inextricably tied to the land and water. Somos gente de la tierra.
Pilar Trujillo is a project specialist for the NMAA. She works in the areas of food, agriculture and leadership development through projects including the Escuelita de las Acequias, the Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance, and Sembrando Semillas.
Over the years some of the youth have created digital storytelling pieces about their food traditions or experiences in the program. You can see some of these stories by visiting www.youtube.com/acequiayouth