Los Sembradores Farmer Training Program
For many New Mexico farmers, working the land is a sacred duty and tradition. Farmers are needed to irrigate the lands. The land can nourish families, but in order for farmers to be able to make a living at it, they must have access to lands that can be cultivated. When fields are left fallow too long, the owners risk losing their water rights. With these things in mind, in 2017 the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) took over administration of the Farmer Training Program, which had been initiated and run by the New Mexico American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
The NMAA started by moving the training site to Chamisal, on the Acequia del Monte. Community meals, healthy eating, value-added products, leadership development and other topics were added to a 10-month, 3-day-a-week curriculum designed to teach season extension, the basics needed to launch a successful market garden, as well as marketing techniques.
Donne Gonzales is NMAA’s farmer trainer and manager. Gonzales is a 10-year participant of Sembrando Semillas, NMAA’s intergenerational traditional agriculture program, and also a graduate of AFSC’s Farmer Training Program. In 2017, NMAA’s current program has three apprentices: Nicanor Ortega of Arroyo Hondo (north of Taos), who is also a Sembrando Semillas participant; Matthew Encinias of Chimayó, and Shane Tolbert, an Abiquiú resident.
The ecological, spiritual and economic health of northern New Mexico’s rural, agricultural communities depends on passing on the skills it takes to be a farmer, listening to the land, working in community and problem solving, along with blood, sweat and tears. NMAA’s farmer training program is creating a community of learners who are gaining the confidence to pursue their dreams and inspire others to farm and garden. To apply for the 2018 training or to make a donation to support the program, call 505.995.9644 or mail Serafina@lasacequias.org. The NMAA’s website is: www.lasacequias.org
La Cosecha de los Sembradores
Harvest of the Seed Sowers
This year, Los Sembradores farm apprenticeship has been a great experience. I have learned so much about farming and what I want to do with the knowledge I now carry. It has been a blessing to be at Chicoyole Farm in Chamisal. What I like about Chicoyole farm is working and learning with La Familia Gonzales y García, y los vecinos de Chamisal. Together we have enjoyed our days and every unique insight. The laughter we have shared has been very therapeutic for me. With care and respect, la familia Gonzales y García y los vecinos de Chamisal have overcome the challenges of building a farm.
I couldn’t have asked for better mentors and consejo (advice) to help me grow into the acequiero y sembrador (acequia farmer and seed sower) that I want to be. On any day you could count on someone visiting, helping, or offering professional advice. We built a 48-by-106-ft. high-tunnel hoop–house from the ground up. This took a lot of hard work, sweat and pounding of 20 5-ft. posts into the ground. We gained skills in working with a variety of hand- and power tools. Driving self-tapping screws into metal is no joke!
This apprenticeship has been challenging, but I have gained a solid platform for how to farm sustainably and work in community. We have covered many topics and have had opportunities to really get our hands and boots dirty. These areas of study and practice will definitely help my farm prosper.
Look at all this apprenticeship has to offer a beginner farmer: We learned different acequia systems and even cleaned La Acequia del Monte en Chamisal “Vuelta!” We put together and came to understand drip-system irrigation. We rototilled the ground and prepared it with new and old tools such as el cabador (hoe), finger hoe and hula hoe. We were able to do early season planting where cucumbers, tomatoes and melons were started. Planting, pest control and weeding made up a lot of our daily work. It was very rewarding to be able to harvest and prepare the products for wholesale markets.
I want to farm my acequia land full-time and contribute by helping support the children of our community. With the life-skills and mentorship I gained this year, I am ready for my next step. I have a better outlook on how I can accomplish my goals. This year north of Taos, in Arroyo Hondo, with la Acequia Atalaya, I was also able to cultivate my own property. I was blessed with an arvejón (peas) crop that was financially rewarding.
With all the knowledge passed down through New Mexico Acequia Association farmer training apprenticeship, I look forward to the years to come, farming my land and developing an opportunity para nuestra juventud (for our youth). Thank you all for the support and interest in nuestra agua, gente y tradiciones (our water, people and traditions).
¡Qué viva las acequias y que viva el amor sobre nosotros. Qué Dios te bendiga!
Nicanor Ortega is a farmer apprentice with the New Mexico Acequia Association. www.lasacequias.org