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Ideas for a Better Food System :: Water

Community-controlled irrigation is making a comeback.

SEEDS WATER SOIL PROCESSING WORKERS DISTRIBUTION
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Water is among the most contentious issues in farming, especially in western states.

New Mexico, where water is scarce, has a tradition of community-controlled irrigation that is making a comeback. The name for this system, acequia, refers not only to the network of canals that brings water to farmers across the Southwest, but also to the traditional community management of the water.

A few generations ago, nearly everyone in northern New Mexico understood this traditional form of sustainable irrigation. But the younger generation was losing that knowledge, says Miguel Santistevan, a teacher and biologist. In schools, kids were encouraged to learn high-tech skills and move to the city.

Santistevan left his teaching job and joined the New Mexico Acequia Association as youth program coordinator. Soon he was bringing kids to farms and teaching them how to maintain acequias. Students record the work to post on YouTube and podcast on Acequia Radio.

“By getting them involved in media production, we give them a voice,” Santistevan says. “But the content is traditional culture, so we’ve achieved two goals at once


James Trimarco wrote this article in the series New (and Old) Ideas for a Better Food System as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. James is a consulting editor for YES! Magazine whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair and The Brooklyn Rail.

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