Conservation and Recreation in San Juan /Rio Grande National Forest
|The following is an interview transcription from the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival with participant Charles Aguilar of Bernalillo, New Mexico. Interview by Sonia Salazar, a presenter at the Festival.*|
Technology & Invention in The Rio Grande:
Agricultural Cycles and the Acequias
SS: We are going talk about agricultural cycles and acequias in New Mexico with Charles Aguilar from the Rio Grande Valley, from Bernalillo, New Mexico. Tell us about the planting cycles and their correspondence to the weather. Lets start in February.
CA: In Bernalillo, it starts getting warm or what we consider to be warm around February when most of the snow is over. Most of the snow takes place between November and December, some late January. So February, about February the 2nd, with El Dia de la Candelaria, which is the day of the candlelight. Thats a signal to the people in the area that its time to start putting out things that grow well in cold weather which are the onions, garlic, and peas.
SS: When you say it starts getting warmer around February, how warm?
CA: Well its about 40s, 50s, but its good weather for peas because peas taste really juicy if they are raised during the colder weather.
The last thing to be planted that is really a real staple, in New Mexico is chile, if you dont plant chile by May 3rd, you are not going to harvest it because chile is harvested in two cycles. First the green chile, which is around the end of July and youll have stands pop up everywhere; people are roasting chile on the side of the road. Hatch, New Mexico is a big producer in the southern part of the state, and a lot of chile is taken to northern New Mexico because Hatch, New Mexico is warmer. Chile is harvested there before it is harvested in northern New Mexico. Hatch, New Mexico chile makes it into Albuquerque around July. So, then by May 3rd, at the end of Santisima Cruz, if chile is not planted, you are not going to get the both red and green.
Then, June 13th is the deadline for planting corn. And I planted some corn then and it is doing pretty well. I think it was planted right around the thirteenth because it is already up. You usually plant three seeds together, three or four seeds because one might not be good. Now corn in New Mexico, we use two kinds: we use the white corn and the blue corn. Now blue corn is used for blue corn meal. Today you have your blue corn chips that are used for salsa and dips of all kinds, so that is where your blue corn chips come from.
Then, on July 14th when I return back to New Mexico, that is the last planting for pinto beans. Ok now, you plant the pinto bean, but you can also harvest them green for green beans, ok. So what happens is that the soil that was used for the peas is reused, because all the peas have been harvested. So the soil that was used for that can be used for the planting of beans. And so, that day is the Dia de San Beadento, and that is the Feast of Cochiti Pueblo. My friend Arnold here is Cochiti Pueblo. And so, on that day if you didnt plant beans by that day, forget it! You are not going to harvest them by October. So, from July 15th to October there is the harvest of the green chile and the red chile.
Also, at the end of July or early August, depending on what variety of grapes you have, you start harvesting the grapes, and then the process of making wine starts. The grape has to be harvested; then it has to be put to ferment; and then it is taken through the process; and the barrels are sealed after a two-week process; and then you wake for the Dia de San Andres which is November 14th. There is a little saying that on November 14th you can open barrels, vinagre es o vino es. So you find out if it is vinegar or if you get wine.
SS: Is there a big wine industry in New Mexico?
CA: The Rio Grande valley was known for its wine making. It is said that the Catholic Church had their headquarters right in Bernalillo. The missionaries went there and brought all varieties of grapes. And, in fact, I still have some of the grapes that my grandfather used for winemaking, which is called the missionary grapeit is a small purple grape. There are other varieties that I have planted, about 35 vines, but they are a white grape, which are not native to that area. My grandfather made most of the wine from a grape that was purple. And then, there was also a plum, a real juicy purple plum that was used to color the wine. And, I used to gather those, and my grandfather made his own wine for him and his friends. Wine is starting to make a comeback. In Bernalillo weve started the Wine Fest, which is in its 10th year. Every Labor Day weekend we get an excess of 25,000 people to Bernalillo for a three-day event. Its called the Wine Fest . We have a park named The Bernalillo Wine Fest. So everybodys come back because that was the hub for wine-making. But you have other vineyards sprouting up around Belen, Jémez areain all that area everybodys putting in grapevines. Its an industry thats coming back.
CA: I guess the other aspect of peoples lives is water. Water is sacred to the people in Rio Grande Valley. Yesterday, June 24th, was theDia of San Juan de las Aguas . People believe that the waters are holy and so, the priests and the community go out and visit the waterways. Some of the communities bathe in the waters.
SS: Can we go back and take a look at the pictures, or refer to the pictures?
CA: Sure. Some of our Native Americans go to the river and theres community bathing... It is believed that the waters are not only holy, they offer our livelihood.
SS: Do they look like this?
[SS points to sample of acequias built at the Festival]
CA: These are community ditches which are run by the mayordomos and what happens here is that this section is closed off so that people up above can irrigate. And then when theyre finished, when their days of the week are over for irrigating, this is open and they cant open it again. The wheel is taken off so that the people down further can irrigate. So theres a system developed by the mayordomo system and sometimes it works well and sometimes. . . . If any of you have been to small communities you know there is a real close-knit community, and youre related to everybody. Sometimes they try to get away with, "Im your primo (cousin), let me irrigate. I wasnt free that day" or whatever. So you have to just be hard-nosed and say "I have no relatives. Im the mayordomo and everybodys going to get water. You wait until next week when its your turn." So, thats the way the mayordomo system works, but it is a job for that person. It is something they take very seriousy, because we need the water. There is no way about it.
Visitor: Do they irrigate the acequias for drinking water as well? Do they treat it?
Visitor: How is it treated?
CA: I dont have that knowledge of the system, but it had to be tested by the state and there has to be so many parts per million before its allowed in the river. Im also mayor of the town that I come from. Were battling with how are we going to pay for the plant to produce the water that clean. Right now there is a little chlorine and stuff going in the river, but they are concerned about a bird and a fish that eat mosquitos. And they say were killing those. They want to maintain those species on the river. And so theres a lot of litigation, a lot of working with people to work something out so that we can save everything. . . .
* transcript edited for clarity
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