The Acequia Institute currently emphasizes three program areas:
  1. Edwin Sanchez Memorial Acequia Graduate Fellowship
  2. Sembrado Semillas College Tuition Scholarship
  3. Direct-to-Producer Grants for Food Sovereignty Co-operatives
The Institute also occasionally provides seed funds for scholarly and community-based workshops and conferences with a focus on the themes of environmental justice and food sovereignty. Small subsidies for publication of research on environmental justice, political ecology, and agroecology of acequia and other traditional place-based farming systems are also occasionally considered.


Skokomish First Foods Sovereignty Project

The Skokomish community garden and elder/youth mentoring project will reintroduce traditional native plants, game, and vegetables such as camas and medicinal herbs to a community in dire need of physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Our project envisions a return to heritage cuisines as a route to improving health through traditional tuwaduq first foods. Numerous clinical and ethnographic research studies have demonstrated a strong association between the decline of traditional foodways and the higher incidence of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular illnesses.  Likewise, new research studies in nutrition science and anthropology of food are demonstrating that we can eliminate the debilitating negative health outcomes for the community by promoting a return to first foods, and heritage cuisines or as we like to say, eating, local, slow, and deep.

This multiyear project will focus on making heritage first foods available to the wider Skokomish community that engages in a collaboration led by the community itself to document: (1) TEK (traditional environmental knowledge or ethnoecology and ethnobiology), (2) related to first foods and their habitat; (3) traditional methods of preparation and presentation of first foods; (4) describes the facets of the entire knowledge/belief/practice process that will help youth and other members of the community find their way back to more healthy foods and diets, healthier ecosystems, and strengthening of the spiritual connection to food and place?

The First Foods Sovereignty Project: From Shoreline to Mountain Tops will engage tribal elders in mentoring relations with tribal youth. The agroecological, ethnobotanical, and gastronomical knowledge of Skokomish elders is the heart of our proposed project. The elders have wisdom and knowledge of the medicinal herbs and plants and wild game and foraged species. They will provide essential guidance and service mentoring to the Skokomish youth.

The young people are ready to provide the creative labor and to learn the deeply rooted traditions and practices of gathering, foraging, hunting, and gardening that will revitalize connections to landscape. Our elders will instruct youth in food and place from shoreline to mountain top. There is a phrase in our native language that captures the ultimate goal of this project: Sqa hLab hLits hLa Wa Wa. This means the food for future children.

GRANT INFORMATION: $2500 as the first grant for a 3-year funding commitment

Community to Community Development

C2C received a one-year grant to support its youth mentoring programs. C2C Executive Director, Rosalinda Guillen, reports that the activties supported by the grant will involve outreach, coordination, networking, and mentoring services for the youth of families involved in the organization's community gardening and community-supported agriculture programs. "Our youth are the key to the future of food justice and this is especiallty true of low-income and immigrant communities that face the greatest obstacles in overcoming unequal access not just to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods but to land and water and other resources required for us to rightly play a role in rebuilding local food systems.." Ms. Guillen explained.

GRANT INFORMATION: The grant is for $2000 and may be renewed in the future.

Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association

The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association has received a grant to support the convening of the First Congress of Colorado Acequias, scheduled for October 2012. The SCAA represents the traditional acequia farmers of Colorado who irrigate an estimated 80,000 acres of farm land across four counties in southern Colorado - Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano, and Las Animas.

The Congreso de Acequias will be an annual event and will bring acequia farmers and ranchers from across Colorado and northern New Mexico together to meet with other water rights stakeholders including representatives of state and federal agencies, elected officials, water judges and lawyers, academic scholars and researchers, philanthropists and grant makers, and other interested organizations and individuals dedicated to the protection of acequia water rights as defined under the 2009 Colorado Acequia Recognition Law.

GRANT INFORMATION: The grant is for $5000 and is part of a three-year commitment to support the Congress of Colorado Acequias.


In 2007, The Acequia Institute established a research fellowship for graduate students to promote collaborative community-based research on acequia agroecosystems, biodiversity conservation, and institutions of acequia governance and watershed management.
The fellowship was established in memory of Edwin Sanchez, a sixth generation acequia farmer from Chama, Colorado. Edwin was the son of the late Veronica Sanchez and Adelmo Kaber of San Luis, Colorado. He was a lover of acequias and a builder of handcrafted wooden compuertas (head gates) for acequias in the Culebra River watershed.

The Edwin Sanchez Memorial Graduate Fellowship provides each fellow with a $2000 award. The fellowships are made possible by a generous bequest from the late Alfonso Carlos Peña.

The Acequia Institute is dedicated to providing research support through grants and fellowships to graduate students focused on environmental and food justice. The Institute prioritizes funding graduate research on resilience and sustainability in acequia agroecosystems, but invites applications dealing with indigenous agroecosystems and ethnoecology (place-based knowledge) in any part of Turtle Island (North America). The Institute requires each fellow to adopt collaborative research ethics that directly involve communities and farmers as co-researchers and full partners in proposed projects.

Previous recipients


Ava Holliday and
Jessica Lozano (Anthropology, University of Washington). A study of the history of the politic of water law in southern Colorado focused on an interdiscliplinary model integrating the materials of geography, climate studies, legal history, and cadastral surveys.

Holliday and Lozano are assisting Professor Devon Peña (a Board Member of The Acequia Institute and a University of Washington faculty member) with a study of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant in south central Colorado's San Luis Valley. Their focus is on the collection, digitalization, and analysis of primary source documents related to the enclosure of a significant and recently restored common property resource. The enclosure involved expulsion of acequia farmers from the common land, the reduction and alienation of vara strips or long-lots, and the expropriation of established acequia water rights decrees between 1889 and the 1920s. The research teams is also assisting with the research for the nomination of the San Luis Peoples Ditch in Colorado (est. 1852) as a National Historic Landmark.


Miriam Aldasoro Maya (University of Washington). A 
collaborative community-based project in San Juan Atzingo, Mexico with Pjiekakjoo (Tlahuica) communal authorities documenting local ethnoecology in an agro-forestry complex.

This community is “transnational” and many Pjiekakjoo travel, work, and live in the United States. Two interrelated questions guide this collaborative project: What is the impact of transnationalism on the persistence of place-based ecological knowledge?
The project has an applied dimension involving the collaborative development of curriculum and pedagogical resources and practices for primary, secondary, and baccalaureate school programs administered by the community.

Shannon Rupert (University of New Mexico). A study of acequia agroecosystems and biodiversity in the land grant community of Mora, New Mexico.

For some time now, acequia social science research scholars have argued that acequias provide numerous ecosystem services to the Rio Arriba Bioregion. It is only more recently that natural scientists including hydrologists, ecologists, soil scientists, conservation biologists, and others have started to document and largely verify these claims.  Ms. Ruppert is an ecologist and will focus on Mora, New Mexico where acequia agroecosystems are still largely intact and functioning. Among her community partners is a young farmer from Peñasco, Toribio García, who will work with college students as a place-based educator. The principal questions guiding this research are: Do the acequias of Mora contribute ecosystem services to the watershed? How might the capacity of acequias to provide these services be maintained?

Miguel Santistevan (University of New Mexico). A study of acequia farms in the South Valley of the Albuquerque metropolitan area.

While most acequia research focuses on rural northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, numerous acequia associations exist in central and southern New Mexico, and some in urban areas. The project focuses on a peri-urban area of Albuquerque, the “South Valley,” where acequia farming maintains a vital presence. He is collaborating with the local community garden on the establishment and adaptation of heirloom varieties of corn, bean, squash, chile, and other cultivars and is also developing and documenting acequia farm practices in the context of innovation inspired by climate change. The project involves the creation of a “seed library” at La Placita Gardens. The project is examining the “plasticity of crop expression” and an effort to model the potential effects of climate change on the production of crops using elevational, environmental, and latitudinal gradients from Taos to Albuquerque as a surrogate for potential changes in climate affecting the northern part of the bioregion.


Estevan Arellano (Embudo, New Mexico). The role of traditional mestizo agricultural methods in ecological restoration of an acequia agroecosystem.

Mr. Arellano, one of the world's most preeminent experts and practitioners in the science and art of acequia agriculture, was awarded the fellowship to consult with The Acequia Institute on a restoration ecology and permaculture plan for the Institute's acequia farm in the San Acacio bottom lands in Colorado.


Damarys Espinoza,
Raúl García (Anthropology, University of Washington), and Cuate Mexica (Comparative Literature, University of Washington) were the first recipients of the fellowship and worked on the organization of the first regional conference of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies to be held at the University of Washington which included a thematic focus on environmental justice issues.

Cattle grazing on Rancho Dos Acequias


  • Community food sovereignty gardens. We continue to work with local farmers to increase the number of row crop producers and encourage more home kitchen gardens, especially for elders in isolated and home-bound conditions.

  • Culebra River ecological restoration. Please see our reports page for a full accounting of our restoration ecology program at Rancho Dos Acequias, home of The Acequia Institute.

  • Grazing range restoration and mesta: In planning stages.

  • Las cooperativas. In 2007, we began to expand acreage in chicos/bolitas organic heirloom row crops in partnership with the San Luis Peoples' Ditch and the Culebra acequia farmers.

  • Land trust and conservation easements. We are in the planning stages of a collaborative project with Colorado Open Lands on the use of conservation easements for water rights on acequias.

  • Sponsorship of and collaboration with the SANGRE DE CRISTO ACEQUIA ASSOCIATION on the Primer Congreso de Acequias de Colorado (First Congress of Colorado Acequias) to be convened in October 2012. This will be an annual event and will bring multiple stakeholders together for workshops and other events promoting acequias, sustainable agriculture, and environmental justice.

  • Heirloom seed saver's exchange and memory bank. The Institute is home to an in situ and in vivo heirloom seed collection dating back 25 years. The collection includes 38 varieties of corn, 12 varieties of beans, and 11 varieties of squash and pumpkin.


Home of the Acequia Institute

The main Institute headquarters are located in San Luis, Colorado on the Rancho Dos Acequias, a 198 acre riparian long-lot ranch with water rights on two historic acequias, the San Luis Peoples Ditch (built in 1852) and the Robert Allen Ditch (built in 1884). There are more than 150 acres of irrigated pastures and row crop fields; a 200 yard stretch of the Culebra River listed as a Blue Ribbon Trout Fishery; and a range of life zones from piñon-juniper to alder-willow-cottonwood bosques.