Local Hero: Farm, Central New Mexico

An interview with cofounders Juliana Ciano, program director, and Tejinder Ciano, Executive Director, along with Reunity team members

Photos by Douglas Merriam

Tejinder Ciano and Juliana Ciano at Reunity Resources Community Farm.

Tucked among the elms near the Santa Fe River, Reunity Resources goes far beyond a farm dedicated to growing crops. Although the Local Hero category is “Farm,” Reunity promotes a closed-loop system in which they strive to reunite the community with resources that would otherwise be wasted. They began in 2011 as a small operation turning used cooking oil into biodiesel. That now includes both commercial and household composting, helping to keep valuable resources in the community while reducing the production of greenhouse gases that results when food and yard waste go to the landfill. For Reunity Resources, the relationship between food waste, compost, and farms is one complete and interconnected system that works to both address climate change and improve food access. Today Reunity Resources operates ten interrelated programs—not least, a regenerative farm.

Reunity Resources Community Farm was born from the passing of Santa Fe Community Farm. How did your initial partnership with Santa Fe Community Farm begin, and how has the farm grown and changed under Reunity’s management?

The Santa Fe Community Farm began in 1947 with a World War II veteran named John Stephenson. After witnessing the trauma of war and widespread hunger in Europe, he felt he was still alive for a reason. Upon completing his service, he returned to Santa Fe, purchased this land, and decided to grow food to donate to those in need. This was an all-volunteer operation for decades, with so much credit to everyone involved! We met Stephenson in 2015, when he was ninety-nine years old. At the time, we were searching for land to expand our composting program. He was excited about expanding composting on the property—he called it “the golden circle,” composting food and farm waste and then feeding the farm’s soil with that very compost. When Stephenson passed, we began a conversation with his sons about maintaining the mission to provide food for the hungry and reinvigorating the farm as a community hub. In 2019, we were able to purchase the farm and begin this work in earnest.

Left: Shannan Dunlap in the field. Right: Lorraine Chow at the Farm Stand.

How do the farm and farm stand support Reunity’s overarching mission to create systemic change in regional food systems?

The heart of our farming practices lies in regenerative agriculture. We implement a range of techniques to ensure the health and vitality of our land—from cover cropping and crop rotations to low- and no-till practices to pollinator-friendly permaculture landscaping. We also abstain from using pesticides or chemical fertilizers, prioritizing natural and sustainable methods instead. This way, the farm both keeps harmful chemicals out of our local ecosystem and actively contributes to its regeneration. Our soil is revitalized, carbon is sequestered, and nutrient-dense food is grown to nourish our community.

Our farm stand aims to address the food insecurity faced by local families. In this area of Santa Fe County alone, 16,940 people lack consistent access to healthy and affordable food. Reunity Farm seeks to bridge this gap by providing access to fresh, organic produce to all members of our community. We participate in Double Up Food Bucks, WIC, Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, and FreshRx food-access initiatives, ensuring affordability for our customers. Also, in addition to providing fresh food to an average of fifty households a week through our food-access partners, we distribute thousands of dollars in Farm Card donations to families served by those organizations, allowing them to buy what they want and need from our farm stand.

How does your compost differ from what someone might purchase at a commercial nursery or box store?

Reunity Resources’ compost is produced and sold locally, effectively reducing our own landfill’s methane emissions and adding water capture and carbon-sink capacity to area soils. It’s fresh and full of microbial life appropriate to our ecosystem. It hasn’t traveled many miles, nor has it sat in storage or on a shelf for any length of time. There is a labor of love that goes into our compost production, and supporting this supports local jobs. —Trevor Ortiz, compost operations manager 

Why and how is collaboration central to all facets of your work? Can you share an example or two of particularly successful collaborations, whether in food access, policy, or education?

Just as it is clear that the seeds, soil, water, and sunshine need each other, and that the pollinators need the flowers and vice versa, collaboration and reciprocity are clear models for thriving systems.

Our new collaboration with FreshRx and the NM Farmers Marketing Association, La Familia Clinic Southside, and Presbyterian Medical Services means clinicians are able to prescribe food vouchers to patients whose health journeys could be supported by eating more fruits and vegetables. Using these vouchers at the farm stand, the patients can purchase fresh local foods to prepare and eat as they wish.

As one of our earliest partners, Santa Fe Public Schools committed to cafeteria composting and has invited us to lead hands-on classroom activities and planned farm field trips where students can harvest carrots or press apple cider and learn about the food cycle. We’ve taught SFPS summer program participants to make connections between climate change, biodiversity, soil health, and water—and how to make fresh veggies tasty and fun!

Santa Fe Community College is another wonderful collaborator. From supporting the inception of the biodiesel program to being a host site for college agricultural interns to combining our harvests for food donations, we love SFCC!

Food access and land—and water!—access go hand in hand, and we are collaborating with a couple of grassroots organizations to provide growing space and shared infrastructure. These land stewards sow seeds and host gatherings and skill shares, building food sovereignty and connection with the land.

What’s one of your favorite volunteer stories?

Working with Steven, who we all call Sweet Pea. He’s a retired volunteer master arborist who has dedicated himself to improving our orchards. He is such an asset to our orchard and farm space. —Jill, farmer

It was great to work with YouthWorks. The teens and young adult team had such a fun energy! —Dave, farmer 

We’ve had a three-year-old, an up-and-coming farmer-in-training, named Max, who has been visiting the farm. He normally lives with his parents in Hawaii. His joyous energy is infectious and we love having him here. —Sian, harvest manager

Farm Stand at Reunity Resources.

Talk about the philosophy behind the community fridge.

The community fridge is a food support system put in place because we believe that everyone deserves equitable access to healthy food. The fridge and pantry are stocked by Reunity Resources as well as community members, with a combination of farm-grown produce, store-bought groceries, and homemade meals, and [they’re] maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers. The fridge serves and is cared for by the community, and through direct action aims to address the unjust food insecurity pervasive in [New Mexico]. —Jessi Fuchs, volunteer coordinator of the community fridge since its inception in 2021

The fridge is open 24-7 to anyone who needs it, offering food at no cost with no questions asked. More than six hundred meals a month are eaten, thanks to this initiative.

What are some favorite fall farm ingredients? How do you like to use them?

Kuri squash; I like to make soup and squash pie with it. —Jill, farmer

Pumpkin to make Choctaw pumpkin bread. —Julian, farmer

Potatoes to make delicious gnocchi. —Dave, farmer/chef

Delicata squash, cut into half rings, and roasted with the skin on. Even the skin is delicious. —Sian, harvest manager 

I love leeks, fennel, collards, and roasted brussels sprouts all cooked together. —Uvee, farm manager 

I’m a big fan of roots, and a simple chopped root roast, featuring whatever is at hand (carrots, beets, onions, garlic, turnips, winter squash if the crop survived the squash bugs), rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper, tossed in oil and roasted . . . yum!  —Juliana

Any recommended reading that has informed your practices or shaped your views on food, community, and sustainability?

Braiding Sweetgrass, Emergent Strategy, Healing Grounds, Farming While Black, The Light We Carry, Into the Unknown Together (local authors/artists!), The Mushroom at the End of the World, The Dirty Life.

Anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?

Let’s connect! Come to a concert, support our community fridge, buy some fresh produce, take a workshop, join our Doorstep Compost Collection program, or enjoy a meal field-side with farm-forward food made in our kitchen, The Broadfork. The farm stand operates from June to September; sign up for our newsletter or check the website for current hours and events.

1829 San Ysidro Crossing, Santa Fe, reunityresources.com