This Luddite Chef is devoted to all things low-tech, especially when there are high-yield results to be had. We hear it everyday, we read it everyday; our sorry, exhausted planet is pleading for inspirational solutions to human desecration. As a restaurateur with breakfast, lunch and dinner services seven days a week, I have a trove of food scraps ready for reuse. As you’ll see from the story about to unfold before you, there is a brilliant, sustainable answer to reusing our city’s commercial and household daily food waste. The stage is set; now, we only need the actors—ourselves and the political will of our city’s decision makers—to make household food scrap and commercial food waste a daily system for Reunity Resources’ curbside pick up.
Lucky for us, a vibrant collaborative, win-win project awaits. An innovative project that uses the most basic of technologies—human ingenuity, imaginative brain power, compassion, dedication, mastery, patience, goodwill, backbone, joy and foresight—is already at play here in Santa Fe. Impish Juliana and pensive Tejinder Ciano, the dynamic duo who first established the small commercial cooking-oil- to bio-fuel-recycling business Reunity Resources, have grown it into an estimable full-circle, sustainable, environment-saving model. For eight years, they’ve been collecting cooking oil from some 100 businesses in Santa Fe and Albuquerque and turning it into bio-fuel. And these days, they also transform food scraps into excellent compost.
Juliana had her first vision of such resource cycling back in the third grade when she was asked to contribute to her school’s science fair. Young Juliana invented in her youthful mind a machine to vacuum pollution out of the air and send it into the soil. She didn’t have the science then, but has discovered since that she could fulfill her childhood dream with the work she and her husband Tejinder have created alongside compost expert Trevor Ortiz at Reunity Resources.
Tejinder realized through his meditation practice that he, too, wanted to contribute to a life in service beyond himself. After his college years, and playing in a band in Los Angeles, he relocated to Northern New Mexico to create a life doing his part in building a sustainable community. That’s when he met and married Juliana.
As the parents of two small boys, the Cianos are dedicated to generativity and a nurturing care for the planet, because that’s what they most want to give to their children and future generations. Their systematic solutions with the attendant ripple effect are already in high gear—right here, right now.
Their solutions lie in their creation, Reunity Resources, a nonprofit closed-loop food project. For the past four years, they’ve been collecting food scraps from some 51 area restaurants and school cafeterias. They’ve taught more than 15,000 school children how to separate their food scraps from other waste. Source-separating and processing food scraps into compost has resulted in mountains of compost for sale to area gardeners and farmers.
The compost Reunity makes has a lasting beneficial impact on Santa Fe. More than one million pounds of food scraps are diverted annually from our landfill and put to work in area farms and gardens. Their method of composting sets up the carbon sequestration cycle, which can actually reverse climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere. (You go, little Juliana!) Last year, Reunity sold and donated a total of 8,000 cubic yards of compost to area gardens. The equivalent of 19,000 car emissions was mitigated last year alone.
Reunity transforms the mountains of food waste collections by a method known as an Aerated Static Pile composting system. They use large machinery minimally. Turning the windrows of compost can make carbon dioxide and risks the troubling possibility of the compost going anaerobic and creating methane. Reunity uses a nifty system.
Aerating the compost piles is accomplished from the inside out, with a timed fan blowing air into a perforated pipe running through the base of the piles. The regular infusion of air into the center of the piles allows the compost to “cook” at temps that reach 130-160 degrees. These high temperatures can break down not just wet scraps but also meats, dairy and citrus—items usually excluded from home-scale composting systems. Even weed seeds are killed in the high-temp processing method, so spreading this compost can be done with confidence. Because of the high-heat system, no pesticides or other possibly dangerous residuals have been found by third-party labs.
After 30 days in the Aerated Static Piles, the compost cures for a minimum of 30 days with attention to the propagation of beneficial micro-fungi, micro-bacteria and nematodes. The compost is available as top dressing for scattering on lawns, pastures or on cover crops, and also as enriched compost to amend soil for better plantings. Mulch and worm compost are also sold to add to the garden for growth enhancement and protection of plants.
OH, WORMS! Worms are farmed by Reunity in a 40-foot-long high tunnel so that the worm-castings (poop) are then packaged and sold in one-pound bags for home gardeners to enrich existing plants or as a soil amendment for initial plantings; these bags are available from Reunity Farm and also sold at Agua Fria Nursery.
The fine-screened compost in all its forms is available at Reunity Farm for pick up or delivery. Container-ready potting mixes by the cubic-foot bag or in bulk by the cubic yard for garden or farm are also available at Reunity Resources.
In March of this year, Reunity Resources purchased Santa Fe Community Farm, continuing the legacy of Founder/Farmer John Stephenson. After witnessing the ravages of hunger in war-torn Europe during and after World War II, John, a veteran, created the three-acre farm and 80-tree orchard located at San Ysidro Crossing to combat hunger here at home. John dedicated his life to growing food communally, with volunteer help, to donate to our city’s hunger-relief organizations. He loved what he called “The Golden Circle,” in which food and farm waste is composted and then put back into the farm’s soil to grow more produce for the community good. Upon his death at 102 years old, his children decided to sell to Reunity Resources so the mission their father began some 70 years ago would continue.
The farm John Stephenson created operated with the determined effort from an ever-changing corps of Santa Fe area volunteers in addition to its small board and staff. Now, under Reunity Resources’ stewardship, Reunity Farm continues the mission efficiently with their new practices. Last year alone, more than 10,000 pounds of the farm’s production was contributed to area hunger organizations—that’s roughly $25,000 worth of food to combat hunger.
A perfect example of The Loop in action is Kitchen Angels, a recipient of Reunity Farm’s donated produce. Kitchen Angels uses the donated produce to prepare daily meals delivered at no charge for their homebound clients. The food scraps that are source-separated at Kitchen Angels’ facility during food production of the recipients’ meals are then picked up by Reunity Resources for composting. Eventually, the compost and mulch is dug into Reunity Farm’s rows by farm volunteers and a few paid staff members to create healthy and flourishing crops for purchase and for Kitchen Angels, among other food-security groups.
The Food Depot, YouthWorks, Adelante Development Center, and Feeding Santa Fe also receive donated produce from the farm and orchard, and they, too, collaborate as contributing partners in this genius sustainable food loop.
This spring, to help along “The Golden Circle,” Reunity Farm needs our support. Like any community garden, upfront cash is needed at the start of the season. Reunity is issuing a $100 Farm Card, good for a 10-percent discount on all purchased produce during the growing season, both at the farm and at their booth at The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. It is my earnest hope as a dedicated luddite chef who believes in community solutions that commercial food-waste pick ups become a daily occurrence in Santa Fe. To become a local reality, household weekly food-scrap curbside pick up, as proposed to the city by Reunity Resources, needs constituent lobbying of city councilors and the mayor. Call, write, e-mail, support. The future is determined by the determined.
Reunity Resources is a community-wide effort, and its dedicated founders need us, as concerned Santa Fe citizens, to become dynamic partners in order to ensure our resources are responsibly invested. The many harmonic integrated parts of this remarkable work are inspirational and accessible to everyone. Let’s join in to help create mulch mulch more of the Cianos’ gentle but imperative community-building dream machine.
Shop for produce, flowers and fruit at The Farmstand at Reunity Farm, open Tuesdays 3-7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m., June through November.
The Reunity Farm Card offers a discount of 10 percent on all purchases from Reunity Farm or The Reunity Farm Booth at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout the farm’s season, June – November. The prepaid card supports The Reunity Farm Project and is used to buy produce and flowers. There’s a $100 minimum with no upward limit on the card. Limited cards are on offer for 10-percent off this season’s produce.
Buy a $10 Reunity Farm Membership and be called/messaged first for u-pick days at Reunity Farm as a delicious and nourishing perk. Visit reunityresources.com.
Experience the Farm and contribute your time to growing crops for those in need Tuesdays from 3-7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m., beginning in June. Volunteers are encouraged to bring a friend and a picnic to relax and enjoy, and then work the soil and get their hands dirty.
Reunity Resources Composting
To purchase compost delivered by the yard, contact 505.393.1196.
To purchase compost/mulch/potting mix/worm castings, haul in your truck/trailer or purchase by the bag. Visit Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-noon (Note: Saturdays only, April-June).
To contribute food scraps/cooking oil from your business or institution, contact 505.393.1196.
Want a home-composting collection bin in Santa Fe County? Visit reunityresources.com. Reunity will deliver the bin and pick up your home food scraps for a small fee.
Want to drop off your home composting at Reunity Farm? Drive on in to 1829 San Ysidro Crossing between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. any day, and drive 50 yards straight ahead and drop-off your food scraps at the compost sign.
More Ways to Get Involved
Home Compost Collection is not yet available for pick up in the City of Santa Fe as of this writing. Encourage your city councilors and the mayor to institute a program of curb-side home-food-waste pick up, as proposed by Reunity Resources, by emailing City Hall; visit santafenm.gov.
A letter to the newspaper of your choice calling for home-composting curbside pick-up by Reunity Resources in the City of Santa Fe might further nudge the city’s decision makers.
To make a Donation to Reunity Farm, book a workshop or presentation, schedule a field trip, or for other educational opportunities, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To volunteer at Reunity Farm, contact email@example.com.
To learn more about the Farm, food collection, composting, Harvest Groups and beyond, visit reunityresources.com.
The Luddite Chef suggests: Please do whatever you can to alleviate food insecurity in our community.