Juliana and Tejinder Ciano grow food and community through Santa Fe farm

·4 min read

Nov. 29—Juliana and Tejinder Ciano have some progressive ideas about how to create food justice.

They've been putting their theories into practice through their local mom-and-pop farm and a constellation of initiatives that aim to revolutionize equity and access to healthy food.

Juliana Ciano, 36, said she and her husband, 44-year-old Tejinder, founded their nonprofit Reunity Resources about 10 years ago. "Its goal is to create functional closed-loop systems that turn waste streams into something valuable and to build a resilient food system in our community," she said.

Because of the Cianos' dedication to increasing food security in Santa Fe, they have been named together as one of The New Mexican's 10 Who Made a Difference for 2021.

Reunity Farm, in the historic village of Agua Fría, is the heart of the couple's operation, where they grow garlic, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, spinach, arugula, sweet peppers, hot peppers and eggplant.

They use well water and a drip irrigation system, "which allows us to direct every drop of water right to the seeds that we want to grow," Juliana Ciano said. "A sprinkler — you lose a lot of water to evaporation. We try to be really cautious about how we're using water."

The couple, who met at a food cooperative in Santa Fe 11 years ago, sell their food at a farm stand on their property twice a week. "Often, there's music or something else happening simultaneously — local politics talk or a volunteer group project," Juliana Ciano said.

Ensuring access to food has been a long-standing tradition on the farm.

A charitable farm was first established on the land by John Stephenson, a World War II veteran, in the late 1940s. It became known as the Santa Fe Community Farm in the 1980s and began providing produce to local food aid organizations. It operated until late 2017, about six months after Stephenson died at the age of 102.

"There are old-timers in the neighborhood who talk about how he would give them a nickel and a wagon filled with vegetables and say, 'Go give this away,' " Ciano said.

She and her husband had taken their compost to Stephenson's farm for a number of years. They later purchased the property and expanded the community farm's mission.

There is archaeological evidence of farming along the river valley that dates back 5,000 years, Juliano Ciano said. "We take that history very seriously."

The Cianos, aiming to educate the next generation of farmers, began hosting a farm camp this year for children ages 3 to 12. Older kids served as counselors-in-training.

"We had 270 kids here over the course of the eight-week summer break," Juliana Ciano said.

"Our focus was social-emotional well-being because it was the first group experience that most kids had had since the pandemic," she added. "And while we had a whole curriculum about seeds and snacks and making medicines and making plant-based dyes — we did all of that — but our foundation was: Let's remember how to be together."

The couple employed 23 people over the summer to run the farm camp, harvest crops and operate their other food-justice initiatives, including a farm-to-table food truck. "Lots of ingredients are harvested right here. Everything else is locally sourced," Ciano said.

They park the food truck on their property and serve fresh food six days a week. This year, they hired a sous chef from the nonprofit YouthWorks' culinary program to help prepare food and plan the menu.

The farm also includes a compost yard, "which processes 2 million pounds of food waste [per year]," Ciano said. "Diverting all of that food waste — that compost goes back onto the farm, and a lot of it we sell back out into the community to other farmers."

Reunity Farm has a food waste collection contract with Santa Fe Public Schools. It turns the waste into compost, which it supplies to the schools' gardens.

It also runs a program that collects used cooking oil from restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque and trucks it down to Las Cruces for processing into biodiesel.

"Six thousand gallons about every five weeks," Ciano said. "If you're driving a diesel engine, you probably have 5 percent biodiesel in your tank right now."

The Cianos have two boys, ages 7 and 9, who help out with Reunity's efforts. "They're definitely involved," said Juliana Ciano, who often finds her boys filling baskets at the farm stand or recommending activities for the farm camp.

Antoinette Villamil — who nominated the Cianos for the 10 Who award and was an honoree last year for her work with the nonprofit Many Mothers — said she would bring her 8-year-old son to the farm during the coronavirus pandemic. "That was the only contact that my son had," she said.

What the Cianos are doing "is so comprehensive," she said. "They started with biodiesel and then compost, camp for kids, food for families that are struggling, community events, music nights, the farm stand."

Reunity Farm recently started its own food pantry on the property for those in need.

"It's so multidimensional," Villamil said. "It's really based on equity and ensuring that everybody has the resources that they need."

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