“A grandmother raising three grandchildren and working night shifts so she can be with them during the day…a single parent working an essential yet minimum-wage job…an hourly employee who had plentiful work one day and none the next.” This is how Juliana Ciana describes recipients of Reunity Resources’ food donation program. The program delivers boxes packed with fresh, locally grown produce from several area farms, including her own, to hundreds of the local food-insecure families most affected by the pandemic.
A well-timed grant from the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association’s (NMFMA) COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund has made it possible for Reunity Resources to keep their food box and meal program going, even as social distancing protocols continue to create challenges for their operation. Together with program partners—Communities in Schools, Many Mothers, and the Santa Fe Indian Center—they have identified more than 300 families hardest hit by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic who will benefit from the grant. The grant funds also support local youth: Reunity Resources hired YouthWorks’ Catering and Culinary Program to prepare warm, nutrient-dense meals with the locally grown produce, to deliver to families enrolled in the program.
Juliana and her husband Tejinder are co-founders of Reunity, a nonprofit organization located in the Village of Agua Fria, just outside the Santa Fe city limits. They first launched the organization in 2011 as a small biodiesel program, collecting cooking oil from local restaurants and converting it into fuel for redistribution. They expanded their operation to include a commercial food waste collection program in 2014, and started selling compost. Then finally, in 2018, they added the 5-acre farm to the mix and, in partnership with other farms and organizations, launched Reunity Resources’ food donation program. The program supplies boxes of fresh food and prepared, nutrient-dense meals to more than 360 families in need. The farm also has weekly farm stand hours and accepts SNAP and WIC nutrition program vouchers.
Before COVID-19, the biofuel and composting programs helped cover operational costs of the farm and subsidized the donated food boxes and prepared meals. But since the onset of the pandemic, Reunity has lost more than 90 percent of the revenues generated through the compost and biofuel production that relied on local restaurants and schools to supply used oil and food scraps—and that have been forced to shut down. The grant funds allow Juliana to fill this financial gap and purchase fresh produce directly from local farmers, many of whom suffered the sudden loss of high-volume sales to restaurants, schools, and other businesses almost overnight.
“This project allows farmers to grow food for and serve vulnerable communities without sacrificing their own economic viability, which is tenuous for most farmers in the best of times,” she explains. “This is a collaborative win-win for food access.”
The grant will keep the program going into October. Then Reunity will continue with their open air, on-site farm stand and has numerous plans to continue other parts of the business.
“We have launched a household compost program to hopefully fill part of the gap left by the absence of school and restaurant food waste collections, such that these revenues can support further food donations. We are also looking into further aggregation and distribution options that support getting fresh food to people in need, through our county senior centers, through our partnership with YouthWorks, Communities in Schools, Many Mothers, and the Santa Fe Indian Center.“
This story is part of a series featuring the many farmers, ranchers, nonprofit organizations, and collaborative groups who received grants via the NMFMA’s COVID-19 Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund. The Fund was designed to reduce economic hardship caused by market disruptions linked to the ongoing public health crisis and accelerate a sustained and equitable recovery among farmers and low-income communities. As of August, more than $350,000 has been distributed to 100+ producers and groups. The tireless work and generous spirit of these individuals help solidify New Mexico’s local food system and ensure food access by those in need during an historic, global health crisis. Visit the NMFMA website to learn more and to contribute to the Fund.
By NMFMA Staff. Photos by Elizabeth Evans.