A local not-for-profit is finding new ways to improve our soil, food, lives, and planet
By Susan Spano
Take wood mulch and some raw food waste (the stuff in the trash that once was alive), pump air into it or, in an alternate process, add worms (red wigglers preferred) and let it sit for a few months. Voilà! Really good soil.
That’s basically what they do in the Soil Yard at Reunity Resources, a not-for-profit in Agua Fria Village on the west side of Santa Fe. Reunity sells gold-standard compost to landscapers and home gardeners who prefer it to synthetic chemical-infused commercial brands like Miracle-Gro.
The yard was established in 2016 by Juliana and Tejinder Ciano (and managed by Trevor Ortiz) in the belief that high-quality soil is central to sustainable food production. It enriches our farms and gardens, and stores carbon dioxide underground rather than in the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. Juliana admits that collecting raw food waste from schools, restaurants, and individuals to compost at Reunity is gnarly business. But reusing it for soil keeps the food production cycle local and avoids the release of methane in landfills.
You don’t need a PhD to compost successfully,” says Juliana, who—go figure—got her BA in theater but looks quite at home in a flat, muddy field with big, brown steaming mounds of compost-in-the-making. Reunity’s methods are relatively cheap and simple enough for anyone to execute: pumping air into the mulch-waste mixture while it sits, heating up, or alternately, letting worms loose on food scraps with compost as a result.
But the game changed this spring when they introduced a new approach, producing a super-soil supplement that has the oomph of a strong immune system. The key, based on recent, globally recognized soil research by David Johnson, a microbiologist at the Institute for Sustainable Agricultural Research & Education, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, is a heightened fungus to bacteria ratio.
As it turns out, the science of soil is way more complicated than the simple art of composting. “There’s a great deal we don’t know about how soil works. It’s like the deep ocean,” Juliana says.
To produce the new compost inoculate, Reunity added several Johnson-Su Composting Bioreactors, a high-tech name for a fairly simple, open-source composting bin created by Johnson and his wife, Hui-Chun Su Johnson. You can see these systems in action on a Root-to-Fruit tour this summer, and the finished soil supplement will be ready next spring.
The Soil Yard is just one of the programs at Reunity aimed at changing the way we produce and consume food. Summer brings a farm stand selling produce from the two-acre urban garden, a farm camp for kids, musical events, and workshops. The organization that started in 2011 to recycle used cooking oil as biodiesel fuel now has two dozen seasonal workers and is 85% financially self-supporting. Juliana has a moving way of explaining why she and Tejinder started Reunity. “We asked ourselves what does the community need? What do I need? What can I do?”