AP NEWS

Nonprofit continues Santa Fe Community Farm legacy

March 19, 2019

At the Santa Fe Community Farm, a decades-old nonprofit that closed 15 months ago after the death of its 102-year-old founder, buds are forming on fruit trees in the orchard. In the greenhouse, seedlings sprout from rich black soil and workers are busy cultivating the earth for the bounty to come.

The once-frosted ground underfoot is thawing and spring is on its way. With it comes a change.

As of Tuesday, the Agua Fría farm — a historic property that has provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of produce to Northern New Mexico’s food banks and shelters — is back in business, this time with new owners and an expanded mission.

The Santa Fe-based nonprofit Reunity Resources, best known for its waste-composting program in local restaurants and schools, heads the reinvigorated operation.

The group says it will continue the scope and scale of the 12-acre property’s beloved produce-donation program, with a goal of adding a bevy of new initiatives that help put the community back in community farm.

“It’s got so much potential,” said Juliana Ciano, a spokeswoman for Reunity. “We have the capacity to do some great stuff here, and we’re excited about that.”

Ciano said Reunity plans to bring back the nonprofit’s farm stand, which offered produce for sale to the general public. Reunity will expand the sales window to nine hours a week — Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m., beginning in June.

A food truck, La Loncherita Salvadoreña, will offer additional noshes on Saturdays. And the farm will sell produce at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

In the longer-term, the farm’s new owners aim to create a family-friendly community gathering space, with farming and composting workshops, cooking classes and, eventually, they hope, a sandwich shop and pizza stand.

For Reunity, the acquisition is also a step toward a bold goal — a closed-loop waste-recycling system that turns trash into treasure.

Until now, Reunity has mostly worked “from table to farm,” Ciano said, taking waste from restaurants and schools, composting it and selling its product to local farmers.

“Now, we’re excited to do the other half — from farm back to table,” she said.

Reunity has leased a one-acre corner plot of land from the community farm for the past five or six years, Ciano said. That lease held even after the farm closed its doors. Now, some of that fertile compost will be tilled into nearby soil, helping to grow produce that other local nonprofits have come to rely on.

When the farm closed in December 2017, its local benefactors felt some anxiety.

“Uncertain is the best term for it,” said Tony McCarty, executive director of Kitchen Angels, a nonprofit that delivers meals to homebound local residents. Community farm founder John Stephenson “was just a godsend for Kitchen Angels. He would call in the winter before they planted and say, ‘What do the Kitchen Angels want to eat this year?’”

McCarty said he’s not sure exactly how much produce he received each year, but the farm always did a remarkable job.

Thanks to a handshake agreement with Reunity, the farm’s benefactors didn’t have to go without last year.

Ciano said Reunity farmed the land last year with the owners’ blessing, culling more than 11,000 pounds of produce — about on par with years past.

As field workers toiled, so, too, did the farm’s past and future owners, working out an agreement on the sale of the land, which was owned not by the Santa Fe Community Farm but by Stephenson’s family.

“Their dream was to find someone to buy it who would carry on the mission,” Ciano said. “The minute the conversation came up, we were like, ‘We’re here. We’re ready whenever you’re ready to sell it.’”

Through Ciano, members of the Stephenson family declined to comment for this story.

John Stephenson purchased the plot off San Ysidro Crossing just after returning home from World War II. He and his wife originally operated it as an egg ranch before repurposing it as a nonprofit farm in the late-1940s.

Ciano described Stephenson, who often said he avoided death three times during the war, as “kind of a legend” who continued to work the fields well into his 90s and had weightlifting trophies “from when he was, like, 90 years old.”

Reunity staffers are planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their newly deeded property at 6 p.m. on June 4.