Regenerating Desertified Agricultural Land in Northern New Mexico

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G199-24-W9982
Grant Recipient: Reunity Resources
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Juliana Ciano
Reunity Resources


  • Vegetables: cucurbits, greens (leafy), other


  • Crop Production: drought tolerance
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal summary:

    We propose to test how efficiently we can regenerate desertified soil and grow productive crops, 1) using different composts (including inoculated biochar and composts created in Johnson-Su bioreactors), 2) combined with drought-adapted indigenous and landrace plant species, and 3) using a variety of traditional and modern water-wise techniques to minimize water usage. Our goal is to create a replicable model for agricultural resiliency designed to be effective in drought-prone, high desert settings. We will use as our test plot a one-acre piece of damaged land, most recently used as a sand mine, but previously farmed by indigenous and Hispanic farmers for hundreds of years.  This test plot is managed by Reunity Resources Farm, a closed-loop regenerative urban farm located about 5 miles west of the center of Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

    Reunity Resources’ mission includes educating the public about regenerative farming, climate change, and composting. It operates a large-scale commercial composting operation (which collects food waste from some 30 local restaurants, the Santa Fe School System, and ~450 local households). We will leverage Reunity’s current educational programming – held onsite for youth and adults, in the local schools, and in outreach to the larger community -- to disseminate the results of our experiments. We will also leverage an $8 million Santa Fe County project to complete the last section of the popular Santa Fe River Walk multi-use path to the San Ysidro Crossing, where Reunity is located. The River Walk, scheduled to be completed in 2024, runs alongside Reunity Resources and the test plot. The influx of new visitors to Reunity will provide us with rich opportunities to educate the public about how regenerative farming techniques can be a critical tool in ensuring a supply of fresh, locally-grown produce in the face of supply chain disruptions due to climate change.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our project will use a powerful tool to both combat climate change and increase the availability of locally-grown produce: bringing marginal and desertified land into productive agricultural use by employing regenerative farming practices to build healthy, drought-resistant soil. Through this process, we are combatting climate change by sequestering substantial amounts of carbon in the soil, and diverting food and farm waste from landfills by composting them on-site at the farm.  (e.g. Project Drawdown; MacDonald 2010)

    Our research objective is to explore how successfully we can regenerate desertified soil and grow productive, profitable crops. As proof of concept, the test plot sits on land adjacent to Full Circle Farm, which was brought into production in 2021 as a joint project between Reunity Resources, Santa Fe County, and three local non-profits which focus on training BIPOC youth. The land was successfully put into production using composts produced at Reunity; a systematic approach could not be utilized for a variety of practical reasons. On the test plot we propose to use in this project, a variety of experiments will be carefully designed and executed so measures of soil regeneration (e.g. carbon content, fungal:bacterial colony ratios, water retention capabilities, etc.) and the relative success of different plant species can be systematically quantified.

    Our educational objective is to expand our current educational and outreach programs, with a focus on providing a replicable model to regenerate land and grow plants most likely to survive an increasingly hot and dry climate. We will provide both passive education -- for example, placing interpretive signs along the new River Walk opening in 2024 (which will run adjacent to the test plot) so visitors can learn about regenerative farming as practiced in a high-desert environment -- and more structured educational programs, such as those currently provided by Reunity for children and adults, and including a collaboration with Santa Fe Community College’s Sustainability program.  We also intend to publish at least one peer-reviewed paper resulting from our research, and present our research findings to our network of organizations focused on sustainability, and at conferences on sustainable agriculture.   

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.