My Grandma Loves Biodiesel

My Grandma Loves Biodiesel

By Juliana Ciano

Grandma Helen is 92.  She is four and a half feet tall and shrinking.

I was raised in rural, southern Minnesota, and grandma Helen is a Prairie Home Companion postcard.  I’d like to say that she was this amazing environmentalist homesteading pioneer woman, but she wasn’t.  

When her brothers went into the service for WWII and one of the girls needed to come home and help on the family farm, her dad told her stay in secretary school.  Whatever that is.  

Grandma Helen can put commercially canned fruit, Cool Whip and Jello together and call it salad.  While the weather is 80 percent of her conversation topic, she doesn’t know much about climate change.  In fact, she never taught me anything explicitly about the environment.  

What she taught me, however, has proven to be of great value for environmental causes amongst others.  I was a pretty fragile kid: quick to cry and embarrassed about it.  I recall once, after crafting a beautiful, gooey batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, watching the glass mixing bowl slip off the counter and shatter:  no dough safe from shards.  WAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!   Instant tears.  The disappointment!  The mess!  The perfect bowl now broken!  

Grandma Helen had too much Norwegian sensibility to deal with this, and she would instantly provide a distraction and the encouragement to move on.    “No use crying about it,” she’d say.  

While this was totally aggravating in the moment, and I’m not promoting it as The Best Emotional/Psychological Technique, there is a grounding pragmatism to just cleaning up the mess and starting a game of Scrabble.  I’ve fallen into pits of despair crying about “it,” and now I can understand why pits of despair can be worth avoiding.  

It’s easy to watch a documentary or read the paper and hear “We’re all going to die!  The oceans are filled with plastic!  Our food is filled with agent orange and our breast milk is mostly mercury!”

But….there’s really no use crying about it.  The practical resilience Grandma Helen taught us has been key in a world with no shortage of tragedy.  The more despair and powerlessness we wallow in, the less effective we can be.  Make choices, take action.  Assess what you can do, and then do it.

Reunity Resources is a Grandma-Helen inspired, practical response to climate change:  there is no sense crying about your problems, just get to work making some solutions.  It’s not so much that Grandma Helen loves biodiesel as Grandma Helen says, “Quit just talking about it and do something.”

Reunity Resources.  Re-unite.  Unite, to bring together.  Re, again.  Reunity Resources, the Santa Fe-based social enterprise my husband and I founded in 2011 focuses on zero waste solutions here in northern New Mexico.  There is a mass mindset that we can throw things “away,” but….where is that?  Where does it go? Because it must go somewhere.  Reunity Resources looks at ways to put our “waste” into a place that adds value to our lives.  One of our programs is a restaurant grease collection program:  we collect used oil from over 120 area restaurants, use a low energy process to convert it into biodiesel, and then redistribute this clean fuel to BioFuel Collective members.

The impact of the BioFuel Collective reaches our whole community population: everyone in our community benefits from improved air quality, a water supply that does not get oil contamination, and a secure localized biodiesel fuel source. The BioFuel Collective reduces our community’s waste stream by 700 tons of CO2 annually, reduces our dependence on foreign oil and creates local jobs.  We also educate about and advocate for closed-loop recycling systems and the use of alternative fuels.

Our compost program, launched in April 2014, is now a smooth, tested operation, and we are diverting food waste from the landfill at a rate of approximately one million pounds per year.  We have trained over 6000 students, faculty and staff in 13 public elementary schools in daily cafeteria composting practices.  

Our work this year was recognized with 2015 Sustainable Santa Fe Award, a Climate Change Leadership Insitute Direct Action Award, and a New Mexico Recycling Coalition Public-Private Partnership of the Year Award for our work with City government.  Reunity Founder and Executive Directore Tejinder Ciano serves on the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, the Mayor’s Climate Action Task Force and the SWAMA and SWAC committees, advocating for large-scale policy and practice changes, and then bridging the gap to implement them for a long-term sustainable Santa Fe.  After all, we are raising our family here.  

Grandma Helen wants you too, to take action and become part of the solution.  If you work with a restaurant, hotel or institution, and you’d like Reunity Resources to consult with you, recycle your grease, compost your food scraps or create a zero waste event for you,  please call (505) 393-1196, email [email protected] or visit  

We provide education, training and collection service to all our partners.  


I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Helen Keller