Anthony Reyes found his calling working at the intersection of farming and social justice with organizations such as the Tilth Alliance in Seattle, the youth education program Common Threads Farm in Bellingham, and now with the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz. Reyes credits his college days at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for his passion for sustainable agriculture with a food justice focus. Reyes, a biracial Millennial with Mexican-American roots, always wanted to return to the area, a hub for farming with a mission. In 2017, he returned to the community where he first learned to grow food and view agricultural systems through a justice lens.
In his first year at the Homeless Garden Project, Anthony Reyes says he was asked about every stereotype imaginable when working with this marginalized population. Chief among them: Do homeless people really work? There’s a lot of stigma associated with this population, he says. “For the record, the crews here are some of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met,” says Reyes of the participants in the non-profit’s year-long employment-training program at Natural Bridges Farm.
The project serves people in Santa Cruz County who are homeless or formerly homeless, who have experienced barriers to employment, and who want to maintain a stable productive place in society. “The crew tackles every task seriously with passion and heart.”
Reyes spends his days on the farm bouncing between different posts—whether the field, greenhouse, farm stand, or kitchen—helping crews with their tasks on the 3.5-acre farm, which grows row crops and flowers. He’s also in charge of the organization’s three-pronged Community Supported Agriculture program. CSAs, an alternative marketing model that features a direct relationship between farmer and consumer, accounts for about 10 percent of the 25-year-old institution’s income.
The program includes a traditional CSA, a U-pick version, and a scholarship fund, where people can donate to a CSA program for 10 local organizations serving the needy. Flowers go to a local hospice program and the program includes a value-added enterprise making and selling jams, dried herbs, and floral wreaths, which are sold at their downtown store, in a new shop in nearby Capitola, and online.