Recirculating Farms

Dimitri Celis worked as a restaurant manager for eight years. When COVID hit the industry hard, Celis went back to finish his undergraduate degree.

“I knew I wanted to work in the nonprofit public service sector but didn't know exactly what that looked like,” Celis recalled. His roommate connected him with Serve Louisiana Program Director Maggie Conarro, who guided him through the application process. One of the sites, Recirculating Farms, was doing innovative food systems and food access work out of a small urban farm in Central City. He applied, interviewed, and was accepted.

The team at Recirculating Farms was small — three staff plus two AmeriCorps members, including Celis. Through leading community outreach and capacity building for the organization, Celis learned more about how nonprofits work and the importance of working collaboratively with other groups. “Instead of one nonprofit trying to do it all, when we work together, we are actually able to get a lot done. There’s a handful of food systems nonprofits who work together in this collaborative model.” From farm to fork, this “Growing Local Collaborative” supports our community through local food production and distribution, farmer support and development, entrepreneurship, and market expansion; particularly in neighborhoods with limited access to fresh food. The groups also collaborate on applications for grant funding to support this work.

“AmeriCorps has been a good way to network within the whole industry… When we work together, we are actually able to get a lot done… I’ve been open to a lot more opportunities than I would have without this experience.” — Dimitri Celis

Celis says joining AmeriCorps with Serve Louisiana helped him better understand, navigate, and survive the good and the bad of working for a nonprofit. “Some people I see who didn’t do AmeriCorps learn hard and fast about the industry and they leave,” he said. “It’s made me more clear-eyed around what I expect working in a nonprofit.”

The first year also helped Celis clarify his career goals. “I want to do grassroots environmental advocacy,” he said. So, he set his sights on getting a Master’s Degree in Environmental Law.

After Celis’ first year, he sat down with his supervisor Marianne Cufone to talk about the next year. Cufone was hoping Celis would sign up for another year as a Serve Louisiana AmeriCorps member at Recirculating Farms. Celis was hoping to apply to the Environmental Law program at Loyola Law School, where Cufone was also the director. With the help and support of Serve Louisiana staff and Cufone, Celis applied for both. “Everyone was open and trusted me. I was given agency to form my term,” he said. “I didn’t sleep, but now I have my master’s in environmental law.” For his dedicated service, Celis was honored with Volunteer Louisiana’s “Champion of Service Award” for 2023.

At the end of his second term, Celis was also offered a job at Recirculating Farms. “My two year AmeriCorps term and its professional development opportunities made for a seamless transition from AmeriCorps member to a full time leadership position as Program Manager,” he said. “Now I’m able to write grants and submit public comments to City Hall.” Celis also enjoys added responsibility, representing Recirculating Farms in the Food Policy Action Council, the A Greener New Orleans Campaign, the Food Security and Nutrition Access Working Group for CHIP, and the Regional Food System Partnership.

Celis attributes his success to Serve Louisiana. “They are very real. They are straightforward. They say the work is hard,” he said. “AmeriCorps has been a good way to network within the whole industry… I’ve been open to a lot more opportunities than I would have without this experience.”

For now, Celis is happy with his role at Recirculating Farms. At some point, he wants to explore public service, so as to better advocate for grassroots organizations like his.

By: David Ferris