Rewiring and Repurposing with Todd Wynward and Daniel "Ryno" Hererra

“Rewiring and Repurposing” with Daniel “Ryno” Hererra and Todd Wynward

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 16
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 16: “Rewiring and Repurposing” with Daniel “Ryno” Hererra and Todd Wynward was released on April 18, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

This week marks the arrival of Earth Day! In this week’s episode of ~ing Podcast, we’re joined again by Herald Press author, Todd Wynward, a public school founder, small-scale farmer, wilderness educator, and Mennonite organizer for watershed discipleship in the Mountain States region. In the second half of our conversation with Todd, he introduces us to his “Brother from another mother,” his hermano, Daniel “Ryno” Hererra. Ryno is hard at work rewiring and repurposing “QiLT” – his family’s Questa property into a family-friendly conscious village that supports neighborliness, interdependence and place-based living. We’ll learn more about their collaborative journey through the Taos Initiative for Life Together (TiLT), and the Repurposing Plastic Project in Taos, New Mexico. We hope you listen to the first half of this episode which came out last week.

Chrissie Muecke, Todd Wynward, Joan Daggett, Daniel “Ryno” Herrera, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus

Todd Wynward  00:09
to the two mottos that we have one One is, do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you. And the other is to move at the speed of trust.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  00:19
And sometimes you don’t go back to the Sakya in the back, or do gauge back there with running water and say a few prayers who waters your way. And it’s important that we remember ceremony, and to give thanks to the people that were here before us.

Ben Wideman  00:38
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Hello, friends welcome back to ~ing Podcast. If you’re with us, last time, we got to know Todd Wynward a little bit and the TiLT Initiative in Taos, New Mexico. And right at the end of the episode, we got to know Ryno just a little bit. And Todd and Ryno are back this week to tell us a little bit more about some of the creative reimagining and repurposing that they are doing together. Thanks again for being a part of ~ing Podcast and joining us on the journey.

Todd Wynward  01:25
Thanks for having us today, Ben. I’m so glad that I could twist your virtual arm enough, Ben. This amazing man… I wanted to share up front that Ryno, basically as a brother from another mother, for me. Unlikely and fierce companions and friends that probably would have, you know, if we encountered each other in a dark alley, we would have done other things then become friends. But a mentor and friend of ours put us together on almost a blind date.

Ben Wideman  01:54
Oh, wow.

Todd Wynward  01:55
And and said, You guys need to meet each other. And it’s interesting because I checked a box yesterday about who this guy was. And he was both a mentor and a mentee for me.

Ben Wideman  02:08

Todd Wynward  02:08
I am learning how to live better from him. And I think he’s getting something from me.

Ben Wideman  02:14
Those are the best kinds of relationships. For those who don’t know you right now. Can you introduce yourself a little bit, tell our listeners a little bit about who you are?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  02:23
Sure. Well, my… as you said, my name is Daniel Ryno Hererra. I was born here in New Mexico, Arroyo Hondo, Taos… and my family comes from several generations of being on this land up here. And I’m blessed to have my parents still in my life. Beautiful wife, beautiful kids. And, you know, I’m uh, stepped… raising uh, my beautiful grandson. So, you know, it’s a challenge, you know, if beautiful, interesting. You know, as Todd was saying earlier that I had a little bit of a health scare last a couple of weeks, and it kind of changed my path. And maybe reimagined what is possible moving forward, you know, in a different way, in a good way.

Ben Wideman  03:15
Oh there’s another… “reimagining” that we could add to our list of re-“ing” words that we can include in this two part series. Tell us a little bit more about your relationship, how the two of you got connected with each other.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  03:28
Like Todd was saying earlier, Gina, Dr. Gina Perez, was the doctor that saved my life. Been eight years clean… it’s over. And made some, I guess, bad choices in my life growing up, you know, trying to, wanting the more of small country and small, you know, two channel TV. And so…

Todd Wynward  03:57
Like growing up small… growing up in a teeny little town and yeah, maybe you want the big life.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  04:01
Yeah, one of the big like, it turned into the thug life. You know, then it turned into choices that I made that and ending up in jail, prison, back and forth for 27 years of my life – in and out.

Todd Wynward  04:17
What was that moment? You sometimes say a moment in prison?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  04:21
Yes. You know, at some point when you spend that much time in the pinta, I’d say… find God

Todd Wynward  04:28
Well and what… you were how heavy?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  04:30
At one point I was 420 pounds for 20 years.

Todd Wynward  04:33
So but yeah, you found God and you… what I remember you saying that you didn’t want to die without seeing your family. So…

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  04:42
I didn’t want to you know, spend the rest of my life there. Not ever have a chance to see or spend time with my my dad. You know, my mom, my sister.

Todd Wynward  04:52
So why, why Dr. Perez brought us together I think, was that I was working on the theme of rewilding when I encountered Ryno, who was working on the theme of rewiring yourself. And Dr. Gina connected that, and I had some experience starting nonprofits and developing community organizations. And Ryno was hungry to do that. So that’s where we started meeting as allies who both loved this place. And I came to this place from the outside and wanted to make it my garden of Eden, and you grew up here, and you imprisoned were like this, why did I want to go away? Why don’t I come back? So Right?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  05:27
It really made me think about where I was at the time… why I ever left home, you know, home is heaven on earth, like Todd was saying, you know? And, you know, you want to bring those together. And he was just supposed to mentor me, I guess in helped me develop this name that I came up with, you know, it’s, like I said, when I was 420 pounds, they used to call me Rhino. And it’s RYNO – stands for Rewire Yourself with New Opportunities. When I came home, and I talked to Gina about it, and she put me with Todd, you know, it just turned into this relationship of farming and gardening and wanting to get back to my ancestral roots, to be honest with you. You know, and, you know, I was raised in, you know, in a way where we don’t trust white people, I risked trusting and moving forward… the Speed of Trust. And, man, I tell these guys, my man who is my brother, and you know, like you said, from another mother in it, he helps me move forward in a good way in a healthy way. And the things that we do together gives me hope and purpose and it’s a it’s been a good team.

Todd Wynward  07:04
Yeah, so the Watershed Discipleship movement has merged into the Watershed Way here in Taos where we work with agrarian Hispanic culture and native Pueblo culture along with Christians. And there’s two models that we have… one, one is, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” And the other is to “Move at the speed of trust.” And both of those have been really pivotal in our work together here. And Rhino would never normally trust Mennonites from the outside… do gooders who want to meet exotic Hispanic land-based people. But because he knows, and he trusts me, and then I trust the Mennonites, and then the Mennonites trust Ryno and Ryno trusts them. So we’ve had this continuous engagement. And he actually was invited to be the celebrant at the most recent assembly of Mountain States Mennonites, and so he was able to blow a conch, and focus on some Aztec rituals that are a deep part of his tradition. So it’s been a joy,

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  08:08
Colorado and New Mexico organized a weekend to come down and help me build this 160 foot wall, which we’ve already built through the Repurposing Plastic Project. And like I was saying earlier, uh, I was standing at the top of the sand pile one day and I was looking around and there’s like, almost 23… 24 people working with a smile on their face hard, actually including cement on a wall. Who are these guys?

Todd Wynward  08:38

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  08:39
And you know, it was just a beautiful thing to know that people are still willing to step up and volunteer. And this is often Questa. You know, we changed the name to QuiLT you know, it’s his Questa Initiative for Life Together. And it’s a 12 unit space trailer park that we are imagining to turn into a transitional sober living place.

Ben Wideman  09:06

Todd Wynward  09:07
What we do together is this notion of repurposing plastic, repurposing lives. What Ryno just said, just to kind of… cause for the listening audience might not catch everything. As he said, it’s a 12… 12 space trailer park that we’re hoping can become a sober living village and a supportive living village. And the Mennonites are, what are they working on this summer with you?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  09:30
They’re going to be working on our community center. We have this old…

Ben Wideman  09:33
Oh, wow.

Todd Wynward  09:34
It’s a video store.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  09:35
Yeah. You know, my parents purchased this piece of property that had a video store – bought 24 years ago. It was a thriving business at the time until uh the Red Box came in, and then Netflix streaming. We were done in about three or four months.

Todd Wynward  09:52
So economic collapse in a town that already had economically collapse. Questa is a Superfund Hazard Site. So this is a place of deep economic despair and so what… you had an empty video store?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  10:05
Yeah, an empty video store and a barber shop that was there for probably about 45 years attached to the side of it. So that’s where the world headquarters for Repurposing Plastic is. And the other part is just a, a big beautiful space that the Mennonites are going to come down and help me finish up… the showers you know, put a can… put a kitchen and put a big community room where we can have meetings… First Step, NA, AA, just come in the watershed way, yeah, you know, Watershed Way meetings up at you know, Questa Initiative live together and see if we can bring you know my “jente” (people) up to the plate and and really just, you know, be proud of the community. Even though they are saying it’s a Superfund site, but it’s still a beautiful town.

Todd Wynward  10:56
It’s gorgeous, Ben. And

Ben Wideman  10:59
this is making me want to visit some time.

Todd Wynward  11:04
TiLT… the Taos Initiative for Life Together, its sponsoring QuiLT, the Questa Initiative for Life Together. And so Daniel is the owner and hub up there. So we’re kind of like, energized.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  11:20
That’s a good word.

Todd Wynward  11:21
And so you know, what we do here in downtown Taos is a sister relationship to what he’s doing up there and Questa and so it’s reimagining spaces where Empire caused toxic damage. And so that for the Mennonites to join isn’t… it’s funny, the the folks who have come have said, “Yeah, sure, you need us, but we think we need you even more,” right? And so that’s been beautiful to see, the people come with hard work and, you know, a hammer in their hands, a shovel in their back, ready to work and a smile on their face. I know in his family, keep wondering, where are these wonderful volunteers coming from?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  12:01
I couldn’t get some me some of my family members to show up here.

Ben Wideman  12:08
Love that. What can you tell me a little bit more about he Repurposing Plastic Project? Another one of our re-ing words here. And…

Todd Wynward  12:16
That’s right, I’m gonna give a little beginning and then have Ryno jump into it. Because between the two of us, sometimes I’m the brain and he’s the braun – not always. But sometimes it’s my idea. And then it became his idea. So Taos, like a lot of places was shocked when China stopped taking the world’s recycling three years ago. And our little community started just putting plastic into the landfill, like many places did, and we started imagining, “What if we could build with this plastic which is a space age precious material?” It’s got muscle memory, once you smash it, it’s flexible, it’s durable. And so we have decided to put plastic inside of metal cages and stuck to it. And by doing so, we’ve created a small business that we call the repurposing plastic and it is its world headquarters is in questa at quilt like Ryno said so I’m just going to say that we started this through TiLT but then his, his site is where Repurposing Plastic is now, so maybe you can just explain a little bit of what what we do with that?

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  13:37
Sure. About a year and a half ago, we got off grant from the Lord Foundation, and we were able to purchase a an industrial bailer, just like they have at the big stores, big box stores I guess. And we have a site here TiLT where they drop off plastic and we have a sign up with QuiLT where they drop off plastic and on Wednesdays, we have open door for volunteers to come and learn how to build these cages that Todd was talking about our metal. You know, we call it the Ready Wall, and we assemble these cages. We put chicken wire on the inside and then we come back the plastic through the baler – clean crushable plastic, and I thought I was saying earlier that it’s a space age building material. It’s precious and it’s sold everywhere with everything. So you know we came up with this Ready Wall – put chicken wire on the the inside, compact the plastic, put it in there, cap it, put it in the ground and then we apply three coats of cement plaster stucco.

Todd Wynward  14:55
So the product after we do it it’s unrecognizable from a typical cinder block wall. And so but instead of instead of buying new concrete and a big footer and a lot of cement going into it, we’re using what people would call trash and turning that waste into walls. But it was my idea in the beginning to do something with plastic. But it was Ryno’s idea to do what we call the Ready Wall, which is an eight foot long modular, sellable wall. It’s like 16 inches wide and 50 inches high, and it’s ready to market. So we make these and try to try to sell them in the community. So people can make their own privacy walls, or tool sheds, etc.

Ben Wideman  15:41
I love that, especially when you think about how how polluting the concrete industry can be. It seems like not only are you are using this plastic in an innovative way, you’re also taking a little bit of polluting industry and not using it in that in that same way. I imagine that you have all kinds of feedback from your community, both good and bad. What are some of the things people are telling you about this initiative in this endeavor?

Todd Wynward  16:15
Well, I would have to say that during COVID been, it’s been almost a religious experience for some of the older frightened, white retired people to come to us with their bags and plastic and say, “Thank you for helping me do something right.” We did not expect it to be such a community building approach. There’s lots of questions about it. It’s far from perfect. It, it has some R value, but it’s about nine or 10 R value insulation rather than more and it but it doesn’t out gas, you know, we’re putting the plastic in inside of a cement coffin. And so it’s an anaerobic environment with no no oxygen and no sunlight getting in. So it should be a permanent structure, we hope.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  17:09
Yeah, I mean, post-COVID, all of the building materials have just shot through the roof, you know, cinder blocks, three, two by four that used to be $3.74 is now $9.85. You know, so building of a privacy wall or a patio or even a windbreak for your your fruit trees or your garden. And we’re doing something good for the community. And for the well, you know, for el mundo, the whole world, you know, trying to do our part and be an example for, for our small communities that we’re surrounded by.

Todd Wynward  17:53
I love the idea of permaculture and permaculture talks about stackable functions. And the term stackable functions meaning like by doing one thing, you’re doing seven things, right. And so I love this idea, like you said, Ben, about how these relationships are happening. By doing this one thing of repurposing plastic. You can imagine where we’re bringing the community together in a time of crisis and COVID and despair. We’re taking waste and turning it into walls. we’re repurposing lives even as we repurpose plastic. We’re reinvigorating a storefront, a video store. And we’re turning Questa, an economically depressed town, into the world headquarters of Repurposing Plastic. And we’re doing multicultural trust building across cultures. And so all of this is happening by one action. And so that just feels like a right way to live and to restore right relationship.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  18:57
Yeah. And sometimes, you know, go back to the acequia in the back, or do teach back there with running water and say a few prayers for the watershed way. And it’s important that we remember ceremony and to give thanks to the people that were here before us, and to just be grateful for being alive another day and let the water run through us.

Ben Wideman  19:27
Absolutely. Finding our space within the grand narrative is so crucial centering ourselves in that way. Yeah. And so easy to forget to.

Todd Wynward  19:39
Well, that’s what I’d like to just have Ryno share just a minute is that Repurposing Plastic is a part of it, but the other motto is repurposing lives. And this idea that this is not just an economic business, but do you want to share this a minute of like, how how has it been repurposing for you and your life.

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  19:58
For me when I came home from prison, you know, it was hard to do almost anything, you know, much less find a job. So, you know, I was very fortunate to be able to work at the video store at the time. And like I said, like Todd was saying, you know, just being able to offer people hope and purpose, you know, by not just repurposing plastic, but you know, a lot of that comes up a mentorship piece where, you know, I was a heroin addict for 25 years, you know. So it’s like, I’m able to have walk through the fire and come out the other side, and be blessed, you know, with with everything and be grateful for my sobriety, and the people that I have chosen to surround myself with now, my extended family, which, you know, has taught the Mennonites, you know, and the people he brings into the circle, I automatically trust because he trusts and this gives me purpose and hope. And it allows me to do good things for the community, it allows me to meet people that I would never have the opportunity to meet, if they see me, they don’t walk the other way. So, you know, it’s been, it’s been a, it’s a, it’s a beautiful thing, you know, to be able to give somebody a little bit of hope to want to change their life, and, you know, be sober and be a good father, you know, or lose Saunder.

Todd Wynward  21:27
And I just love that. Like, sometimes when we start a work session, I’m thinking about efficiency, you just remind us to start with ceremony, right. And to bring us to the water that he mentioned, that acequia, which is a small irrigation ditch in the back of the property that just… let’s start here. Let’s start with water. Let’s start – remember the sangre, the blood in our veins, and I just love that you you repurpose our lives that way, that we’re not just economic machines, right?

Ben Wideman  21:52
That’s awesome. For folks who are listening and might want to know more, where do you direct them? How can they be inspired by this work? If they want to learn a little bit more?

Todd Wynward  22:04
Well, then I didn’t even know you’re gonna ask that to be honest. But something cool is going on right now. We I don’t know if you can feel it from your end. But what we’re doing here in Taos has worldwide implications. Small communities anywhere big communities anywhere could take this tech, we’re learning and replicated. And so the teeny amount of plastic we’re dealing with, could be the leven in the loaf, it could be the low tech.

Ben Wideman  22:32

Todd Wynward  22:33
You don’t even need a baler, you can just smash it by foot. We’ve done that too. Just like smashing grapes if you’re doing wine. But so we’re there’s a GoFundMe fundraiser going on right now for repurposing plastic. And if you if you look up on GoFundMe, the I think it’s called Repurposing Plastic: Turning Waste into Walls in Taos, New Mexico. And so that’s a big deal. And if people wanted to contribute there, they’d learn a lot more. We also have repurposing plastic

Ben Wideman  23:14
Perfect. I just want to say thank you to both of you for taking the time to share this story with our audience for sharing a little bit about who the two of you are and your incredible relationship as well. Yeah, I think without really getting too deep into this, I just love these kinds of stories were unlikely people get connected, and the sum of them connecting is is just exponentially greater than what they could have done by themselves. It’s, like I said earlier, it fits so well, with what we’re trying to do here adding podcast, sharing these stories of reimagining what the what the church, what the kingdom, what community can look like. And I want to say thank you to both of you for this offering and for taking the time to be with us.

Todd Wynward  24:05
Thanks for having

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  24:06
Yeah, an honor.

Ben Wideman  24:11
Next week on in podcast, we’re joined by two of the people involved with MennoMedia’s brand new project, The Peace Table: a Storybook Bible,

Joan Daggett  24:21
A lot of people working on it. They put a lot of time, creativity, and energy into this. And it’s just, it’s just gorgeous, even down to the table of contents.

Chrissie Muecke  24:34
That was really important to us to create something that was a place of welcome for all children and families.

Ben Wideman  24:43
So awesome. Friends, we are so glad you are here listening to this episode. But please stay tuned next week. We’ll have more. Come back for more conversation with Todd and with Ryno. Thanks for listening. As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at