Instant Inspiration: Silas Conroy

Instant Inspiration: Silas Conroy

silas_mugshotSilas Conroy

I’m Silas Conroy, co-founder and owner of the Crooked Carrot–a local foods processor here in Ithaca, NY. I studied Engineering Science at Penn State before falling in love with food and food system issues. I spent the first 5 years of my 20s in a self-styled apprenticeship throughout local food jobs–from restaurant management to truck driving to managing organic vegetable production. In 2011, I founded the Crooked Carrot with Jesse and Johanna Brown with the goal of learning something about business and contributing to the local food system. Today, my job at the Crooked Carrot varies every year, but I spend most of my time talking with local farmers and working on logistics. I actually love making spreadsheets–they are kind of like an adult version of legos for me–truly let my inner nerd shine. At this point, the vision for the Crooked Carrot is not just a pickle business, but as an agent of local food development–we’re now engaged in so many exciting and challenging projects–from fermentation classes to renting our shared use kitchen to produce aggregation from local farms for clients we work with regionally. I feel deeply blessed to get to work on these important problems and with so many wonderful people.

10 Questions

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? 
What turns me on most is a feeling of connectivity through storytelling. I love to see the ways stories weave us together–whether it’s local gossip, natural history,  or the “story” of food along it’s pathway from farm to eater.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do?
Great question–I feel like I keep trying new professions every year within our business. But if I was going to do something totally different, maybe I’d like to be an artist or architect!
If you could go back and tell your 18-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
I would say to relax and find ways to experience life more. I’d  suggest spending less time on school work and more time working or having fun. My 18-year old self would likely not listen, but I believe passion can lead to occupation.
If you had a motto (or a mantra), what would it be?
Breathe deeply. Can you let go of anything you’re holding on to? I stole this one from the amazing local yoga teacher, Illana Berman. Until she asked, I don’t think I realized how many stresses in life were of my own making.
If you could cook a meal for any one person, living or dead, who would they be and what would you cook? 
I would cook for my romantic partner Rachel–she always cooks the most amazing, nourishing food for me!
Name one thing that you have tried to grow, raise, produce or cook that was a surprising success? A total failure?
Last year, we fermented a new sauerkraut made with cabbage, burdock root, nettles, and garlic! It has a unique flavor and it’s incredibly nutrient dense! We’ve had so many failures, it’s difficult to pick one! Obsessed with rainbows, we recently tried to create a fermented “rainbow” kimchi with kale, carrots, watermelon radishes, and purple daikon–it was not enjoyable.
Name 3 things in nature that you find beautiful.
Trees flowering in the spring, foxes, the vastness of the ocean.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?  What time of the day do you feel the most energetic and what do you usually do in those moments?
Maybe right in the middle? I am usually most energetic 9am-10:30am–I try to do the hardest things on my list at that time.
What is something you love to make?
Grilled cheese
What is your favorite word? What is your least favorite word? 
Favorite: Quixotic
Least Favorite: Delish

Instant Inspiration introduces you to an eclectic array of folks in our area connected with food and farming. We hope you find them and their work inspiring!  Contact us if you’d like to be featured! Read other Instant Inspiration posts by clicking on the “Instant Inspiration” category tag above. 

From the Field: June CRAFT Tour at Westhaven

From the Field: June CRAFT Tour at Westhaven

What were you doing this past Father’s Day? Well, whatever you were doing, just remember you missed out on CRAFT – West Haven where you could’ve been picking sweet, sweet strawberries…

Sunday June 19, 2016

Now what is CRAFT? C.R.A.F.T., Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, is a cooperative model for sharing complementary farm training in collaboration with participating farms. Participants visit a host farm for a tour, a talk, or demonstration on a specific topic. These visits offer beginning farmers a chance to see how different operations work, to develop practical skills and to network with other farmers and farm interns.

Finger Lakes CRAFT was initiated by the Groundswell Center in 2010. Our CRAFT group was developed through the guidance of our mentor farms and they have helped sustain these meetings over the years by leading exciting, interactive sessions that continue to inspire the next farming generations.

West Haven Farm was started by John and Jen Bokaer-Smith in 1992 and has been serving the community since the early ‘90s by growing NOFA-NY Certified Organic produce for the farm’s CSA and the Ithaca farmer’s market.

Seth of West Haven farm talking strawberries in the field at the CRAFT tour in June.

The first part of our tour was led by Seth, West Haven’s farm manager. He showed us around the heart of West Haven’s operation, the veggies.  We explored everything from the solanaceae in the hoop-houses to the strawberries in the fields

Seth also gave us a taste of the decision making process at a CSA. West Haven is dedicated to and is here to serve its community throughout the growing season. Part of that dedication requires its 10 acres to be in production for most of the year so customers can get what they need.

Without much of a break over the past two decades, West Haven has developed a nasty weed seed bank. Seth showed us what the farm has been doing to control the weeds, but they persist.  As a Certified Organic producer, West Haven has had trouble finding land nearby to rent and utilize that fits into the Organic requirements.

Next year, West Haven is going to be able to move some of its production to another

Chris, West Haven orchard manager talks trees with our CRAFT tour attendees.

site at EcoVillage, giving its main ten acres a well-deserved break.

Chris, West Haven’s orchard manager, rounded out the tour by teaching us about apple tree growth patterns and how to effectively prune fruit trees. We even got a taste of early cherries!

From the Director April 2016: Living Wages & Sustainable Outcomes

Greetings Groundswell friends, farmers and supporters,

The minimum wage increase signed into law this week by Governor Cuomo is big news for all New York State businesses and employees – including farms. The bill states that there will be an increase in the minimum wage in upstate NY to $12.50 (over five years), ​while in the rest of the State the wage increase will increase to $15/hour (see below for more details). While the bill is a major accomplishment in many ways, of course, as with any bill, there are strong supporters as well as critics.

For example, $12.50 falls short of the current Living Wage in Tompkins County, which is $14.34/hour. While the same high cost of living exists for other upstate counties, the bill is accused of not recognizing the expensive cost of living in NY outside of the New York City region. Others critique the governor’s phase-in plan, saying its unrealistic and that the State should figure out a way to help small business owners pay this wage.

Groundswell seeks to build strong, vibrant communities by promoting sustainable land-based livelihoods. Though it’s not the focus of our efforts, we feel fair wages are a key to these goals; yet, we also know most small-scale sustainable farmers are unable to pay themselves a living wage, let alone their employees.  The issues are complex and financially challenging and we are just beginning to explore them in more depth. Additionally, we are exploring ways Groundswell can support regional farms to prepare for the wage increases through information sharing, workshops, and more.  To begin this effort, we are sharing a brief interview I held with Evangeline Sarat, owner of Sweet Land Farm CSA in Trumansburg. Evangeline began paying her employees a living wage in 2015 and is a Certified Living Wage Employer. Read the interview on the Groundswell blog here.

I look forward to having more conversations with you about living wages and more! Please call or email me anytime.

With thoughts of warmth for your flowering trees and plants,



Minimum Wage—The minimum wage will increase on the following schedule:

Region Final Wage Final Phase-in
New York City $15.00 12/31/18
New York City (<10 employees) $15.00 12/31/19
Westchester & Long Island $15.00 12/31/21
Upstate $12.50 (index to $15) 12/31/20

Upstate Schedule

Minimum Wage Phase-in Date
$9.70 12/31/16
$10.40 12/31/17
$11.10 12/31/18
$11.80 12/31/19
$12.50 12/31/20


Nov 5th – Food access and justice: Rebuilding a healthy local food system for all

From Cornell’s New World Agriculture and Ecology Group (NWAEG):

This Friday…

11/5 – Food access and justice: Rebuilding a healthy local food system for all @ Cornell’s Emerson Hall, Room 135, Fri. 12:15-1PM
Elizabeth Karabinakis, Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension

Liz has been involved with the Healthy Food For All campaign:

Take the Local Foods Survey!

Nicole Novak, a Cornell student, is conducting a survey on the nutritional quality of the locavore diet. Here are the details:

Interested in locally grown foods?

I’m conducting research with Cornell’s Sustainability of Food Systems Group,
to learn more about your opinions on local food products, what foods you purchase locally, and how you use them! The goal of my project is to assess the nutritional quality of a “locavore” diet. Please consider helping us out by taking a brief, anonymous, online survey:

Go here! –>

Thank you!!!
Questions or concerns? Please contact Nicole Novak at

Groundswell Director to speak at Cayuga Sustainability Council tomorrow

Groundswell director Joanna Green will appear with other community food leaders at the Cayuga Sustainability Council panel tomorrow (Thursday) from 6 to 8 at the Southside Community Center! Official announcement below:

The Cayuga Sustainability Council will meet this coming Thursday from 6-8 at the Southside Community Center.

The CSC is a non-organization (eg no organizational structure, no officers, no dues, no formal membership) that meets quarterly to catch up on what’s happening within the sustainability community. All projects, organizations, and sustainability-engaged folks are welcome.

From 6-7 we’ll fill each other in on what’s going on and coming up – and from 7-8 we’re privileged to have a sterling team of leaders in the local foods movement to bring us up to date, and help us think about what we can be doing to support this key dimension in creating sustainable community.

Thursday’s panel includes Joanna Green of the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming; Kirtrina Baxter of Southside and Congo Square; Liz Karabinakis of Healthy Food for All, Ithaca Community Harvest, and Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty; Alison Fromme, founder/editor of Ithaca’s Food Net blog; and Elan Shapiro, Ithaca College faculty member and catalyst for community garden mini-grants that are making a big difference in downtown neighborhoods.

Sure to be an inspiring feast for the mind – culinary feast contributions also welcome!

questions: Patricia Haines, Level Green Institute (607) 339-9472

Cultivating a sustainable local food system

By Joanna Green

Published in Tompkins Weekly

Let’s say you’re a young adult – or maybe a not so young adult – and you’re interested in learning about small-scale farming as a potential livelihood. Where can you go to find out what farming is all about and get the training you need to farm successfully?

Or let’s say you’re an individual or small business owner who just wants to play a role in building a strong, sustainable local food system in our community. How can you plug in and support the next generation of farmers and local foods businesses?

Join the Groundswell!

The Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming is addressing the need for hands-on training and education to support beginning farmers, urban market gardeners and other local foods entrepreneurs in the region. Groundswell has been spearheaded by a hard-working group of local foods boosters including farmers, community members, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and faculty and students from Cornell, Ithaca College and TC3.

To find out more about Groundswell’s groundbreaking (!) educational programs that is putting Ithaca on the map as a destination for high quality farm-based education go to our website at

An innovative partnership with TC3 – HAS BEGUN until the middle of July the blog will feature the experiences of participants in the practicum

Groundswell is partnering with the Environmental Studies Program at Tompkins Cortland Community College to offer a “Summer Practicum in Sustainable Farming and Local Food Systems.” This unique, 8-week course is geared for students, community members and professionals interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture, local food systems, and small-scale farming. Much of the teaching will take place at West Haven Farm at EcoVillage, as well as other farms, local food businesses, and organizations in the area.

Local Foods Tapas and Cafe Concert- October 17, 2009

Help us build the Groundswell!

Back-to-Back Benefit Events October 17, 2009
Join us for an Evening of Local Foods Tapas and a Café Concert Featuring Favorite Ithaca Artists

On Saturday October 17th join the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming for an autumn evening affair featuring local foods tapas, Finger Lakes wine, and fresh-pressed cider along with a ‘café concert’ where you can enjoy desserts, coffee, and tea while listening to some of Ithaca’s favorite singer-songwriters. Proceeds from this event, held at the EcoVillage Common House on Rachel Carson Way in Ithaca, NY will benefit the educational programs of both Groundswell and its parent organization, the EcoVillage Center for Sustainability Education.
The evening kicks off at 5:00pm with a tour of the EcoVillage co-housing community and West Haven Farm, followed by a reception featuring tapas crafted from food grown at West Haven farm and other local farms as well as wine produced on the shores of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. During the reception, meet the farmers and educators involved in Groundswell and the Center for Sustainability Education and learn more about how you can tap into these efforts in the local community.
Beginning at 7:00pm, enjoy a café-style concert, showcasing singer-songwriters Patti Witten and Jody Kessler, acoustic duo “Littlewheel,” and – reuniting for the first time in 25 years– “Lorelei,” featuring the stunning vocal harmonies of Kessler, Witten and Groundswell Center Director Joanna Green. Ticket prices begin at $30.00 for the tour and reception, $25.00 for the café concert, and for the entire evening, a special price of $45.00. To purchase tickets, send an email to or call 379-9270.