MPH Local Food Systems Panel brings different perspectives together

On Tuesday, November 5th the Cornell MPH program hosted a diverse panel of five stakeholders working at various levels of the local food system. Panelists Silas Conroy, Alexas Esposito, Heather Sandford, Yao Foli, and Eric Carey, answered questions from community members and MPH students about their work in food hubs, local meat and dairy farming, indigenous food sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture. The panelists were asked to reflect on the role their work plays in local food systems and public health, challenges they have faced, and their visions for the future. Some of the topics discussed were economic and regulatory challenges, the role of technology, connecting with communities, and equity.

MPH students in the Food Systems concentration, who have been learning about cultural challenges to public health implementation at the community level, took the opportunity to ask panelists about the advantages and disadvantages of doing their work in Ithaca. They explained that while some Ithacans’ progressive attitudes can help create a market for local food movement efforts, high expectations for what constitutes ‘local food’ can also be restrictive. The double-edged sword of Ithacans’ attitudes towards local food exemplifies the complexity of issues public health professionals might face while working with communities. Panelists also offered advice to the students, as future public health professionals, for how they can positively impact local food systems. The panel event was an excellent opportunity for those interested in local food, especially the Food Systems students, to speak directly with relevant professionals about their work.

~ Written by MPH student Brian Maley

To view a recording of the session, visit the Local Food System Panel recording here.


Read the panelists’ bios, below:

Silas Conroy
Director of Supply Chains & Produce Merchant, Headwater Food Hub

Silas created, owned and operated a regional food sourcing and processing company called Crooked Carrot, based in Ithaca, NY, before merging his business with Headwater Food Hub in 2018. Sourcing directly from farms for over 5 years, Silas built well-established relationships with over 30 regional farmers and aggregated produce for sales to diversified markets across New York State, from a line of retail pickles to wholesale in the Hudson Valley. Silas has managed sourcing and processing of local ingredients for Ithaca City Schools’ Fresh Snack Program for over 2 years, as well as for Farm to School projects in Cortland and Binghamton, before working with Headwater. Headwater Food Hub works with over 100 New York State farms. Silas received a MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management from MIT in 2018.
Alexas Esposito
Co-Director, Traditional Center for Indigenous Knowledge & Healing; Food Justice Program Coordinator, Groundswell Center for Food & Farming
Alexas moved to Ithaca in 2008 to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Music Composition at Ithaca College. After graduating, she was quickly absorbed into the community, and embarked on a path of exploration that led her back to nature and her indigenous roots: Guaní (Taino). For the last few years she has cultivated a deeper relationship with seeds, health and the land through her traditional indigenous culture. She believes that through a harmonic relationship with nature, we can begin to restore equilibrium, as individuals, and as a human collective. She works at Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming as the Farming and Food Justice Program Coordinator. She is also a doula, an herbalism apprentice, a seed-keeper, food sovereignty advocate, and a strong advocate for traditional indigenous culture with her family, who hold workshops and share knowledge on traditional indigenous healing modalities through their non-profit organization, Traditional Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Healing, on Connecticut Hill, Newfield, NY.
Heather Sandford
Co-Founder, The Piggery
Heather Sandford graduated Cornell in 1997 with a BS from the Ag & Bio Engineering Technology.  She co-founded The Piggery Farm and Butcher Shop in 2004. The Piggery is an whole animal butcher shop that specialized in handcrafting value added products  like nitrate free deli meats, sausages, bone broths, charcuterie and more from pasture raised pigs and turkeys.  All meats have been sourced from regional farms (including Heather’s farm in Trumansburg) that are committed to raising animals on sustainably managed pastures and Project Non GMO verified grains.  In 2014, Heather oversaw the build-out and management of a USDA inspected processing facility and launched a CPG pastured meats line that is currently distributed from Maine to Florida and as far West as Minnesota.  But, most of her time is still spent tracking down pigs that break out of their fences.
Yao Chacha Foli
Founder, Ndor Eco Village in Ghana; Farmhand, Sweet Land Farm

Yao Foli founded “Ndor” Eco Village to transform the livelihoods of farmers in his community through promoting rural education and sustainable agricultural training in the Volta Region of Ghana. He founded Ndor in 2008 as a sophomore at Cazenovia College in upstate New York where he received a full scholarship for his environmental advocacy in Ghana. Yao has been apprenticing at leading farms in the organic agriculture movement in Ithaca, New York for the past five years. He has gained invaluable skills in organic greenhouse and field production, livestock and business administration that he is bringing back to Ghana to advance Ndor’s cause. He recently attended The National Heirloom Seed Exposition and the American Community Garden Association Conference. Yao serves as an Equity and Accountability Committee Member of Groundswell Center for Food and Farming’s Advisory Board.
Eric Carey
Co-Owner, Carey Farm LLC

Eric is a fifth generation co-owner of Carey Farm LLC, a 275 cow dairy farm, located in Groton. He manages all of the livestock on the farm and also assists his father and employees with all field work. The farm is a member of Preble Milk Cooperative and their milk is shipped to Kraft/Heinz processing plants in Loweville and Walton, NY (some may go to Chobani if needed). Their farm is in the process of diversifying into a beef business with intentions of selling angus/Holstein cross cattle to farms near NYC.

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