Cooking nonprofit back on its feet
NEW MILFORD — A nonprofit organization once run on the personality and deep pockets of its founders is regaining its footing in the Litchfield hills after their deaths.
The Silo at Hunt Hill Farm hired Executive Director Dawn Leahy two months ago to bring big ideas and a worldly menu to the culinary school and community organization fit snugly in two 1850 wooden barns.
The Silo was founded by Ruth and Skitch Henderson soon after they bought the properties in 1968. Skitch, the founder of the New York Pops orchestra, and Ruth, a writer and chef, brought cooking and music and culture to the barns, and ran the place as a cultural oasis until Skitch died in 2005 and Ruth in 2014. It became a nonprofit in the last decade, but it was never self-sustaining.
“Ruth and Skitch are very much what drove the organization,” said co-President Marie O’Neill.
After Ruth died two years ago, supporters entered a period of mourning and soul searching, she said. Culinary classes were canceled and the board of directors were all too aware of the five-year cash runway the founders had left them to become self-reliant.
Then they found Leahy, who had just finished a decade of cooking on yachts — 40 countries, four crossings of the Atlantic Ocean, two of the Pacific. Leahy had just retired and moved to Sherman. She knew the culinary world and had friends across it: She’d purchased mangos from peoples’ backyards in the Dominican Republic and cooked fish caught in the middle of the ocean.
It was a match.
“I think this is what I was meant to do all along,” Leahy said. She was sick of seasickness, fighting with swinging fridge doors on the open ocean, and “being on a roller coster for 16 days at a time ... like being on a seesaw, in a rocking chair, 20 days straight.”
“You do get land sickness, though,” she joked.
Leahy said her plans for the Silo revolve around “what would Ruth do,” but with a focus on making the Silo a community place that teaches sustainable cooking practices with a diverse lineup.
A few months into her tenure, Leahy says a recent harvest feast is an example of what she would like to be known for. A nearby farmer brought vegetables, and local hunters brought venison. Chefs prepared the meal, and they all ate together after each party delivered a lesson about what they brought to the table.
Board members said Leahy’s energy will bring back the Silo Ruth and Skitch ran.
“The Silo is very much alive, and it is, and will be, a community hub,” O’Neill said.
On a recent Friday, visting chef Suchada Palmer got ready to teach a Thai meal, Leahy bounced between scheduling cooking classes months in advance and assisting Palmer, while board member Monica Herrington helped both.
“Dawn’s got great ideas, great energy, and she might live in Sherman but she’s bringing things from very far away,” Herrington said.
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