The Media School

Political scientist, Ryan Conway becomes farmer and environmental advocate

April 2nd, 2019 by
Photograph by Arianne Kelley

Conway and his wife Andrea put dow roots in Bloomington when they bought their farm on Valentines day 2016. Conway calls his wife the "Chicken Wrangler."

A Bloomington Food Policy council meeting seems perfectly usual until a tall bearded sustainability expert with a 6-month-old Belgian Malinois puppy on a leash walks in, determined to change Bloomington’s food network.

“For me a political scientist to suddenly convert myself into being a farmer just seemed like this amazing challenge that would teach me so much about the real work and the food system,” a 34-year-old policy coordinator from St. Louis, Ryan Conway said.

Conway moved to Bloomington in 2010 to complete his graduate degree in political science when he fell in love with the city. Distracted making real policy changes, he soon left his graduate program.

Conway works on his farm, Fable Farms LLC. And he runs a compost collection service where he takes compost from sororities and restaurants to his farm.

“I realized, hey, I can talk with these people. I don’t have to be a CEO to talk with these people,” Conway said. He wants to bring joy and better thriving to the world. He worked on medical
policy research with Nobel Prize winner and Political Economist, Elinor Ostrom, in Iowa and Colorado for part of his graduate career in 2011.

Photograph by Arianne Kelley

Conway uses the compost and coffee grounds from businesses and restaurants to create his own soil, and to feed his chickens. He sells the rich and fertile soil to farmers in the area.

His love for interacting with people was born on that project.

“I found the practical application and human centered focus that I was looking for,” he said.
“And that completely changed my life and completely changed my mind about my life.”

But after the program ended and after Ostrom’s death in 2012 he struggled to reignite a project with his peers.
After leaving his work in Iowa and Colorado, he returned to Bloomington in 2011 and started working with local committees to solve sustainability issues.

“I got into local green infrastructure work, and I started volunteering with the Bloomington Food policy council,” said Conway. He was later asked to join their board and the board for the Center for Sustainable Living where he played an officer role in both.

Conway was baffled at the impact he was having and how much work he was doing.
“I’m like okay, I’m really in this now.”

Conway joined these committees when they were almost shutting down. He and his colleagues helped keep them from going out of activity, including the Bloomington Commission for Sustainability and the Food Policy Council.

“And that’s what life has been ever since,” Conway said. “We keep those boards alive, and we keep those organizations alive and we just keep adding projects.”

Conway constantly stacks projects one on top of the other including training a puppy to be a service dog.
“I don’t know if Ryan has told you about his dog?” asked Olivia Ranseen a 22-year-old from Nashville, who works on sustainability issues on IU’s campus and interned under Conway for the Bloomington Food Policy Council during the summer of 2017.

“Once he gets something in his mind, whether it’s training a dog or changing a local food system, Ryan is gonna do it.” -Olivia Ranseen, student sustainability council, IU

Ranseen said Conway is a determined individual.

“Once he gets something in his mind whether its training a dog or changing a local food system Ryan is gonna do it.”

“So, he brought the dog around for the entire summer,” said Ranseen. “So, anywhere we went, we went to three city meetings, the dog was with us. We went to the Bloomington Commissionon Sustainability, any official city meetings, the dog was there. We went to Bloomingfoods, the dog was there.”

The most important projects Conway works on are with the Affordable Living Committee of City Council. It works to find affordable housing and accessible transportation like the Bloomington Bike Project.

According to Conway, the social equity part is the most difficult part of his sustainability work because it takes a lot more patience, time and commitment and dedication to inclusivity and understanding complexity.

“It takes a commitment to really want to know who “the other” is… and who “the needy” are,” he said. “How can they be part of the story in a way that they’re not now?’ How can we be more inclusive?”

Conway said public policy and sustainability is like a work of art where the community is a canvas.

“With all the people and all the resources here, you can help co-create these masterful works of human art and social art just out of sustainability and life and community,” Conway said.