WTF? At Wakeman Town Farm

The recent cool weather is good news for farmers and gardeners.  But the many friends of Wakeman Town Farm — and much of the rest of Westport — is blazing mad over the apparent termination of Mike Aitkenhead.

Mike — an AP Environmental Education teacher at Staples, and 2009 Westport Teacher of the Year — was the manager/resident farmer at Wakeman.  He, his wife Carrie and daughter lived in the farmhouse.  He coordinated a broad array of programs; managed interns — and made the Town Farm an integral part of the Westport and Staples communities.

A couple of weeks ago, sources tell “06880,” Mike’s contract was not renewed by Green Village Initiative.  The news stunned Mike — and many who heard it.

The Aitkenhead family, in happier times.

“Until then,” one person with knowledge of the situation said, “Mike had been left by manage the farm with minimal supervision and direction.  Quite suddenly, one board member found fault with how the farm was being maintained, and built a case against the Aitkenheads.

“The Aitkenheads were fully invested as stewards of the farm,” the source continues.  “They deserve to be supported, and guided properly in their endeavors.  Instead they were ambushed and have been pushed out of WTF.  Appalling, to say the least.”

The source adds, “not all GVI board members were allowed to weigh in on this issue.”  A GVI board meeting is being held today, in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Mike issued a terse statement: “The relationship between the parties ended as a result of a mutual agreement not to renew the contract.”

A letter that will be read at today’s meeting — from a parent who participates in the WTF gardening workshops, and whose son worked there as an intern — praises Mike for his “consistent mentoring, kindness and dynamic passion for sustainable farming.”

Part of the Wakeman Town Farm.

The son would come home inspired.  He’d share stories, then go into the family garden to prune tomatoes and trellis climbing vegetablese.

“What I appreciate most about Mike is that his experience as a teacher provides him with the ability to be a sound mentor for this program, while his youth allows him to be relatable to teens and younger children,” the letter continues.

“And what better way to embody ‘community’ than having an energetic family living on a homestead, sharing their knowledge and a part of their lives with us?”

The letter calls Mike and Carrie “generous loving people (who) fully embraced their role as stewards of WTF.  They made farming accessible.”  If, the writer said, “they were not meeting your expectations, I am sure that guidance and support along the way would have rectified any perceived shortcomings….

“The Aitkenheads and Wakeman Town Farm are synonymous in our minds, and I beleive you will be hard pressed to fined another family who resonates with the community as profoundly as they have.”

Another letter-writer said:

Wakeman Town Farm provides the opportunity to create community and conversation among Westport residents about sustainable farming.  Carrie and Mike Aitkenhead’s leadership at WTF reflected that commitment.  Their desire to raise their young family at the farm inspires us all to teach our children about growing food and friendships.

“Charismatic leadership is a rare gift,” one WTF family wrote to the GVI board.

In the minds of some members, however, that gift was not a seed worth growing and nurturing.

39 responses to “WTF? At Wakeman Town Farm

  1. Max Stampa-Brown

    Passing the Wakeman Farm-House on Cross Highway was depressing for so many years. It was great to hear of the renovation project last summer, and even greater to hear who was going to be spearheading the renovation. I was not a student under Mr. Aitkenhead but we became acquainted through eco-fest and staples, I really admired his personality and humor. This news seems arbitrary and puzzling, even if you don’t know anything about the Green Village Initiative or Mr. A. This is another instance where Westport should not be bossed around by a “board” of suits & ties. A “board” of those who believe they know whats best. The expert who knows best is pictured above, with his family, making a difference.

  2. What happened here? Agree with Max above. How fulfilling for everyone to see the “farm” actually come back to life a bit under the guidance of the Aitkenheads. Indeed Dan it is WTF! Westport was a bit “richer” with Mike and Carrie and their family. What is the arrangement between GVI and Westport and the Aitkenheads? Westport (Gordon, Shelley), please get cracking if GVI is installed at Wakeman at your pleasure. Something feels off.

    • Lloyd Allen

      and what is the “something” that “anonymous coward” feels to be “off?”

  3. The Dude Abides

    I grew up wandering the orchards of Wakeman farms with my buddy, Teddy. It was indeed a welcome sight in the past year to pass it on my runs and see activity and a new appearance. As an attorney, I am not sure how one member’s dissatisfaction can uplift a family from their job/house and love?? Would love to take a look at that contract!

  4. Who is the tedious, meddling middle manager who clearly couldn’t make it in Manhattan and now needs to make waves at Wakeman? We’re all tired of clueless mini-tyrants like this. Rehire Mike A. and fire the fool with the vendetta.

  5. Nina Sankovitch and Jack Menz

    Our son worked on the Wakeman Town Farm last summer. Michael Aitkenhead inspired him to work hard, to learn about farming and the environment, and to enjoy the satisfaction of a doing a job well. The lessons learned and the joy earned on the farm last summer will remain with our son forever. Thank you, Mr. Aitkenhead. We hope that you can indeed stay on at Wakeman — Westport needs you here.

  6. The tell will be who moves into the house next. Houses on Cross Highway don’t come cheap.

  7. Hi: I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to hear that the Aitkenheads, who were truly the very embodiment of what we thought was the beginning of a return to “community” here in Westport. I have no idea what happened behind the scenes to cause this abrupt change of heart, but I want to say that Mike and Carrie had the guts and the vision to move their young family into what was a drafty, rundown shell and, with the help of many local people, turn it into a home and a hub for people interested in learning about Westport’s proud farming tradition. The Wakeman Town Farm was just starting to gain momentum, with a CSA and plenty of farm and green energy programs, and so much more. Two years ago, my son, Charlie, at age 9, stood up at the Board of Finance Meeting the night that the town agreed to let GVI turn the property back into a farm where kids could get their hands dirty and learn about where their foods come from. He was excited about becoming a farm intern as he enters middle school this fall, under the tutelage of Mike Aitkenhead, who was named Teacher of the Year and much loved by all his interns and students. Charlie was looking forward to working with Mike, who turned a fallow field into a blooming series of gardens, along with the hard work of local students and volunteers. This turn of events is sad for all. We can hardly believe this is true.

    • I am an 11-year-old going into Coleytown Middle. I am absolutely devastated to learn that the Aitkenhead family will no longer be the resident farmers at Wakeman Town Farm. I was completely inspired by this local farm, and eager to be an intern there this upcoming school year. I can’t imagine going to the farm without seeing Mike and Carrie’s smiling faces. I was lucky enough to help be a part of the the Board of Finance’s decision to approve reviving Wakeman Town Farm, and be able to cut the vine at its official opening. Now I am worried about the farm’s future now that the family that was perfect for the job is now gone. —Charlie Colasurdo

  8. Longtime Westporter

    This is another case of a behind-the-scenes stabbing with no transparency or decency in discussing what supposedly went wrong in public. Everyone who met the Aitkenheads saw what a superb job they were doing. Was one board member just trying to flex his/her muscles and telling mistruths behind the scenes to get things to go the way they wanted? Shameful.

    I hope the entire GVI board can step up to the plate, look at the facts openly, and vote to rescind this firing and keep the good faith of the Westport community that GVI is a special organization and not tainted.

  9. Helen Martin Block

    The students from Mr. Aitkenhead’s AP environmental class tell a compelling story about our Wakeman Town Farm. Just as this initiative is beginning to hit its stride, the family working and living there, the closest thing to family farm life in Westport is threatened to be over. When I think back to the wreck of a farmhouse, fallow non-existent gardens and the empty feeling about the place, I can’t help but see the amazing transformation and contrast today. That took the work of many, the vision of a few but the heart of one family – the Aitkenheads. Let’s not be so hasty with judgements and expectations. GVI Board, please hope the ‘Farmer in the Dell, his wife, Ms. Dell and the ‘Dellicious’ kids will soon come back and give the farm what it needs, not perfection, LIFE.

  10. TERMINATE WHO ??? If GVI no longer wants to work with The Aitkenheads the town should find a new sponsor to continue the amazing work they have started. After just 1 year they have transformed the educational landscape and connected this fantastic town resource with the schools next door, I can only imagine what more could come. The kids speak volumes about the success of the relationship between the Wakeman Farm and Staples HS. In just one year the farm has become an outdoor classroom and laboratory for the Environmental Science program. If GVI wants to shift their focus to farming they should do so and find some other gardens or open space to cultivate and let the Sustainability Center at Wakeman Farm continue to thrive under the Aitkenhead’s direction.

  11. I am a rising 6th grader at Bedford Middle School. When my mom told me about Mike Aitkenhead’s dismissal from Wakeman Town Farm, I was devastated. My mom and I had attended Mr. Aitkenhead’s gardening work shops and volunteered at the farm. We also hosted one about chicken keeping. We loved the workshops and helping out at the farm, while visiting with Mr. Aitkenhead, his wife, and his adorable children.

    My friend Charlie and I where hoping to join the Wakeman Town Farm Gardening Clubs as an after school activity to work on gardening and also because we knew we were visiting someone we really admired. Mr. Aitkenhead is kind and inspired us to learn so much about how we could make a difference in our own back yards with gardening and chicken keeping. We were really looking forward to attending more gardening work shops and making new friends at the after school activity.

    When I first moved to Westport I found it a little hard to find friends so my mom recommended joining an after school activity. I tried sports and found a few friends but it was hard. Once my mom introduced me to the Wakemen Town Farm I found lots of new friends, one of them being Mr. Aitkenhead.

    The Aitkenhead’s are a loving, hard working family that should stay at WTF because they have touched so many hearts, including mine.

  12. Gabe Block and Petey Menz

    It was with shock and severe disapproval that we received the news of Michael Aitkenhead’s termination by the Green Village Initiative. Regardless of how certain GVI board members feel that the Wakeman Town Farm is doing, there is no doubt that Mr. Aitkenhead has done an excellent job running the property and is without question the best man for the position. He is not only an intelligent and hardworking individual – he is passionate about his teaching and his role as our town farmer.
    We were both in Mr. Aitkenhead’s AP Environmental class during our junior year of high school. This is one of the few classes at Staples where ideas are taken out of the classroom and put into effect in the local community. Mr. Aitkenhead’s constant encouragement inspired us to attend local meetings about the environment and participate in a multitude of green activities, such as cleanups, fairs, and the EcoFest event.
    During that year, Mr. Aitkenhead was asked by the GVI to live at the Wakeman Town Farm and manage the property. As soon as he could, he told our class about this development and expressed his great joy. This, he told us, was one of his lifelong dreams, and he was extraordinarily thankful to GVI for letting him live it out.
    That summer, we both volunteered at the farm and were impressed by how Mr. Aitkenhead managed to take an undeveloped field and transform it in such a short time into a living and breathing (albeit small) farm. This was all the more astonishing considering that Mr. Aitkenhead and the vast majority of the interns had no farming experience, making the summer a time for learning as well as growing.
    On top of the initial difficulties, the Aitkenheads had to deal with numerous delays regarding the farmhouse, forcing them to commute for most of the summer and only narrowly moving into the house a week before the school year began.
    By living on the farm, Mr. Aitkenhead has brought it to life – he has invested a great deal of his own time and resources to get it off the ground. Furthermore, Mr. Aitkenhead has brought a family feel to the farm – his wife and two young children are an essential part of what makes the Wakeman Town Farm such a healthy and happy environment.
    Beyond the farm, Mr. Aitkenhead has truly made a difference in Westport – his influence extends from EcoFest to his teaching achievements at Staples, where he was able to show the youth of Westport how important it is to live cleanly and sustainably. This attachment to the young makes Mr. Aitkenhead the ideal man for the job at Wakeman. He can communicate effectively to kids at Staples, ensuring that the farm will always have new recruits. GVI should have considered this before deciding to terminate Mr. Aitkenhead’s contract and should reconsider their decision now. While it may be possible to find a replacement to simply manage the farm, Mr. Aitkenhead’s love for his subject and charisma with the student body is irreplaceable.
    GVI is making a huge mistake by removing someone so enthusiastic and qualified.
    In an article in Westport Magazine, Dan Levinson, founder of GVI, was quoted as saying that in a few years, “the Farm and Mike [Aitkenhead] will be the hub of a rejuvenated local food network.” This is what our town should be striving towards, and thus we believe that the Aitkenheads must be given another chance and should be reinstated at the Wakeman Town Farm.

  13. How is the GVI funded? And–more important–how can that funding be rescinded?

  14. So what happened at the GVI board meeting?

  15. I don’t know whether this is coincidence or not, but the Green Village Initiative website has dropped off the Web since yesterday.

  16. Do you live in a hole???

    everyone knows this was Levinson

  17. Sorry for the wrong info… Either it just came back on line or it never left…

    http://www.gogvi.org/gogvi.org/Welcome.html

    Here’s the link.

  18. In the Know...

    “live in a Hole” is totally correct!!! Mr. Dan Levinson in the master Bater here… Pun intended… He thinks that his deep pockets allow him to rule GVI… Which is sad for such a great idea of localism…. Dan has historically put his money into programs and then changed the rules mid stream or pulled out after things are not to his liking’s….but like all wanna be mob leaders his few henchwoman and himself are now being discovered…. Don’t judge GVI by it’s few bad apples… We as a community must stand up for Mike and his family…. And stand against a wizard of OZ type little little man like Dan…. In the cover of darkness people can hide… It’s sunny out Danny Boy and your six foot plus size will not be mistaken for something Mike has grown but maybe some manure has been tossed on.

    • He is a bully. Nobody at GVI minded when he was bullying the town and the schools to advance their agenda. Now it is time for the GVI board to stand up to him and show him the door.

  19. I’m sure the Wakemans would have loved and been impressed by the Aitkenhead family’s enthusiastic, kind and skillfully conscientious stewardship of what is left of their farm. A friend and I took pictures two years ago, and what a contrast! The farm today looks lovely with its clucking chickens, and well-tended plants and grounds. My 16 year-old son, a recent intern and reluctant gardener, has shown the fruits of Mike’s easy inspiring ways — and not just in the zucchini and perfect little pepper proudly brought home — my son actually wanted to do the weeding here at home! And he has learned so much. Today however he told me he doesn’t want to go back. “It’s not the same without the Aitkenheads.” Surely there’s a way that contract (or a better one) can be reinstated? I would think that the Wakemans are likely rolling in their graves over this seemingly unstable act of arbitrary dominance. Mike and his family have certainly gotten the short end of the stake.

  20. This is all so disturbing. Mike and Carrie are really good people. Period. I have travelled with them to foreign countries, as we have led B3 trips together. They are amazing parents, instilling manners, values and humor in their children, Ethan and Cora. They are amazing teachers- and as you can see from the posts, they inspire teens- not an easy task! I don’t know all the details of what has transpired, but i do know that Mike and Carrie were working 80 plus hours a week on the farm, and Mike was teaching-full time at SHS…… and they were involved in B3, and the historical society, eco-fest….and on and on. They are incredibly hard workers- so, if poor direction, management and expectations from GVI has led to this decision, all i can say is what a shame! The real loss is to all of us in Westport– Mike and Carrie exemplify all we strive to be- honest, hardworking, community minded, smart, dedicated, committed, and fun! It will be interesting to see how many people will be required/hired to manage the farm the way they did, and how much they will be paid. It will be interesting to see who becomes the next resident of the house. Time will tell the truth behind this story.

  21. I hope this turn of events does not compel Mr. Aitkenhead to leave Staples.

  22. Sandi Fifield

    As others have stated, Mike Aitkenhead is a wonderful man who, alongside his wife Carrie, has worked tirelessly to give his enormous talents to the town of Westport. Mike shepherded Wakeman from a dilapidated property to a fantastic CSA and teaching environment. Our daughter was fortunate to learn from Mike in the classroom and on the farm as an employee helping to build the garden – Mike’s vast knowledge and easy going temperament make him a wonderful role model entirely deserving of being awarded Staples’ Teacher of the Year. With a lack of transparency, it’s impossible to know what led to this state of affairs, but someone needs to consider the scope of Mike’s influence for the good of the community. Mike Aitkenhead would be an enormous loss to Wakeman Town Farm and we hope the GVI board will slow down before passing judgement.

    Sandi + John Fifield

  23. Morgan Patrick

    This whole thing is so absurd. It makes me really angry. Clearly an important part of GVI’s purpose is “community” change. Mr. A brings more community change in the service of what he teaches than anyone else running the farm could. He was my freshman biology teacher before the AP Environmental program got really big (and took over his schedule), and while I never had him for environmental or got to intern on the farm with him, I know how amazing an influence he’s been on so many people who got to work for him there. If GVI’s purpose really is what it says it is, then none of this makes any sense at all…

  24. A quote from Mr. Aitkenhead:
    “Over the next several years, our hope is to develop and grow the farm into a gathering point of both people and ideas for all things local and sustainable.”
    Mike Aikenhead

  25. A quote from Mr. Aitkenhead:
    “Over the next several years, our hope is to develop and grow the farm into a gathering point of both people and ideas for all things local and sustainable.”

    Mike Aikenhead

  26. Mike and Carrie were not removed by the GVI Board. They were removed by Dan Levinson and Elaine Fluge who did it without notifying the board. This caused the resignation of many key board members who totally disagreed with the decision. The remaining members, many of which are unhappily married or divorced women enthralled with Dan’s looks and money rubber stamped the decision.

    • In the Know...

      Hahahahaha you must be very close to be in this knowing loop…. And your description of the situation is completely 100% on!!!….. Which makes these woman even sadder because Dan is a monster man child… Who is unable to be a grown up

    • That’s it! No more single or divorced people on boards. They are too easily swayed.

  27. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Ironically or aptly to quote Ricky Riccardo “Lucy (Dan Levinson) you have some explaining to do?! What’s going on here?!!!

  28. What is the connection between Westport, GVI and Wakeman Town Farm? PLEASE! These comments are horrifying. Is there a place for us to register official complaints and ask for some sort of investigation? We cannot sit by and let this happen without full transparency if this is a town gig.

  29. Interested in letting town officials know your thoughts on this matter or finding out how the town can be or is involved?

    gjoseloff@westportct.gov

  30. Diane Lowman

    Well said, Gabe and Petey. WE LIKE MIKE (and Carrie) and WANT THEM BACK.

  31. Does GVI remind anyone else of Jukt Micronics…

  32. Yes, people in Glass houses shouldn’t throw stones?