Many Westporters know and love Wakeman Town Farm.
Many others are only vaguely aware.
They’ve heard of it — maybe driven past on Cross Highway — but have no clue what goes on at the sustainable living/education/event center that in 2010, after a century as a private family farm, went back to its roots under town ownership.
John and Jennifer Montoni were in that second category.
Now they’re Wakeman Town Farm’s new caretakers.
The couple — Norwalk natives who moved to Westport nearly a decade ago, in large part for the schools — follow in the footsteps of Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead. WTF’s first stewards had 2 young children, and brought a family vibe to the farm and farmhouse that for 3 generations had been owned by the Wakemans.
After 7 years, the Aitkenheads were followed by Corey Thomas. His focus was on education offerings. When his 2-year contract ended this year, the WTF board decided to split the roles. John Montoni — who had his own construction firm — was the perfect choice for the property management role.
(Farah Masani, a local farmer and former food procurement specialist at the Barteca Group, will now lead the teen apprentice program. Chryse Terrill, a longtime educator, has been hired as the “Little Farmers” director.)
John has a big task. But until last winter, he and his wife — a former hair stylist who earned her nursing degree in 2014 — knew virtually nothing about the 2 1/2-acre place. It includes a farmhouse, working farm, gardens, and Community-Supported Agriculture shed.
Last winter, they attended a Staples High School wrestling team fundraiser there. (Their oldest son, JC, was a co-captain.)
WTF — with the new Tim’s Kitchen inside, and a welcoming patio outdoors — has become a great party and event site, for non-profits, private organizations, even individuals. John and Jen were amazed at the facility, and excited to learn the back story.
Christy Colasurdo, WTF committee co-chair emeritus, told them the farm was always looking for volunteers. With JC ready to head off to Bentley College, and son Nico entering his sophomore year at Brunswick School, John and Jen were happy to find a way to stay involved in the community.
When the steward/caretaker role came open, the Montonis quickly stepped up.
With Jen and their sons’ help, John oversees and maintains the property, handles animal chores, manages employees and helps volunteers.
Since moving in July 1, he’s worked on a new chicken coop (and will build a new run); helped with the new pizza oven; gotten sprinklers up and running; is installing an outdoor sink, and washer/dryer, and performed the maintenance chores any homeowner knows well.
But not many homeowners care for goats, alpacas and other animals. Or an enormous vegetable garden that takes up much of their land.
The Montonis love their new life. “Everyone is great,” Jen says of the ever-changing cast of volunteers, campers, counselors, committee members, chefs and CSA members. “And they’re all here because they want to be.”
“There’s always something going on,” JC notes. “This is a very cool old house. And it’s great to have a farm in the back yard.”
As with everyone at WTF, John and Jen are learning a lot. “I never thought I’d be taking care of alpacas!” he laughs.
The goats are his favorite animal. He calls them “mischievous, smart troublemakers, with a cool personality. They’ll walk right up to you, and chew on anything.”
Each day, John says, Wakeman Town Farm is “full of life and activity.” At night it’s “quiet, and magical.” He and Jen sit on the porch, listening to the animals.
They look forward to whatever lies ahead — including new chores. They know each season will be different. They’ll continue learning, working, and keeping the farm fresh — and family friendly.