Category Archives: Environment

Compo Palm Tree: The Back Story

Last Friday, a palm tree mysteriously appeared at Compo Beach.

Magically, it seemed, the spit of land at the far end of South Beach — jutting into Ned Dimes Marina — looked less like Westport, and more like Miami.

Yesterday’s story generated plenty of comments. It must have been a prank by graduating Staples seniors, someone said. There were a few palm trees for sale at Southport Nursery opposite Garelick and Herbs, another added.

One view of the palm tree … (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Here’s what happened.

Bernard Izzo Jr. — “Butchie” — of Izzo’s Landscaping has a contract with the town to plant trees around Westport.

In the early spring he planted a tree at that location. Unfortunately, it did not survive.

Butchie felt that replanting the same tree now would not work. It might not survive the heat.

He decided to plant — at his own expense — the palm tree for the summer. This fall, he’d replace it with an appropriate tree.

However, the lighthearted gesture did not have Parks and Recreation Department approval.

So if you haven’t seen it, you better hurry. It will be gone soon.

… and another. (Photo/Randy Christophersen)

Pic Of The Day #70

Duck Swan on the Saugatuck (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Photo Challenge #129

It’s a medium-size playground for little kids, with a big name.

Last week’s photo challenge showed wooden climbing structures, in a wooded clearing. (Click here for the image.)

Ten alert readers knew this hidden gem is on Weston Road, just north of Ford Road (next to Bridgewater Associates’ headquarters).

Called the Leonard Schine Preserve and Children’s Natural Playground, it’s part of the Aspetuck Land Trust’s vast, wonderful holdings. To find out more, click here(But sssshhhh! It’s our little secret!)

Congratulations to Joan Tricarico, Evan Stein, Fran White, Julie Fatherley, Stan Skowronski, Bob Fatherley, Rachel Polin, Grady Flinn (just 9 years old!), Alexandra Wiberg and David Brant.

This week’s photo challenge has 2 parts:

  • What is this, and
  • Where in Westport can you find it?

If you know, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

[OPINION] Saugatuck Resident Thanks P&Z For Tesla Response

Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission heard public comment on a text amendment to allow an electric car service center — and possibly a dealership — on Saugatuck Avenue.

Most of the public was not in favor of the plan. The P&Z heard concerns loud and clear. They’ll revisit the proposal on July 6.

Opponents of the plan — which involves Tesla — took heart from the meeting. Saugatuck resident and “06880” reader Marilyn Harding writes:

Last night the residents of Saugatuck did a brilliant job — through strategies that encompassed fact-based data, tell-tale photographs and their passion of purpose— that saved Saugatuck from a future of more traffic chaos, more misuse of land, and more reckless change to a historic community. Their presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission fully demonstrates how local communities can work together successfully to preserve the town of Westport.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the site where Tesla hoped to build a service facility.

The P & Z deserves bunches of kudos for their sound judgment in steering an electric car company away from the already overcrowded streets of Saugatuck, but did embrace the innovative brand.

P &Z members extended welcoming invitations to Tesla, alerting them to locations on the Post Road where the required commercial zoning is permitted for car dealers.

The P & Z took yet another step forward, acknowledging the value of their predecessors’ work when town regulations were written and designed to safeguard Westport’s authenticity as a historic New England town.

Congratulations to the Saugatuck residents, members of the P & Z, and to the wonderful, creative Westporters who have gone before us!

Marpe Signs Gun Control Pledge, Backs Paris Climate Accord

More than 2 months ago, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe addressed Westport’s “Democracy on Display” demonstration.

“Sign the pledge!” chanted many in the crowd of nearly 1,000, at Veterans Green.

This morning — at a board of selectmen meeting in Town Hall, overlooking the same spot — Marpe announced that on Monday, he did just that.

Westport’s chief executive joins more than 1,000 current and former mayors, from nearly every state. They’ve committed to fight for “common sense gun laws,” through the Everytown for Gun Safety initiative.

Here’s the pledge, with Marpe’s signature:

Marpe — a Republican running for re-election this fall — also affirmed Westport’s support of the Paris Climate Accord. Over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses and universities nationwide have made similar statements, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of that 195-nation pact.

Pledging the town to meet and exceed the Paris agreement goals, Marpe said: 

Westport has a proud and extensive legacy of environmental leadership, and we believe in doing what’s right for our residents and the environment. 

In 2015, we announced a target of “Net Zero by 2050″ across energy, water and waste. Our goal is to create a sustainable community — from economic, social and environmental perspectives — where future generations will choose to raise their families.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe.

You Don’t Have To Be Jewish To Love The Temple Israel Food Festival

Apparently Jewish Food Festivals are a thing.

Elise Meyer’s blog features a recipe for “Sangria, Charoset-Style.”

Elise Meyer — a longtime Westporter, “Much Ado About Stuffing” food blogger and chair of religious/social events like a women’s seder and the Klezmatics’ Levitt Pavilion concert — says there are tons of Jewish Food Festivals nationwide.

But, she notes, they usually center around traditional and/or kosher food.

The 1st-ever Southern Connecticut Jewish Food Festival — set for tomorrow (Sunday, June 11, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Temple Israel) — charts a different course. Its focus is “food justice, Jewish ideals and values like sustainability and who produces our food — those parts of Jewish culture.”

On tap:

  • A keynote speech by sustainable food maven/”Gefilte Manifesto” author Jeffrey Yoskowitz
  • Workshops on subjects like pickling, “Baking Babka to a Latin Beat” and “Wat’s for Shabbat: Ethiopian Jewish Food Culture”
  • Vegetarian and kosher food trucks (including barbecue!)
  • Kids’ activities (they’ll love the bio-powered Teva Topsy Turvy Bus environmental lab)
  • And (of course) more.

Meyer is the perfect person to promote this. She’s a sustainability advocate, a Westport Garden Club member, and Community Garden gardener.

Sample foods, from the Southern Connecticut Jewish Food Festival flyer.

She calls this Federation for Jewish Philanthropy-sponsored festival  “a chance to bring Westporters together around social and cultural issues.”

And, she adds, it’s open to — and appropriate for – plenty of goyim too. Demonstrations will appeal to all cooks, while a composting workshop should speak to everyone’s inner environmentalist.

Meyer promises that festival-goers will leave with “a full belly — and a full mind.”

As your Jewish grandmother — or Italian, or Chinese — would say: “Eat!”

(For more information, click here.)

Westport Climate Accord Protest Goes National

A few dozen folks stood downtown for half an hour Sunday evening. They held signs and sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The goal was to draw local attention to President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Accord.

Now the entire nation can see them.

NPR illustrated this morning’s story about American mayors and businesses’ reactions to Trump with a large photo of the Westport protest.

The caption does not mention Westport specifically. It reads:

Connecticut residents at a rally for the environment against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Connecticut is one of twelve states and Puerto Rico that formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, all committing to uphold the Paris Accord.

But clearly our town — and state — have tapped into widespread anger. The story begins:

Days after President Trump announced that he would be pulling the U.S. out of a global agreement to fight climate change, more than 1,200 business leaders, mayors, governors and college presidents have signaled their personal commitment to the goal of reducing emissions.

In an open letter, the signatories vow to “continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement,” even “in the absence of leadership from Washington.”

Click here for the entire NPR piece.

Staples, Farmers’ Market, Gillespie Center: Seed, Feed And Lead

The Westport Farmers’ Market opened for its 12th season last month.

As usual, plenty of vendors offered everything from locally grown and raised produce and meat, to honey and bread.

The crowd was large. The vibe (and weather) was warm. Another year was underway.

And — for the 9th year — the Market will partner with 2 other important town programs: the Gillespie Center, and Staples High School’s culinary classes.

It’s a win-win-win. In fact, it’s one of the most intriguing partnerships around.

Once a month — at the end of Thursdays, as vendors close up — the Farmers’ Market purchases unsold food. Volunteers transport it to Staples.

There, chef Cecily Gans’ students create unique menus, and prepare wholesome, nutritious meals. The Farmers’ Market picks those up and takes them to the Gillespie Center — Westport’s emergency shelter.

Gans’ students — with help from Rotary Club members and the Farmers’ Market — then serve the meals they’ve cooked.

“Seed, feed and educate” is the way WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall describes the 3-prong partnership. They call it “Farms to School to Community.”

“We’re lucky to live in a privileged area,” she says. “This program allows kids to see neighbors who have fallen on hard times in a different light.”

Relationships bloom. Last year, an older man gruffly refused vegetables.

“My mom always says to eat all your vegetables,” a girl replied.

His face softened. He took some.

Fresh strawberries, tomatoes and other produce are used creatively — and deliciously by Staples’ culinary students.

Soon, he was back for more. He told the teenager he had not tasted tomatoes like that since his mother served them.

“People in Westport are very generous with their donations to the Gillespie Center,” Gans says. “But there’s not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We bring in high, nutrient-dense foods. That makes a difference. Think about how you or I would function if we didn’t eat well.”

Gans’ students appreciate the opportunity to cook for the residents — and to make their menus count. Each month, the ingredients are different.

Among the recipes: Hungarian gulyas; butternut squash pasta; asparagus with miso lemon dressing; quinoa tabouleh with parsley and mint, and curried pumpkin with raisin.

“They think outside the box,” their instructor says. “They’re creative. They get the opportunity to serve, and see the needs of their community. Their level of responsibility really impresses me.”

Three graduating seniors — Christian Franceze, Alex Ialeggio and Ryan Liu — have been involved for all 4 years at Staples. Next year, Gans counts on juniors to fill their shoes.

Chef Cecily Gans’ students prepare food for the Gillespie Center.

The students build strong relationships with the WFM farmers and vendors. “We’re there at the beginning of the Farmers’ Market season, and the end,” Gans says. “We do whatever we can for them. They do the same for us.”

Cochran-Dougall echoes that sentiment. The director praises everyone in the community who participates — including the major funders, the Rotary and Sunrise Rotary Clubs.

In return, the Staples students print and share the menus they’ve created. It’s one more way to help nourish the town.

(Interested in donating to the Westport Farmers’ Market for this project? Click here — and earmark it for the Gillespie Center.)

Mission Accomplished

We’ve all seen the “CT Challenge” lawn signs and car magnets.

Many of us know what that “challenge” is: bike rides of 10, 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles, starting and finishing at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, undertaken every July by thousands of riders. It is a major fundraiser to provide services for cancer survivors.

But most of us — even those who live or work nearby — don’t know that the CT Challenge has spawned an actual survivorship center. It’s a fitness training, educational and meeting space just over the Westport line in Southport, where people of all ages who have faced down cancer reclaim their lives.

There may not be any place like it in the United States.

You may not know all this, because the CT Challenge is in the early phases of a rebrand. The “Challenge” name now refers to the bike rides only (this year’s event is July 28-29 — click here for details).

The rebrand’s mission is to create an identity — separate from the ride — for the equally amazing center.

And that’s the new name for the facility: Mission.

It’s filled every day with men, women — and kids — with missions. Each has a story.

One is a 26-year-old 8-time survivor. Another is an endurance athlete.

Someone who survived both cancer and 9/11 recalls: “I watched the first responders walk up as we walked down. They never looked back.”

That attitude pervades Mission. And it’s encompassed in its (ahem) mission statement: “We exist to inspire everyone who has stared down cancer to live a fuller life, with newfound strength and purpose. There are no limits.”

Cancer survivors begin at Mission with a 30-day free trial. They take unlimited classes in yoga, Pilates, indoor cycling, TRX, meditation and strength conditioning. They have unlimited use of state-of-the-art cardio equipment.

There are 3 half-hour training sessions with a certified cancer exercise trainer. And they can hang out in Mission’s meditation and healing garden.

After that — for just $35 a month — members enjoy all those classes and equipment, plus personal training and nutritional counseling at reduced rates. Financial assistance is available.

Working out in Mission’s wellness center.

But Mission’s mission extends to those who have not had to battle the disease too. Because 1/3 of all cancers are associated with inactivity and poor nutrition, “prevention memberships” are available for $85 a month. You can take a free 5-day trial too.

Mission is life-affirming — and life-changing. A 14-year-old with a cancer diagnosis recently said, “I just want to be normal.” Riding a bike — there are 4 available for outdoor use — is as normal as it gets.

Mission differs from many cancer organizations because the focus is not on treatment, but survivorship.

“They want to be pushed,” says wellness director Victoria Fairchild. “Instructors say that the people here — many of them are women, some in their 40s, 50s, even 60s — ask for a lot more pushing than in other gyms.”

Among the most inspiring parts of Mission is its website. “Survivor Stories” links to astonishing tales of triathletes, mountain climbers, dancers, nurses and entrepreneurs who, after surviving cancer, found the strength to make amazing lives.

In fact, stop reading this post right now!  Check out those stories here.

Some of the links to Survivor Stories on the website.

Okay, you’re back! Now go back to the website. Click on other links, about diet, posture, exercise and other important resources.

Mission also sponsors an “Adventure Project.” The free coaching program helps 300,000 young survivors access online support to achieve their goals.

It matches users anywhere in the world with experienced trainers, who devise and supervise personalized 12-week training programs.

The very first applicant was a 20-year-old Westport with Ewing’s sarcoma of the spine. She’s endured 14 surgeries — and wanted help setting up a training regimen to ride in the CT Challenge.

She’ll do the Century ride. That’s the longest and toughest: 100 miles.

Those are the types of people who are part of Mission.

The folks who run it are passionate about their work. Many are cancer survivors themselves. Others have friends and family affected by the disease. All are motivated to work even harder by the people who come through their doors.

But funding doesn’t drop from the sky. It comes from one source on the ground: that CT Challenge bike ride.

If all you know about it are the road signs and seeing riders pass by, read on.

It’s one of the best annual events in the state. There’s live music (Blues Traveler played!), DJs at all 8 rest areas, and tremendous energy from the Hunt Club start and finish all the way through.

CT Challenge organizers are always looking for riders (individuals and teams, including businesses), sponsors (ditto) and volunteers. To learn more, click here.

To learn more about Mission, click hereOr head to 250 Pequot Avenue in Southport. It’s just past the Horseshoe — an easy drive.

Or bike ride.

New Paleo Cafe Seasons Saugatuck

Cindy Hartog is a formally trained chef. She moved to Westport in 1990 for her husband Mark’s job — he’s deputy director of Westport EMS — and built her own thriving kids’ cooking classes/birthday party business called Cindy’s Sous Chefs.

Two and a half years ago though, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. She lost interest in cooking things she could not eat. She concentrated instead on foods that did not make her sick.

Three months later Cindy’s middle daughter Danielle — herself a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America — was diagnosed with a different autoimmune disorder.

Danielle and Cindy Hartog

They searched fruitlessly for ways to fulfill their fondness for gourmet food.

So they set about creating their own place. They wanted it to be warm and welcoming — not, Cindy says, “a stark ‘health food’ place.”

They found space in Bethel, but it did not work out. Then, online, they spotted a vacant storefront right here in Westport.

This Tuesday (June 6) — next to Dunville’s on Saugatuck Avenue — they’ll open NewBrook Kitchen + Artisan Market.

It’s a “paleo cafe”: no gluten, milk, soy or corn.

But that does not mean there’s no flavor or creativity.

In fact, the menu — to eat in or take out — sounds mouth-watering.

There are 3 salads daily, each with a protein like chicken, steak or salmon. Sandwiches are served with paleo bread, baked in-house. There’s soup, cookies, nut milk coffee and vegan ice cream. Cindy makes desserts with coconut — not white – sugar.

Several Saturdays a month, Danielle will cook savory 4-course meals, served at a communal table. She describes a 16-hour braised short ribs with onions, carrots, wine and a good beef stock — without flour or corn starch. It’s served with a vinaigrette berry salad, and almond cake.

The “Artisan Market” part of NewBrook Kitchen offers handmade jewelry, candles, scarves, and gourmet chocolate.

The official opening is Tuesday (with samples all day).

Cindy and Danielle Hartog, in their new space.

And the name?

Cindy’s father — who died 12 years ago — was a self-made man. He named his 2 businesses after their 2 sites: New Jersey and Brooklyn.

NewBrook Kitchen is an homage to him.

And a great destination for anyone looking for fresh, well-prepared and very flavorful paleo food.