Tag Archives: Carrie Aitkenhead

Corey Thomas Digs In At Wakeman Town Farm

With his varied interests — education; food sources; working with plants, animals, schools and community — Corey Thomas had a vague idea of his “dream job.”

But until he interviewed for the position of director at Wakeman Town Farm, he had no idea such a job existed.

It does. And — beginning this past Monday — the young farmer is living the dream.

Corey Thomas and friend at Wakeman Town Farm.

Thomas steps into the position held for its first 7 years by Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead. They stepped down in June to pursue other adventures. He is a beloved environmental science teacher at Staples High School; she’s now a curriculum specialist with the Melissa & Doug toy company.

The new farm director is a worthy successor to the couple who planted the seeds that grew the Town Farm from abstract concept to thriving, robust community center.

Growing up in Westbrook, Connecticut, Thomas wanted to be a veterinarian. But as a student in the University of Connecticut, his focus gradually shifted from animals to people. International aid and agricultural development intrigued him, but most positions were in management.

“I wanted boots on the ground,” Thomas says. “I realized the best way to impact people is through education.”

He worked with exchange students, and on a livestock farm; served as a writer for the UConn Extension program; volunteered in Ghana, then interned on a South Carolina fish farm.

The combination of agriculture and education grew more compelling. “There’s so much unawareness, misinformation and disconnectedness about where our food comes from,” Thomas explains. “Educating people is a direct way to address that.”

Thomas earned his master’s degree from UConn in curriculum and instruction, with a concentration in agriculture education. A few months ago, a professor told him that Westport was looking for a farmer.

“I was blown away by the space,” Thomas says of his first visit to the Cross Highway facility. “It’s very rare to see a farming operation like this, with beds, animals, a large space, and people with a real vision. It was clear Mike and Carrie had done a great job with volunteers, and the community was really invested in it.

“This was exactly what I was looking for. I was amazed I’d never heard of it.”

Wakeman Town Farm is a thriving facility.

Thomas and his partner Rachel recently moved into the now-renovated space. He’s already begun taking inventory, reaching out to volunteers, planning student programs, and using crop planning software to move forward.

The new farmer loves many things about Wakeman Town Farm — particularly the new teaching kitchen.

Yet his biggest surprise does not involve plants or animals. It’s the people.

“Everyone in Westport seems thrilled and passionate about the farm,” Thomas says. “They know all about it, and they’re connected to it.”

Corey Thomas will have no problem keeping the town down on the farm.

(For information on Wakeman Town Farm — including Tim’s Kitchen and classroom space, cooking classes, teen pizza nights, private parties, a fall beer dinner, the anniversary party and more — click here.)

WTF: Aitkenheads Leave Town Farm

Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead are synonymous with Wakeman Town Farm.

Their official title was “stewards.” But they’ve really been shepherds, leading the town-owned facility from a fledgling farm into a flourishing year-round center for environmental education, community events — and plenty of produce.

Yet after 7 years as the public faces of the Town Farm — and inspirations to Westporters of all ages — they’re leaving Cross Highway.

Mike’s contract is up in June. He and Carrie have decided to concentrate on growing something else: their family. They have 2 young children, who have grown up at Wakeman Town Farm.

Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead posed last year for the Westport Library’s “I geek…” campaign. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

Mike will continue as a beloved environmental science teacher at Staples High School — just down the hill from WTF.

He and Carrie promise to stay part of the farm. They’ll serve on the advisory board, and will teach and participate in events there throughout the year.

“Farm life takes a tremendous commitment of both time and energy,” Mike explains.

“We’re so proud of the work we’ve done to build the farm into what it is today. But as it grows and expands, it’s time for my wife and me to pass on the torch so that we can enjoy more time with our  own 2 amazing young children.”

Carrie Aitkenhead and her 2 young children, at a Wakeman Town Farm event.

“We’re excited to see the farm embark on its next great and exciting chapter. We look forward to watching it grow and flourish under the guidance of its dedicated committee of volunteers.”

Mike calls his family’s time at WTF “an amazing adventure and incredibly rewarding experience.” He credits the farm with enriching his family’s life immensely.

“We’re forever grateful for all the love we’ve received from this incredibly supportive community.”

WTF co-chairs Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo praise the Aitkenheads profusely.

“We are very sad to see them go. Yet we recognize that running an operation like Wakeman Town Farm is a tremendous undertaking in every sense of the word.

“Both Mike and Carrie poured their hearts into making the farm a magical community resource. We are devoted to continuing the great work they started.”

Farmer Mike Aitkenhead in action.

The chairs call Mike “the Pied Piper of teens.” They promise that the junior apprentice and senior internship programs he started will continue.

Carrie’s forte was working with younger children, through programs like Mommy and Me and summer camps. The popular summer camp will also continue, beginning July 10.

“As the Aitkenhead family steps down, we cannot overstate their immense impact on the farm,” the co-chairs say.

The Aitkenheads leave just as the farmhouse has been renovated. A search is underway for their replacement.

To everything there is a season. Thanks, Mike and Carrie, for all the seasons you gave, to all of us!

Wakeman Town Farm is thriving, thanks in large part to Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead.

WTF? Alpacas In Westport!

A mother and daughter are enjoying life at Wakeman Town Farm.

A mother and daughter alpaca, that is.

The woolly llama-like creatures came here yesterday from a farm in Clinton, Connecticut. Mother LeMay and daughter Autumn Joy are already getting along nicely with WTF’s goats and sheep.

LeMay (left) and Autumn Joy.

LeMay (left) and Autumn Joy.

In other Wakeman news, steward Carrie Aitkenhead has joined the blogosphere. WTFCarrie is a lively spot to keep up with farm happenings, and read all about favorite animals and season recipes.

Recent stories covered recycling, a “green” greenhouse and chili.

I’m sure the alpacas will get their day in the sun too.

 

Middle School Students Raise The Roof

The other day, Wakeman Town Farm received a welcome donation to its “Raise The Roof” campaign.

But the money to help replace a leaky roof did not come from a big local business or hedge fund manager. The donors were 2 Westport 8th graders.

Hannah Schmidt and Nina Barandiaran raised $145 through a bake sale. In keeping with the WTF theme, it featured vegetable-themed goods (think carrot cake). Hannah and Nina came up with all the ideas on their own.

Hannah (left) and Nina with one of their intriguing, farm-related creations. (Photo/Carrie Aitkenhead)

Hannah Schmidt (left) and Nina Barandiaran with one of their intriguing, farm-related creations. (Photo/Carrie Aitkenhead)

The money is much needed. Carrie Aitkenhead — who with her husband and fellow farm steward Mike Aitkenhead has worked with Hannah for 3 years — says that rain leaks into her bedroom during heavy rain. Towels and a canning pot temporarily solve the problem.

“When we heard that the girls took it upon themselves to raise money for the farm, the whole WTF board was humbled and floored,” Carrie says. “These 2 girls are wonderful.”

Of course, WTF hopes that many more Westporters — hedge fund managers as well as middle school students — will pitch in too. A Harvest Fest — the 3rd annual farm-to-table event — is set for Saturday, September 13 at WTF on Cross Highway.

WTF logoIt features great food, including local meats, artisanal cheeses and seasonal produce, contributed by local farmers and prepared by local rock-star chefs. Many local restaurants and caterers are contributing, including Saugatuck Craft Butchery, Tierra, Le Farm, Da Pietro’s and Saugatuck Sweets.

There’s also wine, beer, Prosecco and signature cocktails, plus a live band and auction. Items for bid include a private 4-course dinner party prepared by chef Jon Vaast at Sugar & Olives, and luxury BMW racing bikes.

In addition to the new roof, funds support youth programs, including summer camps and  homesteading workshops.

You know — the kind of stuff Westport youngsters love. And help support, in their own special, bake sale way.

(For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.) 

 

 

I Met A Pie-Mom…

There was lots going on this afternoon at Wakeman Town Farm.

The Family Fun Day included food, meet-the-animals, talk-to-farmers — and of course a pie-eating contest.

Betsy P. Kahn sends along these great photos:

On your mark...

On your mark…

Getting into it.

Getting into it.

REALLY getting into it.

REALLY getting into it.

And the winner: co-WTF steward Carrie Aitkenhead.

And the winner: co-WTF steward Carrie Aitkenhead.

There was also “farm girl mud wrestling.”

Betsy did not send photos.

“06880” is a family blog.

Meanwhile, Back At The Farm…

The holiday open house is over. The Aitkenheads are back home.

But Wakeman Town Farm is hardly settling down for a long winter’s nap.

There’s plenty going on at the sustainability center on Cross Highway.

For example, registration has just opened for the “Farm Apprentice” program. Middle schoolers learn all about organic farming and gardening through hands-on instruction — from seed to harvest.

Spring session activities include garden planning, seed starting and planting, garden preparation and maintenance, and composting.  Students also help care for chickens, rabbits and bees. (Enrollment is very limited — for more information click here, call 203-557-9195, or email wakemantownfarm@gmail.com)

Orders are still being taken for the winter Community Supported Agriculture program. Run through Winter Sun Farms, the CSA works with small local farms to distribute to distribute delicious frozen and preserved vegetables and fruit.

Members pay in advance for “winter shares.” Pickup is the 2nd Thursday of every month (1-7 p.m.), now through April. (For more information or to join, click here.)

Also in the works: a new WTF website. And a membership program, offering advance sign-up privileges for programs and events, plus discounts.

Finally, this news: Carrie Aitkenhead has ordered 7 gorgeous baby chicks — all different breeds. They’ll arrive in April.

There is indeed plenty new under the Wakeman Town Farm sun. Even if, in winter, it’s up for only a few hours a day.