Sunday’s storm devastated parts of Westport. One house was demolished; a Staples graduate was killed by a falling tree in Fairfield.
Yet in the midst of tragedy, rays of light shined through. Nicole Straight — Fairfield County site director of Food Rescue US, the app that uses volunteer drivers to move fresh, usable food that would be thrown away by restaurants and grocers, to shelters, kitchens and pantries — tells “06880” of one such story.
At 6 p.m. Sunday she was in New York, enjoying the Pride parade. The manager of Trader Joe’s texted. Their power was out — and they did not want to waste all the food that might go bad.
Nicole created a Facebook ask. Within minutes 5 Food Rescue US volunteers said they’d help.
One of the many Food Rescue deliveries.
They delivered food to Westport’s Gillespie shelter, and the Open Door Shelter in Norwalk. It was Sunday night; they were 2 of the few agencies that were open.
Yesterday morning, the Trader Joe’s manager called again. He had still more usable food. Four more volunteers quickly brought it to several local organizations.
Christy Colasurdo was one of those food rescuers. She says, “It was sad to see Trader Joe’s empty freezers. But it was wonderful to know that all that food that would have been tossed has been used.
“The Gillespie Center and other places were thrilled with the crate of frozen organic chicken, gourmet ravioli and breakfast foods. They said Food Rescuers had made 4 stops there today.
“Trader Joe’s could have taken the easy route and dumped everything. But they have big hearts. They always turn to Food Rescue US when they have surplus.”
(Food Rescue US-Fairfield County is the beneficiary of a special fundraiser. “Pools, Patios, Pergolas, a Luxury Tasting Event” — hosted by KMS Partners at Compass — is set for 5 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 13, 5 pm to 9 pm. Several Westport properties will showcase their pools, patios or pergolas. Each features a different award-winning caterer and specially designed drinks. Click here for tickets.)
The problem is staggering: Up to 40% of food in the United States is never eaten. At the same time, 1 in 8 Americans struggles to put food on the table.
The solution is staggeringly simple: Food Rescue US uses volunteer drivers to move fresh, usable food that would have been thrown away by restaurants, grocers and other food industry sources, to shelters, kitchens and pantries in Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford.
An app enables restaurants and retailers with extra food to request a pick up. Volunteers in the area are immediately pinged.
Food Rescue US is a national organization with a strong Westport presence. Over the past few years, more than 350 Westporters have helped.
Christy Colasurdo is one. At Trader Joe’s she loads fresh salads, breads, sandwiches, milk, eggs, vegetables and fruits, then delivers it all to the Person to Person pantry in Norwalk.
On her first run, she filled her entire SUV. She was hooked.
Q104.3 disc jockey (and Westport resident, and super volunteer) Ian O’Malley (right) on a recent food run to the Gillespie Center.
The local Food Rescue group is run by dynamic Westporter Nicole Straight. She has 2 missions: match excess food with those who need it, and let everyone know how easy it is to help.
So on Monday, September 17 (6 p.m.), Wakeman Town Farm hosts a discussion about food waste in general, and Food Rescue specifically.
Panelists include Straight, chef Jes Bengtson of Terrain, and chef Jeff Taibe of Taproot restaurant. Sustainable food advocate Annaliese Paik will moderate.
The event includes local food donors from farms, restaurants and grocery stores. Light refreshments will be served.
Tickets are $25; $15 for Food Rescue volunteers. (Click here to purchase.) Proceeds benefit Food Rescue US.
Here’s an unexpected dessert: Each ticket is good for free entry to the October 21 screening of Anthony Bourdain’s documentary “Wasted!” (October 21, Town Hall, 6 p.m.).
That should be enough to convince you to volunteer for Food Rescue US — or at least go to the WTF panel.
If not, consider this recent note, received by local Food Rescue organizers:
I just want to say thanks, and tell you what the food donations mean to me. I get $192 a month in food stamps. It’s hard to stretch that amount over an entire month.
Getting food from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s means a whole lot. This past Saturday we got a lot of good stuff (a lot of it vegan). One of my faves was the spicy falafel.
I look forward to the Saturday deliveries because there’s going to be something different each time. There’s always something I can use. Thank you!
(CT Bites is also a huge supporter of Food Rescue US. On September 29, they’re sponsoring a special “Kitchen Crawl,” featuring 4 local chefs in 4 designer homes, with cooking demos, great food, wine and beer. All proceeds benefit Food Rescue. Click here for details and tickets.)
Person to Person in Norwalk appreciates Trader Joe’s — and Food Rescue US’ — generous efforts.
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.
Back in the day, when a farmer needed help his neighbors rallied round.
In 2016, Westporters do the same for Wakeman Town Farm.
The working farm that offers educational programs, hands-on workshops and Community-Supported Agriculture — among many other sustainability efforts — was the site last night of an old-fashioned barn-raising.
Wakeman Town Farm is a place of growth and healthy living. But the farmhouse itself needs repairs. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)
Nearly 250 people gathered for the 7th annual Harvest Fest, to “raise the roof.” The Cross Highway property needs new shingles, interior and exterior renovations, and a new kitchen classroom, to better serve its stewards — the Aitkenhead family — and the 10,000 students and adults who pass through the farm every year.
Robin Tauck pledged a major gift. Others gave plenty too — including $100 “shingles.”
First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen (center) were at last night’s Wakeman Town Farm Harvest Fest, along with Kelle and Jeff Ruden. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Area purveyors like Greens Farms Liquors, Rothbard Ale + Larder and AMG Catering donated appetizers and libations for the cocktail hour. DaPietro’s, Harvest Wine Bar, Wave Hill Breads and Saugatuck Sweets were among those providing fantastic, locally sourced dinners.
This was not your typical fundraier food! (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)
Dining inside the farmhouse tent. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)
It was all served and poured by big-name volunteers: heads of non-profits like Bill Harmer (Westport Library), Tony McDowell (Earthplace), Jeff Wieser (Homes With Hope) and Sue Gold (Westport Historical Society).
Staples students — many from the Environmental Studies courses — pitched in too.
Environmental Studies students volunteered to serve at Harvest Fest. (Photo/Dan Woog)
The WTF roof is a lot closer to be raised, thanks to last night. But you can still help — 2016-style. Click here to contribute any amount.
These were just the appetizers. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Wakeman Town Farm Committee co-chairs Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)
Alert and very kind “06880” reader Christy Colasurdo writes:
Easton farmer Patti Popp just posted on Facebook that due to this crazy warm weather and extended growing season, she has more than 50 crates of organic potatoes — and no one to take them off her hands.
She’s reached out to restaurants, food pantries and families in need, but because this is such a hectic time of year, it’s tough moving these organic spuds. She’s bummed because they were grown with love and care.
I’ve known Patti a long time. She’s a fixture on the local green foods scene, and is at the Westport Farmers’ Market every week. I’m sure some local organization would love to be the recipient of such a terrific haul.
So: If anyone knows anyone — a family in need, or organization — that can use these holiday taters, Patti will donate them. Plus butternut squash and cabbage. Click “Comments” below — or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loading crates of potatoes. Can you help “unload” them?
Christy Colasurdo says her son Charlie was “somehow born to be a farmer and environmentalist.” To ensure that other kids would have a place to learn where their food comes from, how to care for animals, what it means to recycle and compost, and just spend time in nature — Christy got involved with Wakeman Town Farm.
While Charlie apprenticed at local farms, Christy — a former New York magazine editor — began writing about the farm-to-table movement. That led to her launch of Graze (now called The Simple Scallion), a service that delivers milk, eggs and the like from small farms to people’s front doors.
Christy admires and respects the endless hours of hard work farmers put in: working the land; handling weather, pests and disease; marketing their products; packing and unpacking wares at farmers’ markets, and (these are not farmers of yore) navigating social media to educate people about good seasonal food.
While getting Graze off the ground, Christy met Tracey Medeiros. She’d just published a book about Vermont’s farm-to-table scene.
Christy described Fairfield County, where fantastic chefs are partnering with local farmers, fishermen, oystermen and honey connoisseurs.
A new book was born. Christy identified restaurants, chefs and farmers, then wrote the profiles. Tracey and a tester tried hundreds of the chefs’ best recipes.
A year and a half later, The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook is a beautiful homage/culinary travelogue. From Greenwich to Groton, Norwalk to Litchfield, Christy and Tracey tell great stories, using intriguing stories and stunning photos.
And, of course, mouth-watering recipes.
Preparing a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. (Photo/Oliver Parini)
Among the local places and recipes:
The Whelk and Le Farm (deviled eggs with cornmeal, fried oysters and pickled red onion)
Blue Lemon (fresh peach tart)
Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens (Brussels sprouts and petite edibles)
Saugatuck Craft Butchery (slow-roasted porchetta with cilantro and smoked paprika; dry-aged steak tartare crostini with pickled garden turnips)
SoNo Baking Company and Cafe (strawberry frangipane tartlets; caramel-apple tart)
Tarry Lodge (rosa bianca eggplant caponata)
Terrain (salt-roasted beets with blood oranges, pistachios and goat cheese salad)
Westport Farmers’ Market (various vendors)
Wakeman Town Farm (chipotle veggie chili)
“The chef/farmer relationship often goes unheralded,” Christy says. “Yet it’s exponentially more difficult for a chef to source from small local and organic farms and fishermen than from a large commercial supplier.
“It’s a lot easier to let the Sysco truck pull to the back door,” she adds. “Instead, they get out to the farmers’ market. They take ‘field trips’ to local organic farms. They forge old-fashioned relationships with their suppliers that often include bailing out a farmer with too much zucchini or kale, or asking the farmer to plant special crops like Peruvian purple potatoes or Asian specialty greens, just for their restaurants.”
The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook is available at Terrain and Barnes & Noble. This Thursday, July 9 (10 a.m.) there’s a talk at the Westport Library. At 10:45, Christy and Tracey will stroll over to the Farmers’ Market. Local farmers and vendors featured in the book will be introduced, and Tracey will give a recipe demo using fresh market produce.
Sunday was beautiful and sunny. My 13-year-old son was excited to show me the swan’s nest he recently spotted behind Parker Harding Plaza
I brought my camera, and looked forward to taking a few shots of the mama swan sitting on her eggs.
Then I got a glimpse of all the trash — literally, piles and piles of it — poking through the reeds and floating in the muck just below the boardwalk.
There were so many Starbucks cups, water bottles and straws that I couldn’t count them all. Too many Gatorade bottles and soda cans to mention. The garbage and debris was so plentiful that the poor mama swan wove the most colorful tidbits into her nest.
I promised Charlie we would return with high boots and trash bags at the next low tide, and do our part to clean up this mess.
But then I thought it might be worth it to appeal to all Westporters to help in the clean-up — in the spirit of Earth Day on Monday, April 22.
So I am throwing down the gauntlet, to all Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, all environmental groups, families, local organizations and individuals who care about our environment.
Come do your part to clean up the Saugatuck. This is our river, and it is filthy.
I assumed that local businesses on Main Street, or even our municipality, would take some sort of responsibility for keeping the riverfront clean. Perhaps they are not aware of the sad state of riverfront at low tide, just as I was.
But I am seriously disgusted that a walk along the river — one of the town’s gems — would uncover such a dirty little secret.
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