Ten years ago Dan Levinson, Monique Bosch and a group of passionate Westporters founded the organization. They restored the Wakeman Town Farm and Sustainability Center, established edible gardens in schools, and launched a film and lecture series throughout Fairfield County.
Today WTF is thriving. The schools gardens in Bridgeport used lesson plans created by Sacred Heart University that tie into the curriculum.
GVI got its start at Wakeman Town Farm.
And 10 years later, GVI is now Bridgeport-based. Its mission is more focused: to grow food, knowledge, leadership and community through urban gardening and farming, creating a more just food system.
GVI believes that economic development is fostered when a community has the ability to grow, sell and purchase the food it chooses to, conveniently.
With 3 full-time employees, paid interns and summer Bridgeport student employees, GVI grows, sells and donates over 5,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce each year. More than 200 families grow their own food at community gardens, and 0ver 500 students seed, maintain and harvest their school gardens.
A new Urban Farmer Training Program — launched with the University of Connecticut — helps gardeners grow food. The group — including Westporter Cornelia Olsen — is now a vendor at Bridgeport farmers’ markets.
Other Westporters have worked hard to make this happen too. Every year hundreds rebuild and clean gardens, and farm with the GVI team.
Volunteers include Staples High School interns, Staples Service League of Boys (SLOBS) student and parents, and Builders Beyond Borders.
Westporters and Bridgeporters work together with GVI.
In addition, Westport League of Women voters members join GVI board member Pippa Bell Ader and her friends, coordinating annual Bridgeport elementary school trips to Reservoir Community Farm.
Those volunteers and supporters were honored the other day, at a party at Patagonia in Westport. Local law firms Cohen and Wolf and Berchem Moses were key sponsors.
Next up: a “Harvest Bits & Booze” fundraiser November 13 (6 to 9 p.m., Read’s Art Space, 1042 Broad Street, Bridgeport).
Trattoria ‘A Vucchella caters, with meat and vegetables from Connecticut farms. All proceeds go to GVI’s programs. Click here for tickets and more information.
A lot has blossomed over the past 10 years. Congratulations to GVI, as it celebrates a decade of growth!
Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead — the couple whose contract as “town farmers” was not renewed, leading to a townwide controversy and the resignation of 5 Green Village Initiative board members — have agreed to volunteer at the farm.
“They will be a very visible presence,” promises Elizabeth Beller, who heads the transition team.
The "GVI" sign may come down, now that the town has taken over operation of Wakeman Farm.
The transition group plans to continue the farm’s popular programs. Mike’s Staples High School horticulture class will work at the farm; Staples’ Club Green, and the middle school environmental clubs, will also work there after school.
The full transition team will be appointed by first selectman Gordon Joseloff. Former GVI members will be included.
Already, team members have met with the Board of finance a member of the Friends of Parks and Rec to discuss the umbrella organization that will help the Town Farm retain its not-for-profit status.
Additional meetings are scheduled for early next month. That will pave the way for a $20,000 fundraiser.
“The Board of Finance naturally has questions about funding and capital expenditures,” Elizabeth says. “The town wants assurances that the farm won’t cost them anything. Right now, things look very good, and very positive.”
(A training session, for anyone interested in volunteering at the Wakeman Town Farm, is set for next Sunday, August 28 (9:30 a.m.). Mike Aitkenhead will lead the session. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Liz Milwe, Cathy Talmage and Elizabeth Beller have been chosen by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff to serve as a transition team, as the Town of Westport assumes responsibility for Wakeman Town Farm, from Green Village Initiative.
A new board will be appointed once the transition is complete.
The transition team welcomes involvement from the entire community during the transition, and beyond. Interested volunteers should email Elizbeller@gmail.com
Westporters are encouraged to volunteer for the Wakeman Town Farm transition committee. (Photo/Inklings)
GVI — the non-profit established in 2008 to “create environmental and community change through local action” — has had a tough row to hoe.
First, the organization had to establish itself. What would it do, and how? Where would it work? Who would it represent and respond to?
GVI quickly plowed new ground — figuratively and literally. A community- supported agriculture program took off. An internship program harnessed the passion of Staples students, who walked over from the nearby high school and poured their hearts into the project. Films and lectures carried the “environmental and community change” message to people of all ages around town.
The bucolic-looking Wakeman Town Farm was rocked by controversy this week.
But the heart of GVI was the farm and garden. Under the direction of Staples AP Environmental Studies instructor Mike Aitkenhead — Westport’s 2009 Teacher of the Year — and his wife Carrie, the GVI-renovated farmhouse and adjacent land became the centerpiece of an ongoing, constantly evolving effort that combined a Vermont back-to-the-land sensibility with a Westport education-activism ethos.
Yet all along, GVI occupied a little-understood space in town. Was it a municipal organization? Quasi-civic? Who ran it, and who was run by it? For a community organization, it seemed to be led by a small group of people who — I often heard — had a “my way or the highway” management style.
(Wakeman Town Farm is, in fact, owned by the town — which leases it to GVI for $1 a year.)
Earlier this month — several weeks before the Aitkenheads’ contract came up for renewal — a faction on the GVI board scrutinized the couple’s stewardship of the farm. Fault was found in many areas — including, I am told, that one of their young child’s toys was in a community area.
The Aitkenheads cannot speak publicly. But, I have heard from others, it seems as if their entire lives at the farm had turned into a public event. I liken it to living at Old Sturbridge Village, 24/7/365.
The Aitkenheads’ contract was not terminated. It was simply not renewed.
Last October, 10-year-old Charlie Colasurdo cut an environmentally friendly plant ribbon at the Wakeman Town Farm's opening ceremony. (Photo by Annie Nelson/Inklings)
But the effect — on the farm’s many interns, the Staples and Westport communities, even GVI as an important town organization — is the same.
Few people are talking on the record. At least 4 board members have resigned — quietly.
“06880” teems with comments. But — at least so far — no one in a position of authority seems to be listening to the passionate pleas of the hundreds of men, women, teenagers and younger children the Aitkenheads inspired.
In fact, their concerns have not even been acknowledged.
The bond between WTF and the twin communities of Staples and Westport is crucial. The Aitkenheads — and GVI — have developed more than a farm and a garden. They’ve created an organic, living entity that — though still in its infancy — shows signs of growing into one of the most important elements of our community “family.”
Yet GVI seems willing to let it die. Or — perhaps more harshly — seems eager to kill it off.
Several meetings have been held over the past few days, in an attempt to resolve the issue. As with the Washington budget talks, progress seems impossible.
Much of the “06880” chatter has focused on the enormous good that Mike and his family have done for WTF, Staples, children, families, Westport — and GVI.
It’s time now to move the discussion in another direction. We need to ask:
Is the non-renewal of the contract a done deal?
Where do leaders of the town — which owns the farm — stand?
Has GVI lost its legitimacy? Can it survive? Should it?
And where do we go from here?
Farmers don’t like to talk a lot. They prefer actions to words.
Westporters do talk. But eventually we act too.
Let’s start hearing some straight, action-oriented talk from everyone.
And then let’s do whatever we can to get the Aitkenheads back on the farm, and the farm back to work.
Speed dating is a big-city thing. Singles (hopefully) spend a few minutes chatting with a random stranger. A bell rings; then it’s off to the next table, and a few more after that. If both parties like each other, organizers provide them with contact info.
But this is Westport. Our “speed dating” event needs an intellectual — and environmental — bent.
Also, no hooking up allowed.
“Expert Minds” is this Thursday’s (July 14, 7 p.m.) Westport Arts Center speed dating-inspired event.
Futurist Watts Wacker definitely looks like an expert.
Working with Green Village Initiative, the WAC has assembled 10, um, expert minds. Each hosts a table with 4 seats. For 15 minutes, everyone chats — presumably about the expert’s area of expertise.
Then it’s on to the next randomly selected table.
There’s a break after the 1st 2 sessions, for food and wine; then 2 more tables.
After the 4th table, everyone is invited to mingle (and, I guess, drink a bit more).
The experts include:
Michael Aitkenhead, Staples High School environmental teacher and Wakeman Town Farm steward
Julie Belaga, former state representative, gubernatorial candidate, and New England director of the Environmental Protection Agency
Maxine Bleiweis, Westport Library director
David Brown, public health toxicologist
John Fifield, architect and innovator
Deepika Saksena, “zero waste manager” whose weekly household waste fills just one plastic newspaper sleeve
John Solder, member of the world champion Staples High School robotics team
Bill Taibe, chef/owner of Le Farm
Watts Wacker, futurist
Eden Werring, arts and education advocate
As the experts and their guests talk, they’ll be surrounded by Christo. The environmental artist’s stunning works may inspire some of the discussions, says Deanne Foster, the WAC’s interim executive director.
“Art can take you to another place,” she says. “There’s always lots of conversation here, as people look at the exhibitions on the walls. This event is one more way to get people thinking, and engaged.”
“Expert Minds” — speed dating, arts-style — is something the 92nd Street Y might do, Foster says.
“But it’s here in Westport. We’re lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people.”
(Tickets for “Expert Minds” are $25. They’re available by phone at 203-222-7070, and online by clicking here.)
“Sustainability” is a big part of EcoFest’s message.
But for its 1st 2 years, the townwide environmental exhibition/music festival produced by Staples’ Club Green could not sustain itself.
This year’s free event — set for tomorrow (Saturday, June 11, 12-5:30 p.m.) at the Levitt Pavilion — is as sustainable as its message.
After 2 years of help from Green Village Initiative and CL&P, this year the student organizers looked for business sponsors. Included are New England Smart Energy, Terex, Chevy Volt, Tauck-Romano, and GVI.
“We wanted to show the public who really cares about the environment,” says spokesman Ben Meyers. “To wash your car, go to Westport Wash & Wax — they’ve got solar panels.” Car wash credits are one of EcoFest’s raffle prizes.
“The music and green message has always been there,” Ben notes. “But this year the club really wanted to make sure to hit the ‘eco’ part. It’s all about getting more products and things that people can use.”
Over 30 vendors will sell sustainable products, offer options like solar and wind energy, and provide low-key educational activities.
Plus: face painting, recycling racing, create-your-own-green cleaning products, raffles of cool environmental movies, and more.
The Staples cheerleaders support EcoFestClub Green will sell its own organic t-shirts, and BPA-free water bottles. Two electric cars -- a Tesla and Chevy Volt -- will be displayed.
Meyers says that Fairfield County is “one of the worst CO2-emitting areas in the world.” The average local resident uses twice the amount as the average American — and 9 times more than the average Chinese (52 tons per year, versus 6 in China).
“One reason is our big houses, and how we insulate, heat and light them,” Meyers says.
Tomorrow, turn off your lights. Shut the a/c. Head to the Levitt, for the 3rd annual EcoFest.
Hopefully, you’ll get there by hybrid or electric vehicle.
Y members — and those of us who went to summer camp there — know exactly what “Mahackeno” is. But plenty of non-members — and newcomers to town — don’t.
Canoeing -- a timeless Mahackeno activity.
In 1938, the Y started a camp along the Saugatuck River near the new Merritt Parkway. Six years later, they were offered 30 acres of land — including the site of the camp.
F.T. Bedford — son of the Y’s founder, Edward T. Bedford — said that his family’s trust would pay half the price, provided the town ponied up the other half.
Within a few weeks, Westporters pledged their portion: $10,000.
In March of 1945, the Y took possession of the property. That summer, 72 boys attended “Camp Bedford.”
A year later — at F.T. Bedford’s request — the name was changed to “Mahackeno.” That honored “Mahackemo” (with an “m”), a sachem (chief) of the Norwalke Indian tribe who, in 1639, met Roger Ludlowe and traded land between the Saugatuck and Norwalk Rivers — including that very spot — for wampum and other goods.
The Camp Mahackeno pool staff -- in 1985.
Over the years, Camp Mahackeno grew. It added girls, a pool and other amenities. It (reluctantly) packed away a rope swing that hung from the parkway bridge.
Today the camp includes a 12-acre canoeing and fishing pond; a climbing wall; playing fields and basketball courts. There’s still room for camp activities like archery and leather making, which Chief Mahackemo might recognize. It serves up to 250 children (grades 1-10) per 1-week session.
This Saturday (May 21, noon to 2 p.m.), the Y hosts an open house for new and prospective campers. There will be tours, and a chance to meet director Jennifer Perrault and her staff.
There’s also a noontime planting of a new “teaching garden” (weather permitting). The Y and Green Village Initiative are teaming up to help campers eat healthily. So much for s’mores and bug juice.
Fun fact: This Saturday marks the 80th anniversary of Edward T. Bedford’s death — go figure. No, I’ll do it for you: He was 82, and the Y he founded was just 8 years old.
After more than 70 years, Mahackeno is a venerable Westport institution. But it’s a tradition that may take a hiatus in 2013 and ’14, when the new Y is constructed on part of the property.
Y officials will explore the possibility of holding their camp elsewhere, perhaps at a public school.
As always, they look on the bright side. In 2015 — if all goes according to plan — Camp Mahackeno will reopen. There will be access to a water slide and a large gym, among other additions.
That’s something that Chief Mahackemo may not recognize, were he to return.
Then again, he’d be over 400 years old.
(For more information on Camp Mahackeno, click here or email email@example.com)
Mahackeno staff and campers -- a timeless tableau.
Bea Milwe — who died Saturday at 97 — was a Westport icon.
A civil rights, women’s rights and international peace activist who became a documentary filmmaker after graduating from Sarah Lawrence at the age of 57, she also made her mark on her longtime hometown.
One of the 1st women to visit China after relations thawed in 1974, she made a ground-breaking film about the country: “The China Tape.” Later, she produced the first document film about the Women’s Conference in Beijing.
Other films — focusing on issues like women’s poverty in Connecticut, and the Sioux tribe in South Dakota — were shown on PBS and ABC, and distributed internationally.
Bea and her husband, Sidney, were union activists in the 1940s. They continued to support liberal political and non-political civic causes, often hosting fundraisers at their Saugatuck Shores homes. He died in 1992, at 80.
Bea is survived by her companion, Buddy Kushner; 3 children (Jeff of Westport; RTM member Liz of Westport, and Marjorie Lieberman of Fairfield); 7 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.
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