Westport began as a farming community. We’ve moved from onions to everything under the sun.
Along the way we added manufacturing, then arts, marketing and hedge funds.
But we always go back to our roots.
The other day, I sat at the Westport Library with Liz Milwe. A native Westporter and active volunteer who served on the RTM for over 10 years, she’s best known now for her work as co-chair of Wakeman Town Farm.
We talked about WTF’s growth over the past decade; its role in Westport; our town’s commitment to sustainability, and much more.
Peter Wormser’s death on Tuesday stunned and saddened many Westporters. The architect, gardener, cook and avid outdoorsman was involved in many facets of Westport life. But Wakeman Town Farm had a special place in his heart.
And the town’s sustainability center loved Peter back. This tribute is from Christy Colasurdo, co-chair emeritus and events director.
Wakeman Town Farm lost its biggest champion Tuesday night. More than a decade ago Peter Wormser was among the first in town to step up to renovate the aging farmhouse at 134 Cross Highway, and make it habitable for its early caretakers, Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead. Today it is a thriving institution, thanks in large part to the efforts of Peter and his wife, Liz Milwe, to create a truly special gathering space for the entire community.
Peter Wormser and his wife, Liz Milwe, at Wakeman Town Farm.
Peter had an enormous impact on the Wakeman Town Farm team. We don’t remember him as the world-renowned architect who designed the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or the flagship Restoration Hardware store in downtown Manhattan.
Instead we recall Peter clad in faded jeans and his trademark blue T-shirt (matching his cerulean eyes), scooping ice cream, dishing up chili and flipping burgers at Family Fun Day, or bartending at our annual Harvest Fest dinners.
Peter Wormser (right), Pete Romano, and plenty of pumpkins.
Peter truly loved the Farm, and what it meant to Westport residents. He quietly made his mark by attending countless meetings, doing detailed architectural renderings (without compensation), and eventually moving from his NYC office to one in Saugatuck, so he could GC construction of the Farm’s multipurpose facility (again, gratis).
When the building was ready for its unveiling, Peter’s son Tim died unexpectedly. The WTF committee unanimously voted to name the venue Tim’s Kitchen, honoring Peter and Liz, the Farm’s co-chair, for their contributions over the years.
Since the early days, Peter made a slew of improvements to the Farm grounds, including designing our unique Pizza Piazza, stone patios and walkways. He was in the process of working up drawings for the barn’s revitalization.
Peter Wormser (center, blue shirt) and friends celebrate Wakeman Town Farm’s pizza oven.
More than this, Peter and Liz were frequent attendees at Farm events, cooking classes and chef’s dinners. Peter rolled up his sleeves and assisted in the kitchen, working alongside Artisan’s Frederic Kieffer, Possa’s Chef Massimo and Peter Romano of Saugatuck Sweets.
It took us all by surprise when Peter, an avid cook, gardener and swimmer, was grounded by a mysterious illness 2 years ago. He underwent an array of treatments and grueling medical procedures. Eventually, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Peter died July 13, the same day as his beloved son Tim, only 5 years later.
Wakeman Town Farm co-chair Bill Constantino fondly remembers Peter for his sensitivity to the Farm’s historic roots. He says, “Peter always had the best interest of keeping the integrity of my grandparents’ homestead and farm in mind, while being able to create an amazing space for the residents of Westport. He will truly be missed.”
Our hearts go out to the Wormser family, including sons Jon and James, and longtime partner Liz Milwe. We share heartfelt gratitude to one of the most giving, talented and unpretentious humans we have had the pleasure to know.
From a young age, Andrew Colabella hated plastic straws. He couldn’t understand how something that was used for just a few seconds could be so quickly tossed aside, then lie around on land or in our oceans for centuries.
He never used a straw. As much as possible, he tried to avoid all forms of plastic. He used metal forks and ate off porcelain plates. But we live in a plastic, throwaway society. The number of plastic cups used and discarded at bars floored him. He thought he was the only one who noticed.
Colabella is now an RTM member. At last he can do something about plastic that goes beyond changing his own habits.
The District 4 representative has already convinced 38 local restaurants and franchises to find biodegradable alternatives to single-uise products.
Now he’s introduced an ordinance to ban plastic straws in Westport. (There are exemptions for disabled people, who need them because other alternatives are not strong enough.) The proposal is making its way through the RTM Environment Committee.
But this is not some quixotic quest. Colabella has partnered with 4 other longtime Westporters, in what they call the Plastic Pollution Project.
Wendy Goldwyn Batteau was inspired by her first boss — the editor of Silent Spring — to co-found Sierra Club Books. She’s worked for decades as an award-winning editor/executive at major publishers, collaborating with Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, Audubon and the Ocean Alliance.
Liz Milwe — in “real life,” a choreographer and dance filmmaker — has a long history of environmental activism. Ten years ago as an RTM member, she helped Westport become the first town east of the Mississippi to ban plastic bags. She’s won awards from the US Environmental Agency and Westport’s Green Task Force.
Ashley Moran is a Saugatuck Elementary School teacher. A founding member of Nurturing Minds in Africa — a non-profit helping educate poor and at-risk girls in Tanzania — she believe that education leads to meaningful change.
Greg Naughton — a filmmaker and producer — grew up in Westport and Weston, in a family of performers. His 9-year-old son is in Moran’s class. Excited by what he learned about plastic straws, composting and the environment, the boy got his dad involved in the cause.
Naughton is also a founding member of the Sweet Remains. The indie folk-rock band has over 35 million Spotify streams.
Which is why and how the Sweet Remains are playing a benefit concert, to raise funds for the Plastic Pollution Project.
The event is Friday, January 4 (Fairfield Theatre Company, 7 p.m.). It starts with a reception in the lobby/art gallery, featuring presentations about plastic problems from P3 members, Westport students and others. The Sweet Remains and P3 founders will be on hand to chat.
It should be a “sweet” concert. And one that helps ensure — in a small but meaningful way — that plastic no longer “remains” on our land and in our seas, centuries after all the rest of us are gone.
(For tickets and more information on the concert, click here.)
Yesterday, “06880” reported that Westporters can avoid the coming Yellow Book plague by opting out.
Today, there’s even better news on the driveway littering front.
RTM representatives Liz Milwe, Jeff Wieser and Matthew Mandell have worked for months to make opting out of phone book deliveries easier, more effective — and environmentally friendly.
Spurred by Westporter Morgan Mermagen’s 200-signature petition, the RTM members started work on a town ordinance. The Local Search Association — the national lobbying organization for companies like the Yellow Pages and Frontier — heard about the plan. They — and members of those businesses from around the country — came to Westport, to meet with the 3 RTM members.
But the talks reached an impasse.
So this spring, the RTM reps moved forward with their proposed ordinance.
The companies reached out again. Finally — with the help of assistant town attorney Gail Kelly, and following months of conference calls — a deal was struck.
There will be no ordinance. However, all phone book distributors in Westport have agreed to follow these parameters:
All plastic bags used during delivery will be made with 20% post-consumer recycled content. This will be noted on the bag.
A letter to the town, announcing a pending distribution by any company, will be done 90 days prior to any event, and 30 days prior to a cut-off for being able to opt out of that (and future) distributions.
All books will continue to have a notice on the front cover about the opt-out, with the same URL.
Within 14 days after delivery, the distribution company will return through the route, picking up any unclaimed bags within view.
A report will be sent to the town each year, noting how many people have opted out.
“These are serious concessions made by companies trying to stay relevant in a changing time,” says Mandell. “Each side used all of its might to sway things, with First Amendment rights waved around more than once. In the end this is a fair solution.”
“The change in the bags is a success for the environment,” adds Milwe. “It will be a greater success if residents opt out and if they tell their friends to opt out. Let’s make it happen!”
The 3 RTM members will now work with the town and local groups to create a campaign to inform all residents about the opt-out.
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)
In 2008, RTM members Jonathan Cunitz, Liz Milwe, Gene Seidman and Jeff Weiser sponsored the “retail bag ordinance” banning plastic bags in Westport. In response to today’s post about the new CVS bags, they sent this message to “06880”:
We remain proud of the enlightened action that the Westport RTM took 7 years ago to act responsibly with regard to plastic bags. Ever since Mel Sorcher and Don Wergeles first brought their concerns to our attention, and after nearly a year of organizing, engaging the community, and legislating, the RTM overwhelmingly passed the Plastic Bag Ordinance by a vote of 26-5 on September 2, 2008.
We have been gratified by the strong support that our Plastic Bag Ordinance has gained in the town. It also is gratifying to note that while the ordinance was inspired by a similar, earlier ordinance in San Francisco, ours has been a guide for a number of other towns that have adopted ordinances since 2009.
We conservatively estimate that the town of Westport has eliminated 15 million plastic bags from circulating in our environment, creating a problem in our rivers, Long Island Sound, the Atlantic and beyond. Many Westporters say they are very proud that our town has the distinction of being a leader in the environmental movement, by being the first town east of the Mississippi to ban plastic bags at retail.
The CVS bag shown and mentioned in your article this morning directly and intentionally circumvents the spirit of the Plastic Bag Ordinance. While the CVS bag may be technically “legal,” it is certainly contrary to the intention of the law. It’s a way for the plastics industry to stay in the business of providing unnecessary bags.
It is worth noting that the only way plastic shopping bags can be recycled is if the consumer returns them to a grocery store. The recycling rates at grocery stores are well below 10%. The CVS bags will jam Westport’s single-stream recycling machines and continue to be a nuisance, stymying Westport’s recycling efforts.
Westporters have gotten used to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store — and they’ll get used to bringing reusable bags to CVS and Walgreens, all the while being responsible and proud citizens of the environment.
We know that even little efforts make great impact, and show our children that we care about the environment. The plastic bag ban has proven to be successful and should continue to be enforced.. CVS will respond to public pressure. So, next time when you are in CVS, just say no to their plastic bags!
Compo Beach is a true “neighborhood.” Many homes on Soundview and its side streets have been in the same family for decades.
One of the those old, familiar houses was 8 Danbury Avenue. Teri Klein grew up in the magical cottage — and so did her children and grandchildren. They held weddings and parties there, ran on the beach, and admired the spectacular views.
8 Danbury Avenue.
Unfortunately, the house sat level with the ground. Hurricane Sandy damaged it beyond repair.
Today it was demolished.
(Photos by Betsy Phillips)
But this is not a typical Westport tear-down-a-small-old-house-and-throw-up-a-huge-new-one story.
Two couples living nearby — Dan Kahn and Betsy Phillips, and Peter Wormser and Liz Milwe — bought the house from Teri. Peter — a very talented architect and artist — incorporated much of the quaint and magical details of the old home into a new design.
The next 8 Danbury Avenue house will be built on a higher foundation than the previous one — new FEMA and local regulations have made sure of that. But there will still be a rocking-chair front porch, a similar look, the same Low Country southern charm.
The new home will be something increasingly rare in Westport: a new but familiar house.
When a group of committed Westporters turned the old Allen’s Clam House site into a preserve — featuring wetland plants, a vegetative buffer above the tidal zone and walking paths — they figured it would take 3 years of care before nature took over.
That was 3 years ago.
A couple of Mother Nature curveballs — Hurricane Irene and an October snow — brought volunteers out in force. But as spring blooms, the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve has emerged as a much-loved, frequently visited and very natural part of town.
The Sherwood Mill Pond: one of the most tranquil spots in Westport. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)
It’s visited at all hours by a wide swath of folks. Painters, bird watchers, book readers, flower lovers, parents with kids, lunch breakers — all find peace and beauty there.
A few benches and a couple of signs are the only indications that humans have shaped the preserve. One of the signs describes the history and significance of the Mill Pond.
The handsome Mill Pond sign.
The other — a gift from Newman’s Own Foundation, created by Audubon illustrator Edward Henrey — identifies some of the 70 species of birds, and many forms of aquatic life. A cutaway shows mollusks burying beneath the sand, crabs scuttlingon top of sand, and mallards diving into the water.
Sherry Jagerson helped mastermind the preserve, from conception to reality. Entering its 3rd full season, she is pleased that each year, volunteers have had to do less “hands-on” work. (The hurricane destroyed lots of leaves, and water washed over vegetation to the street, but nature is hard at work restoring what was lost.)
Sherry, and fellow committee members like Liz Milwe and Wendy Crowther, are proud of the preserve. They’re pleased it’s getting so much gentle use.
Now — like the rest of Westport — they’re eager to relax and enjoy it.
(Despite the Mill Pond Preserve’s success, the committee can always use help. To volunteer, call Sherry Jagerson at 203-856-4580.)
The ever-changing Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)
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