Tag Archives: Mike Aitkenhead

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.

Wakeman Town Farm Raises The Roof

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)

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.

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)

This was not your typical fundraier food! (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Dining inside the farmhouse tent. (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 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)

These were just the appetizers. (Photo/Dan Woog)

wtf-3-charlie-colasurdo

Wakeman Town Farm Committee co-chairs Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo)

Down On The Farm, With Charlie Colasurdo

In 1886, Staples’ 1st graduating class consisted of 6 students — all girls.

All the guys had dropped out. Their families needed them to work on farms.

More than 125 years later, Westport boys still work the land.

Quite a bit has changed, of course. They drive (or are driven) to farms. They have to learn how to farm. And they’ve got an “06880” blog to tell their story.

Charlie Colasurdo is a rising 8th grader at Coleytown Middle School. Here’s what he says about his work at Wakeman Town Farm:

My interest in farms goes back as far as I can think. I always was fascinated by the idea of farm life, even though I live in a suburban town like Westport.

Charlie Colasurdo (right) takes care of younger farmers -- and young farm animals.

Charlie Colasurdo (right) takes care of younger farmers — and young farm animals.

Since I was 6 I bugged my parents to sign me up for farm camps. I went to places like Sport Hill in Easton all the way up to Shelburne Farms in Vermont, so I could feel like I was part of farm life — feeding chickens, getting into the dirt and learning about everything from heirloom seeds to animal husbandry to organic gardening.

When I turned 10, I heard that Wakeman Town Farm was reopening. I was excited to work in their Junior Apprentice Program. I did a 4th grade farm presentation. From there I was invited to the Board of Finance meeting to speak about why I thought preserving the farm was important.

Shortly after that, I was invited to cut the ribbon at the grand opening at the farm. I was thrilled. I got to meet Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead, the farm stewards, as well as the many people who helped make the farm a possibility. I still know many of them personally.

Wakeman Town Farm is thriving today.

Wakeman Town Farm thrives today.

I went to many of the workshops offered the first year of Wakeman, like Seed Starting and Chicken Keeping, but in the beginning there were no programs for kids my age. I started a 2-year apprenticeship at Ambler Farm in Wilton, the closest farm I could find, going after school and on Saturdays. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot more about the ups and downs of farming.

Then I heard that Mike and Carrie were removed from their positions as farm stewards…right before I was old enough to work at the farm. I was heartbroken, and wanted to help get the farm back on its feet. My family and I got involved. My mom joined the board and I joined the Middle School Apprentice program in 6th grade.

The first year was incredible. We got Mike and Carrie back by having the 1st Pancake Breakfast. There were 800 people instead of the expected 100. We built from there, with fundraisers, family programs and events.

Charlie Colasurdo photographed these baby lambs at Wakeman Town Farm.

Charlie Colasurdo photographed these baby lambs at Wakeman Town Farm.

As an apprentice I helped side by side with Mike, doing everything from turning compost to planting and building raised beds. I watched and helped as the farm grew from just some raised beds and a few chickens to a place with 3 large gardens, 16 chickens, a fruit orchard, and so much more. Wakeman even inspired me to get my own farm animals, a flock of 6 heritage ducks we will be using for eggs.

Every week, I look forward to the Apprentice program at Wakeman. A few weeks ago, I rode up to Lyme with Wakeman chair Liz Beller to pick up 2 young sheep, joining the farm’s new pair of goats. What I have taken away from the program is a better respect for our food, our farmers, and our environment, as well as many new friends who share common interests.

That’s pretty much my story!

WTF’s Open (Farm) House

The Wakeman Town Farm board has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

And they’ll say “thanks” to everyone in town who worked with them to bring former-and-present farm stewards Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead “home for the holidays” with an open farm house.

On December 11 (Wakeman Town Farm, 134 Cross Highway, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., $5), Westporters are invited to raise a cup (cider), and toast both the return of Mike and Carrie and the reopening of the Town Farm to the public.

The Aitkenhead family.

Also on tap:  the unveiling of Wakeman Town Farm’s new logo, designed by  Miggs Burroughs.  Mugs, t-shirts and hats with the new logo will be available for holiday gift giving.

Youngsters can decorate cookies and make gingerbread homes, while adults learn about the Town Farm’s upcoming events:  educational programs, kids’ camps, and internships focusing on sustainable farming.

Welcome home, indeed!

(Want to get a jump on the open house?  Check out the live holiday wreath decorating workshop December 4, 10 a.m.-noon.  Click here for details; then scroll down.)


800 People At A Pancake Breakfast? WTF!

On Sunday morning, the Wakeman Town Farm folks planned on 200 people for their fundraising pancake breakfast.

Okay, they hoped for 200 people.

Be careful what you wish for.

Starting early, crowds poured across the lawn.  They were hungry for pancakes.

Mike Aitkenhead (left) addresses the overflow crowd at Wakeman Town Farm.

Hungry to say hi to Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead, the once and future farm stewards.

Hungry to experience the farm on a gorgeous fall morning.

John Hooper — owner of Christie’s Country Store just down the road apiece — had been cooking since 5 a.m.  He’d hired extra staff.

His 1st batch — for 60 people — went quickly.

Then another.  And another.  And another.

The WTF’s runner flew back and forth.  It was like the fish and loaves.

The Town Farm organizers loved it — but grew worried.

John never stopped cooking.

Finally — there is only so much pancake batter in the world — John ran out.  The last people waiting in line said, well, “WTF.”  They offered to let the Town Farm folks keep the money as a donation.

And then — another miracle! — John sent over the final pancakes.

Two of the 800 happy pancake breakfast eaters.

It was successful.  It was incredible.  It was a great tribute to the new group running Wakeman Town Farm; to the Aitkenheads; to everyone who believes in community agriculture.

And it never would have happened without John and Renee Hooper, who cooked, hired help, donated condiments, time and love.

Of course, there comes a time to pay the piper food provider.

That time came yesterday.

John had offered to cook up to 200 breakfasts free.  The Town Farm group would cover anything over that, at cost.

Monday afternoon, John sent over his bill.

Uh-oh.

Are you ready?

It was…$0.

Zero.  Nothing.  Nada.

Yes,  Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

His name is John Hooper.

And he lives just an apple’s toss away from Wakeman Town Farm, on Cross Highway.

No matter where you live in Westport, feel free to wander over.

And say, “Howdy, neighbor.  Thanks!

Pancake Pop-Up

When I say “community supported agriculture,” you probably don’t think “great sense of humor.”

The Westporters who now run Wakeman Town Farm are committed to getting Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead back as stewards.  It will cost $20,000 — but the hard-working organizers have added a bit of humor to their fundraising drive.

Consider the Miggs Burroughs-created poster for this Sunday’s (October 2) pancake breakfast:

Yes, that’s Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead — not a dour Iowa farm couple.

What a clever way to promote an event that include pancakes from Christie’s Country Store; nitrate-free bacon and sausage from Graze Delivered; fresh maple syrup, coffee, juice and more — plus goods from local craftsmen and artisanal farmers who will donate part of their proceeds to the farm.

There are games and other activities for the kids.  A prize-winning fiddler.  A raffle for a chicken coop.  (What — you expected tickets to a Yankees game?).

Also:  chickens, pygmy goats and an Angora rabbit.  (For “educational purposes only” — not part of the meal.)

The Aitkenheads will be there, talking about their plans for the property.  They’re eager to hear from the public, too.

And — proving that sustainable agriculture humor is not limited to a Grant Wood poster takeoff — organizer Betsy Phillips Kahn’s email signature reads:  “You’re never too old.  Unless you’re a cheese.”

(The cost of the pancake breakfast is just $5.  If you can’t attend, but want to contribute — any amount — you can make a check out to “Town of Westport,” with “Wakeman Town Farm” in the memo line.  Send to:  Elizabeth Beller, 4 West Ambler Rd., Westport, CT 06880.  For more information, click here.)

Meanwhile, Back On The Farm…

Wakeman Town Farm — remember it? — is moving along steadily, in its transition phase after this summer’s kerfuffle.

Wakeman Town Farm.

According to spokeswoman Elizabeth Beller, the transition team — which also includes Liz Milwe and Cathy Talmage — is working diligently to restore WTF to an “educational center for sustainable living.”  The emphasis is now on education, not farming.

Fundraising is the primary goal.  Once funds are secured, the team plans to go before the Board of Finance to demonstrate its financial viability.  The hope is to do this in early October — at the latest, early November.

An energetic, rapidly growing group of volunteers is working to maintain the farm.  Former steward Mike Aitkenhead and his family are among them.  “We hope they will return as stewards,” Elizabeth says.

“A core group of volunteers is working on a new mission statement, logo, and a signature image,” she added.  “Most importantly, we want the message out there that we are an ‘inclusive’ group, hoping to involve the entire community in our efforts.”

A website is live:  www.wakemantownfarm.org.  So is a Facebook page:  “Wakeman town Farm Sustainability Center.”

Recently, the team visited Ambler Farm in Wilton.  Elizabeth calls it “a thriving, town-owned, school-teacher-as-steward run facility, with a wealth of educational programs, summer camps for kids, and membership opportunities for the entire community.”  It’s a model WTF hopes to learn from.

Mike Aitkenhead (kneeling) and his family will soon be back at Wakeman Town Farm.

Ambler Farm’s steward and a board member spent 2 hours explaining their philosophy and management, giving a tour and answering questions.  “We left the meeting inspired that we could do everything they’re doing at Ambler,” Elizabeth says.

Also ahead:  a summer camp for youngsters; adult (and kid) workshops, and a farming intern program for middle and high school students.

There will be a new flock of baby chicks, and bunnies, in the spring.  Maybe French Angoras — to harvest their wool for spinning into yarn — along with dwarf dairy goats.

The bad news:  The group has to raise $25,000 to cover operating costs for one year.

The good news:  They’re passionate about doing it.  And — like the transition no one thought possible — they’re getting it done.

(The 1st WTF fundraiser is a cocktail gathering this Saturday, September 10, 5-7 p.m. at the Bellers’.  A 2nd fundraiser is set for Sunday, September 25, at the home of Andrea Mathewson.  Tax-deductible donations — payable to “Town of Westport,” with “Wakeman Town Farm” on the memo line — can be sent to Elizabeth Beller, 4 West Ambler Rd., Westport, CT 06880.)


Wakeman Town Farm Transfers To Town Today

The lease has been signed.  The transition is complete.

Today, the Town of Westport takes over Wakeman Town Farm from GVI.

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 elizbeller@gmail.com)

Message From Michael

In the wake of the recent controversy involving Green Village Initiative and the Wakeman Town Farm, Mike Aitkenhead asked “06880” to pass these words along:

I would like to express how deeply moved my wife Carrie and I have been by the flood of support we have received from the community.  It has affected our lives in ways I cannot fully express in words.

Ironically, it has taught us the true meaning of what we first set out to create here at the Wakeman Town Farm:  community.

On behalf of my family, we thank you.

The Aitkenhead family

Breaking News — GVI Returns Wakeman Farm To The Town

Green Village Initiative and the Town of Westport just released this news.  “06880” will report further news as it becomes available. 

The board of directors of the local nonprofit Green Village Initiative and the office of the Westport Selectman announced today that GVI will end its lease of the Wakeman Town Farm & Sustainability Center.  “The farm and its improvements” will be returned to the town.

Over the past 2 years, the press release says, GVI has invested over $150,000 in the farm.  It has also arranged “in-kind donations from local businesses and (organized) thousands of volunteer hours between the GVI team, Staples interns and Builders Beyond Borders students.”

“We are grateful to GVI for its wonderful generosity in gifting the improvements and for the work it has done to restore the property to a working farm,” said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

“Through the application of funds and volunteers, and with the support of literally hundreds of families and local businesses, GVI in two years transformed the Farm into a new historical, refurbished facility that benefits the entire town.”

Added Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, “GVI has never wavered from its commitment to this community.  They are a gem that we can all be proud of.”

Three former GVI board members will continue providing support to the farm by assisting the town with its management.

GVI’s remaining 19 board members will “resume the work of carrying out the group’s mission.”

GVI chairman Dan Levinson said, “we at GVI have decided that the town is the best steward for this project long-term while we dedicate our efforts to other community-building and environmental projects in Westport and surrounding towns.  This outcome is best for the community, best for the farm, and best for GVI.”

Peter Wormser and Liz Milwe — GVI board members who left the board in the controversial decision not to renew the contract of “town farmer” Mike Aitkenhead — will stay active with the farm.

The couple said, “we think this is a great gift that should work extremely well long-term for the farm and the town.  It also works to keep the community and especially the kids involved with the future of The Farm.  GVI’s gift to the Town will be appreciated for generations to come.”

Over the past year, the press release said, the farm “has been managed by Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead, who are departing The Farm.”

The release added:

“The Aitkenheads were a great couple for The Farm and GVI is forever grateful for their hard work and enthusiasm and their good accomplishments at Wakeman’s,” said GVI board member Sal Gilbertie.

“They leave with our sincerest thanks and very best wishes for their continued success and good example to the Westport community.”