Tag Archives: Wakeman Town Farm

Unsung Hero #26

Since 1948, Aitoro has been the place to go for refrigerators, washer-driers, TVs and other big-ticket home items. Just across the line in Norwalk, they’ve developed a passionate following in Westport (and the rest of Fairfield County).

Tony Aitoro — one of the current owners — loves selling appliances.

But just as much, he loves offering his store for good causes.

Since opening a big showroom in 2004, Tony has made that his mission. Nearly every Thursday night — as soon as customers leave — he hosts an event for a worthy cause.

Tony Aitoro

Clothes to Kids, STAR, Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, Cooking for Charity — nearly any non-profit that asks can use Aitoro’s great space for a fundraiser. If there’s food involved, caterers — or specialty chefs — take over the kitchen.

The cost of renting a hall can be huge. Thanks to Tony, that money is never spent.

Tony’s generosity extends beyond Thursday nights, of course. When Wakeman Town Farm was putting in a new kitchen this year, he gave them a great price.

“He loves this area. He loves the water, his family, his business, and helping charities,” says Eric Aitoro, Tony’s nephew.

And “06880” loves Tony Aitoro right back.

(Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Livia Feig)

 

Honoring Westporters Who Preserve History

Though the 1 Wilton Road building disappeared, plank by wooden plank, there is some good news on the preservation front.

Next Monday (October 30, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), 1st selectman Jim Marpe and Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels will present the organization’s 2017 awards.

Eight properties — from all over town — have been chosen. They represent a variety of styles, and were selected for many different reasons.

Taken together, they are proof that Westport still cares about its architectural heritage.

Well, sort of.

Bedford Square

Since 1923, this Tudor revival has anchored downtown. Generations of Westporters knew it as the YMCA. When the Y moved to Mahackeno, there were grave concerns over the future of the building.

Bedford Square Associates — led by David Waldman — made a strong commitment to historic preservation. With hard, creative work and collaboration with town agencies, they and architect Centerbrook Associates designed a mixed-use complex that repurposed the Bedford building. Though there is significantly more space, the character and scale respects the streetscape of Church Lane, the Post Road and Main Street.

Bedford Square (Photo/Jennifer Johnson)

Wakeman Town Farm

This late-1800s farmhouse, with veranda, turned posts and a projecting gable is a Westport landmark. In the 1900s the Wakeman family supplied neighbors with produce, milk and eggs.

In 1970 Ike and Pearl Wakeman sold the historic property to the town. Today it is a sustainability center and organic homestead, open to the public.

Longtime Westport architect Peter Wormser donated his time and talent to rehabilitate the farmhouse. Public Works oversaw construction. Key elements include a rebuilt front porch, and new educational kitchen and classroom. Wakeman Town Farm is now even better able to teach, feed and inspire Westporters of all ages.

Wakeman Town Farm (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

190 Cross Highway

The Meeker homestead stood on the route taken by British soldiers, heading to Danbury to burn an arsenal. But after 2 centuries the barn and 1728 saltbox house fell into disrepair.

When Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie bought the property in 2003 it was in foreclosure. They rehabilitated the barn/cottage, and got a zoning variance to subdivide the property (making both buildings more likely to be preserved.) They’re now protected by perpetual preservation easements.

190 Cross Highway (Photo/Amy Dolego)

383 Greens Farms Road

This English-style barn was built in 1820 by Francis Bulkley. In 2000 Lawrence and Maureen Whiteman Zlatkin bought the property. They installed a new shingle roof, reinforced the basement foundation and floor beams, replaced exterior siding and enhanced the interior. All work was done with meticulous care, using historically appropriate materials. The barn now hosts civic gatherings, concerts and family events.

Maureen died last month. Her husband hopes that her focus on preserving the barn will inspire other Westporters to do the same to their treasures.

383 Greens Farms Road

8 Charcoal Hill Road

This 1927 stone Tudor revival is a classic example of the homes Frazier Forman Peters designed and built in the area. When Sam and Jamie Febbraio bought it in 2015, it had suffered from severe neglect. They meticulously restored it to its original form, adding 21st-century amenities. A 3rd-generation Westporter, Sam understands the appeal and significance of Peters homes.

8 Charcoal Hill Road (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

101 Compo Road South

Jenny Ong purchased this 1924 colonial revival — listed on the Westport Historic Resources Inventory —  in 2015 “as is” from a bank, with no inspection. Extensive water damage made it uninhabitable. The roof had collapsed, and the exterior was rotted.

The owner hired a structural engineer and architect. The original footprint was maintained, but with new windows, doors and roof. A dormer, stone steps and driveway were added. The rehabilitation replaced basement posts, first floor joists and flooring.

101 Compo Road South (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

37 Evergreen Avenue

The renovation of this 1938 colonial revival — located in the Evergreen Avenue Historic District — included the removal of a later-addition solarium in the front of the house. It was replaced by an addition within the existing footprint. Materials and design reflect and enhance the house’s original character. Owners Bruce McGuirk and Martha Constable worked with the HDC to ensure the work would be appropriate for the historic district.

37 Evergreen Avenue (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

6 Clover Lane 

This 1966 home — designed and built by George White — is a typical New England saltbox-style replication. Its 3rd owners — Lawrence and LJ Wilks — have taken special care to preserve the exterior.

6 Clover Lane (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Pics Of The Day #151

Wakeman Town Farm threw an open house this evening. A crowd of over 200 welcomed farmer Corey Thomas, and enjoyed the renovated facility — including the new Tim’s Kitchen, behind the sliding glass doors.

Animals were on their best behavior …

… while a string group entertained the guests. (Photos/Charlie Colasurdo)

Pic Of The Day #141

Teen volunteers at Wakeman Town Farm

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.)

Ginormous Plant Sale Set For Friday

How does the Wakeman Town Farm’s garden grow?

With a ton of help from the Westport Garden Club.

WTF has received a $5,000 gift from the WGC — the club’s largest single donation in its 93-year history. Funds will help create perennial gardens, at the newly renovated and enhanced property.

Front: Treaurer Katie Donovan presents the Westport Garden Club’s check to Wakeman Town Farm co-chair Liz Milwe. Top row (from left): Ellen Greenberg, WCG president; Christy Colasurdo, WTF co-chair; Carrie Aitkenhead, farm steward, Kathy Oberman Tracy, plant sale chair.

The grant was made possible by the Garden Club’s annual plant sale. This year’s event — one of Westport’s favorite springtime rituals — takes place on Friday (May 12, Saugatuck Congregational Church, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.).

After the sale, the club plans to donate any remaining plants to the Town Farm. Members will also help plant and tend the new gardens.

The Garden Club is one of those organizations whose work Westporters constantly admire, even if we don’t know it’s theirs.

Among many other activities, they plant, weed, prune and mulch sites like the Compo Beach entry and marina; Adams Academy; the Earthplace entrance; the Library’s winter garden near Jesup Green; various cemeteries, and the Nevada Hitchcock Memorial Garden at the Cross Highway/Weston Road intersection.

An astonishing array of plants are available on Friday. Among the most popular: “perkies.” These perennials come from local gardens, and thrive in our quirky Connecticut climate.

The Westport Garden Club plant sale is on, rain or shine. Exactly what you’d expect from this intrepid group, who do so much to “grow” our town.

Pic Of The Day #21

Wakeman Town Farm

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)

Gabby Wimer Digs Mealworms

Growing up in Westport, Gabby Wimer accomplished a lot. At Staples High School she was a 4-year varsity swimmer and water polo player. She played violin, and sang in the choir.

She spent 8 years swimming with the Y’s Water Rats, and helped out with Amnesty International.

But she never took Staples’ popular Environmental Science course. And she had nothing to do with Wakeman Town Farm.

Gabby always figured she’d go pre-med in college. And she was fascinated by the history of medicine.

The University of Chicago seemed a perfect fit. She majored in the history of medicine and global health. She did volunteer work in Rwanda.

Like many students, she had no idea where it would all lead. Then, as a senior, Gabby was chatting with 2 friends who had done global health work, in Nigeria and Guatemala.

Gabby Wimer (center), flanked by University of Chicago friends Joyce Lu and Elizabeth Frank.

Gabby Wimer (center), flanked by University of Chicago friends Joyce Lu and Elizabeth Frank.

They identified common problems — and vowed to take action.

They competed for the Hult Prize: up to $1 million, plus mentorship, for start-up enterprises that tackle grave issues faced by billions of people.

Enter mealworms.

The larval form of a beetle — once thought of as a pest — can be baked or fried, for human consumption as a healthful snack food. Mealworms don’t need much water and eat almost anything, so raising them can help improve nutrition in areas that desperately need it.

Mmmmm -- mealworms!

Mmmmm — mealworms!

The women made it to the Hult Prize regional finals, in Boston. They won $20,000 in seed funding, from 3 organizations, including the Clinton Global Initiative University Resolution Project.

In September, Gabby heads to Guatemala. Right now, she’s studying the best ways to farm mealworms in that country.

She’s set up 2 mealworm plots at Wakeman Town Farm. She and steward Mike Aitkenhead are experimenting with different foods found in Guatemala. Banana peels work particularly well.

She’s also testing different ways to produce mealworm powder — roasted in an oven, for example, or barbecued — along with the best grinding methods (food processor, mortar and pestle). Gabby’s colleagues are concocting recipes with tortillas and oatmeal.

The women’s organization is called MealFlour. The goal is for families in Guatemala — a country with the 4th-highest rate of malnutrition in the world — to learn how to build mealworm farms using recycled materials. The mealworms are then dried and ground into a flour that’s more than twice as protein-efficient as beef.

It’s a win-win: Along with nutritional benefits, MealFlour creates jobs. And mealworm farms are small: just one square foot.

“I always wanted to do global health work. But I never knew about mealworms,” Gabby says.

“This is perfect for me. It combines science, sustainable agriculture and public health.”

At first, she admits, “my friends were weirded out. But now they think it’s cool.”

Perhaps they were convinced by Gabby’s delicious mealworm cookies. They taste good, she says.

And — as she and her generation know — bringing sustainable agriculture and public health to areas of the globe that desperately need it is a recipe for success.

Mealworm cookies.

Mealworm cookies.


Click here for “06880+” — the easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!