Tag Archives: Wakeman Town Farm

Broad Horizons At Wakeman Town Farm

It always feels good to attend a fundraiser for a local organization. (And there are many fundraisers and groups in Westport.)

You eat and drink well. You’re entertained, and can win cool auction and raffle items. Plus, you’re contributing to a worthy cause.

However, you don’t always know exactly where your money goes.

If you attended last fall’s Harvest Fest at Wakeman Town Farm though, read on. (Keep reading if you didn’t go too, of course.)

Some of those funds went to support Horizons at Sacred Heart University. The tuition-free academic enrichment program serves low-income Bridgeport students in kindergarten through 8th grade. It’s one of 60 national chapters.

Thanks to Harvest Fest, more than 170 youngsters came to WTF last week. They learned about life on a farm, and got hands-on experiences with animals and plants.

Learning about life at Wakeman Town Farm.

On Friday, they had a huge pizza party. Volunteers fired up the new wood oven, donated by Robin Tauck (with stone from the Gault Family, and a gas grill by the Wormser family). Transportation was underwritten by Bankwell Westport.

But none of it would have been possible without help from Harvest Fest.

Remember that the next time you head to a fundraiser. The catered food and fancy wine is wonderful. Tickets to a Yankees Stadium suite, or a vacation at someone’s Caribbean home, is nice.

But the true joy comes when your money is put to good, real, important use.

Every kid loves pizza. Every counselor worries about the time. (Photos/Robert Osgood)

Meet The Montonis: Wakeman Town Farm’s New Stewards

Many Westporters know and love Wakeman Town Farm.

Many others are only vaguely aware.

They’ve heard of it — maybe driven past on Cross Highway — but have no clue what goes on at the sustainable living/education/event center that in 2010, after a century as a private family farm, went back to its roots under town ownership.

John and Jennifer Montoni were in that second category.

Now they’re Wakeman Town Farm’s new caretakers.

Nico, John, Jen and JC Montoni, on their front porch at Wakeman Town Farm.

The couple — Norwalk natives who moved to Westport nearly a decade ago, in large part for the schools — follow in the footsteps of Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead. WTF’s first stewards had 2 young children, and brought a family vibe to the farm and farmhouse that for 3 generations had been owned by the Wakemans.

After 7 years, the Aitkenheads were followed by Corey Thomas. His focus was on education offerings. When his 2-year contract ended this year, the WTF board decided to split the roles. John Montoni — who had his own construction firm — was the perfect choice for the property management role.

(Farah Masani, a local farmer and former food procurement specialist at the Barteca Group, will now lead the teen apprentice program. Chryse Terrill, a longtime educator, has been hired as the “Little Farmers” director.)

John has a big task. But until last winter, he and his wife — a former hair stylist who earned her nursing degree in 2014 — knew virtually nothing about the  2 1/2-acre place. It includes a farmhouse, working farm, gardens, and Community-Supported Agriculture shed.

Wakeman Town Farm: Westport’s sustainability center.

Last winter, they attended a Staples High School wrestling team fundraiser there. (Their oldest son, JC, was a co-captain.)

WTF — with the new Tim’s Kitchen inside, and a welcoming patio outdoors — has become a great party and event site, for non-profits, private organizations, even individuals. John and Jen were amazed at the facility, and excited to learn the back story.

Christy Colasurdo, WTF committee co-chair emeritus, told them the farm was always looking for volunteers. With JC ready to head off to Bentley College, and son Nico entering his sophomore year at Brunswick School, John and Jen were happy to find a way to stay involved in the community.

When the steward/caretaker role came open, the Montonis quickly stepped up.

With Jen and their sons’ help, John oversees and maintains the property, handles animal chores, manages employees and helps volunteers.

JC, Nico and John Montoni at work on Wakeman Town Farm.

Since moving in July 1, he’s worked on a new chicken coop (and will build a new run); helped with the new pizza oven; gotten sprinklers up and running; is installing an outdoor sink, and washer/dryer, and performed the maintenance chores any homeowner knows well.

But not many homeowners care for goats, alpacas and other animals. Or an enormous vegetable garden that takes up much of their land.

The Montonis love their new life. “Everyone is great,” Jen says of the ever-changing cast of volunteers, campers, counselors, committee members, chefs and CSA members. “And they’re all here because they want to be.”

“There’s always something going on,” JC notes. “This is a very cool old house. And it’s great to have a farm in the back yard.”

As with everyone at WTF, John and Jen are learning a lot. “I never thought I’d be taking care of alpacas!” he laughs.

The goats are his favorite animal. He calls them “mischievous, smart troublemakers, with a cool personality. They’ll walk right up to you, and chew on anything.”

John and Jen Montoni, with friends.

Each day, John says, Wakeman Town Farm is “full of life and activity.” At night it’s “quiet, and magical.” He and Jen sit on the porch, listening to the animals.

They look forward to whatever lies ahead — including new chores. They know each season will be different. They’ll continue learning, working, and keeping the farm fresh — and family friendly.

Another Sign Of The Times

Westporters have a complex relationship with advertising signs.

We don’t want them clogging traffic islands — particularly when they’re illegal.

But for non-profits, they’re great vehicles for passing the word to passersby.

Alert “06880” reader/avid volunteer Amy Ancel writes:

People have been removing non-profits’ event yard signs from areas all over town — even those permitted and approved by the first selectman’s office.

This week’s thefts include signs for the Westport Library Book Sale and Wakeman Town Farm’s Family Fun Day.

I checked with Chip Stephens of the Planning and Zoning Commission. He and fellow commissioner Al Gratrix stopped removing illegal signs a year ago.

So it appears that members of the general public are removing our signs from town roads. They can’t do that!

Of course, commercial signs — like for Mosquito Joe, Hauling Unlimited and kids’ camps — are not legal anywhere.

But non-profit event signs are legal. They are approved by the first selectman’s office, for specific locations. They should not be touched by the public. This includes traffic islands maintained by local businesses.

These signs are one of two main ways non-profits have of advertising special events. (The other is social media.)

And these signs cost a lot of money. We try to reuse them, to create less waste!

We spend a lot of time and energy placing them. We’re only allowed 15 signs per event. It’s so aggravating to see them go missing almost as soon as we put them up!

Chef Brian Lewis Flays Competition

There’s always something going on at Wakeman Town Farm.

Last night, for example, Tim’s Kitchen was the site of an intimate chefs’ dinner.

Brian Lewis — chef/owner of the wildly popular Cottage and OKO — hosted the event, as part of a sold-out series.

What the guests didn’t know is that one of the dishes on the menu — English pea sachetti with robiola cheese, lemon brown butter and sage crumbs — was the same one Lewis had cooked when he taped “Beat Bobby Flay.”

Brian Lewis, cooking last night at Wakeman Town Farm …

And the episode aired that very night.

So as guests enjoyed their great meal, the rest of America was watching Chef Lewis go head to head with Bobby Flay.

Dessert included viewing the competition on TV.

The icing on the cake: Lewis won!

… and on TV.

“06880” is pleased to pass on this very tasty tidbit.

(Hat tip: Christy Colasurdo)

$10,000 Non-Profit Grants Available From Westport Woman’s Club

In 2015, a $5,000 grant enabled Earthplace to update maps of their 74-acre sanctuary. Visitors can now find all trails — including those suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.

In 2016, a gift of $10,000 helped Project Return repaint their historic North Compo Road home.

A 2017 grant of nearly $5,000 gave the Westport Astronomical Society a new solar telescope for its Rolnick Observatory.

Last year, Wakeman Town Farm used $1,200 to purchase an innovative mobile chicken coop.

Wakeman Town Farm’s mobile chicken coop.$10.

All of those “Ruegg Grants” came from the Westport Woman’s Club. Established in 1995 by former member Lea Ruegg, they’re given each spring to a local non-profit with a project that makes a meaningful difference in social services, health, safety, the arts or education.

Other previous recipients include ITN Coastal Connecticut, CLASP Homes, the Westport Police Department, Hall-Brooke Hospital, Interfaith Housing, Mercy Learning Center, Toquet Hall, the Westport Rotary Club, Staples Players and the Westport Library.

Your organization could be next. The Woman’s Club is accepting submissions now through March 8.

The Westport Woman’s Club is no Jenny-come-lately to the field of philanthropy. Since 1907 they’ve supported area educational, charitable, cultural and health services. (Their first projects: sidewalks, bathrooms at Compo Beach, and hot lunches and vaccinations in schools.)

Ruegg Grants are now one of their signature projects. For an application, click here. To learn more about the Westport Woman’s Club, click here or call 203-227-4240.

Pic Of The Day #596

Happy Hanukkah, from Wakeman Town Farm

Food Rescue: Simple Solution To A Tough Problem

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.

Unsung Hero #62

If you see a monarch butterfly around town — at the Community Garden next to Long Lots Elementary School, Wakeman Town Farm or anyplace else — you’ll marvel at its beauty and grace.

You should also thank Alice Ely.

Alice Ely

The Westporter is a garden coach. She gardens “with you, not for you,” her website says. “Whether you are just beginning, want to take your skills to the next level, branch out or troubleshoot, I’m happy to help.”

She is a master gardener and a compost maven. But she holds a special place in her heart for monarchs.

Alice’s inspiration, design and transplanting skills helped create the butterfly garden at the Community Garden, across from the compost area.

That garden is now a registered monarch way station. Filled with milkweed and pollinator plants, it is flourishing.

Inspired Community Garden members help plant, water and maintain it.

Alice was also a driving force behind the habitat at WTF, and 2 others on Cross Highway. Beyond providing monarchs with homes, she helps ensure them a pathway of habitats on their migratory routes.

There’s a lot more to that than just planting milkweed and “letting nature do its thing,” Alice notes. It’s painstaking work — but it pays off in gorgeous, environmentally crucial ways.

A monarch butterfly, at the Westport Community Garden.

Monarch butterflies — and the rest of nature that they nurture — can’t thank Alice Ely.

But “06880” readers can. Which is why she is this week’s Unsung Hero.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Send nominations to: dwoog@optonline.net)

Pic Of The Day #387

Wakeman Town Farm (Photo/Jeff Simon)

Wakeman Town Farm Grows Its Community Space

Two weeks ago, hundreds of kids scampered around Wakeman Town Farm.  The first-ever Eggstravaganza featured an egg hunt, egg toss, egg painting, several Big Bunnies for photo ops, many more real bunnies and fuzzy chicks, plus cocoa and coffee.

It was fun, family-friendly — and one of more than 50 special events held recently in and near WTF’s Tim’s Kitchen. The new community space — including a classroom — opened last fall.

The sustainable agriculture center always hosted farmer camps and apprentice programs. Now it’s expanded its offerings to 12 months a year.

It was Double Easter Bunny Day for this youngster at Wakeman Town Farm. (Photo/Tomira Wilcox)

The word is getting out: You can rent the space too.

Wakeman Town Farm hosts developmentally challenged adults from STAR in a cooking series; a media brunch to promote the Westport Library’s Flex program; a Christmas bazaar benefiting Homes with Hope; a photo shoot for Melissa & Doug toy company, along with corporate and non-profit meetings, birthday and anniversary parties, bar mitzvah bunches, fundraisers and private barbecues.

Of course, regular programs continue: preschoolers and their parents participate in Mommy & Me; middle schoolers learn knife skills; Staples students garden; Westporters of all ages attend cooking classes, and agricultural traditions like canning and preserving the harvest stay strong.

Coming up: a Women’s Business Development Council presentation on starting a restaurant; a new Cookbook Club focused on changing your gut bacteria; a Wine, Cheese & Chocolate event; Green Day; a BBQ cooking class with Bob LeRose of Bobby Q’s, and a culinary nutrition class.

Staples High School senior Ella De Bruijn and volunteer Ellen Goldman assist Anne Campbell in Wakeman Town Farm’s Tim’s Kitchen, at an Asian appetizers cooking class.

During the 4-year planning and budgeting stages, a few town officials were skeptical that the new space would be cost-effective — or that it would be used very much.

Both questions have been answered.

Like every other Westporter, they’re invited to Wakeman Town Farm to see for themselves.

They’ve got plenty of events to choose from.

(Wakeman Town Farm hosts a Volunteer Day from 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow: Saturday, April 14. Interested teenagers and adults can learn about spring and summer events, programs and farm jobs that depend on volunteers. Among them: giving tours, manning tables at events like the Maker Faire and Dog Festival, planting organic garden beds, and tossing burgers and painting faces at Family Fun Day and Green Day.)

A big crowd gathers outside Tim’s Kitchen for last weekend’s Wakeman Town Farm Eggstravaganza. All told, there were 1,400 eggs. (Photo/Tomira Wilcox)