Tag Archives: Wakeman Town Farm

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!

James O’Brien Farms Garden Technologies

The next time you see a kid hunched over a smartphone screen, oblivious to the world, don’t assume he or she is idly Snapchatting, sexting or searching for Pokemon.

If the teenager is James O’Brien, he might be listening to a TED Talk.

And learning how to reimagine agriculture.

Not long ago James — a rising Staples High School senior, Oprhenians singer and Staples Players stage star — stumbled on a TED Talk about African farmers. Caleb Harper — director of MIT Labs’ Open Agriculture Initiative — talked about changing the world food system by connecting growers with technology. His goal is to grow delicious, nutrient-dense food, indoors anywhere in the world.

James learned that a shipping container-sized computerized device can help preserve agricultural knowledge, and maximize the effects of air and water on crops and plants.

He was especially intrigued to discover that a smaller device is available, for anyone to build and learn from.

James knew nothing about farming. He has not taken Environmental Studies at Staples.

But he downloaded the designs. When school was out in June, he went to work.

James now grows lettuce — in a tiny bit of water, not soil. Software monitors every aspect of growth. Every time he looks in his box, James learns about chemistry, physics and circuitry. (He now knows, for example, that lettuce grows best with 16 hours of light, followed by 2 hours of darkness. The device controls those hours.)

James O'Brien, with his home-built lettuce box.

James O’Brien, with his home-built device. Inside, he grows lettuce.

Inspired by his lettuce — it grows much more quickly in water than in soil — he’s passing his knowledge on.

He’s shown his device to students at Mike Aitkenhead’s Wakeman Town Farm summer camp, talking with them about the importance of sustainability.

James O'Brien, talking to Wakeman Town Farm campers. Director Mike Aitkenhead is on the table at left.

James O’Brien, talking to Wakeman Town Farm campers. Director Mike Aitkenhead is on the table at left.

James has also started Workshop Garden Technologies. His goal is to use the Open Agriculture Initiative’s Food Computer platform to educate and inspire coming generations.

“I want to create a space for kids to tinker and experiment like I did,” he says.

Meanwhile, his lettuce thrives.

Next up: strawberries, beans or tomatoes.

“There are lots of possibilities,” says Westport’s newest — and most innovative — farmer.

(For more information on James O’Brien’s Workshop Garden Technologies, click here or email workshopgarden@gmail.com)

James O'Brien - logo


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!

Harvest Fest: Growing A Classroom At Wakeman Town Farm

Since its inception just a few years ago, Wakeman Town Farm has become an important, respected — even beloved — Westport institution.

Students visit for school programs, events, tours and camps. They learn first hand what it means to grow organic produce, from seed to plate. Many volunteer, discovering a passion for animals, gardening or sustainable agriculture.

Adults take classes too, and join the WTF CSA.

Running a farm takes work — everyone knows that.

It also takes money.

Despite its name, Wakeman Town Farm is not funded by the town. Westport leases the property to WTF; directors raise money to pay for all operating costs, including animal feed and care, maintenance and snow plowing.

The Wakeman Farm.

The Wakeman Farm.

Now they’re soliciting capital for a bigger project. WTF hopes to build a year-round classroom and kitchen. That’s the key to becoming a self-sustaining entity, operating 12 months a year with cooking classes, films, book signings, intimate chef’s dinners, community meetings and homesteading workshops.

The current classroom lacks insulation, severely limiting program options. For instance, this year 80 mothers flocked to the first “Mommy and Me” sessions. Despite its appeal, the program could not continue during colder months.

WTF’s annual fundraiser is Saturday, September 12 (6 p.m., at the farm). “Harvest Fest” includes live music; seasonal menus created by local chefs using artisinal cheeses, produce and meats sourced from small Connecticut farmers; signature drinks and wine pairings, and a fantastic auction offering unique experiences in dining and travel (like a 3-night Rome trip with a special Vatican visit, and a luxury suite at the Barclay’s Center with food and drinks for a party of 24).

How you gonna keep Westport’s kids (and adults) down on the farm?

You can start by heading to Saturday’s Harvest Fest.

(Click here for Harvest Fest tickets — or if you can’t attend, to donate to Wakeman Town Farm.)

Scenes from last year's Harvest Fest.

Scenes from last year’s Harvest Fest.

Staples Students Are Complete SLOBs

Today was as sweet as it gets.

Staples students could have celebrated the spectacular weather by going to the beach. Playing tennis, golf, frisbee or with each other. Studying for AP tests that start tomorrow, even.

Instead, over 100 boys — and 80 or so parents — spent the day on community service projects all around Westport.

The Staples Service League of Boys — SLOBs for, lovingly, short — headed out to the Bacharach Houses, Gillespie Center, Compo and Burying Hill Beaches, Wakeman Town Farm, Linxweiler House, Powell House, Project Return, ABC House and Earthplace.

They wielded tools...

They wielded tools…

They weeded, planted, mulched, picked up garbage, painted and cleaned.

...got dirty...

…got dirty…

They worked long and hard. They did manual labor, and learned some skills. They worked side by side with their parents, and a few siblings.

...picked up garbage...

…picked up garbage…

It’s all part of SLOBs’ ongoing commitment to their town. So far this year, they’ve contributed more than 2,300 hours of service.

And how did you spend your day?

...filled and hauled wheelbarrows...

…filled and hauled wheelbarrows…

...learned new skills...

…learned new skills…

...took down branches...

…took down branches…

...bonded with their parents...

…bonded with their parents…

...and siblings...

…and siblings…

...and left the town far better than it had been just a few hours earlier.

…and left the town far better than it had been just a few hours earlier. (Photos/Emily Prince)

WTF? Alpacas In Westport!

A mother and daughter are enjoying life at Wakeman Town Farm.

A mother and daughter alpaca, that is.

The woolly llama-like creatures came here yesterday from a farm in Clinton, Connecticut. Mother LeMay and daughter Autumn Joy are already getting along nicely with WTF’s goats and sheep.

LeMay (left) and Autumn Joy.

LeMay (left) and Autumn Joy.

In other Wakeman news, steward Carrie Aitkenhead has joined the blogosphere. WTFCarrie is a lively spot to keep up with farm happenings, and read all about favorite animals and season recipes.

Recent stories covered recycling, a “green” greenhouse and chili.

I’m sure the alpacas will get their day in the sun too.

 

Tooling Around The Farm

Today was fantastic for anything outdoors related. If a realtor couldn’t sell a house with today’s spectacular weather and fall foliage, she should find another line of work.

Meanwhile, down on the (Wakeman Town) Farm, volunteers were out in force. They helped harvest fall vegetables, and prepare for the arrival of sheep and alpacas (!).

The crew was helped by the Tauck family’s “Trip’n trailer.” It hauls tools to national, state and local parks, to help with events like this.

Tauck tools 1

In the spirit of volunteerism, Robin Tauck says that if you’ve got a group project and need shovels, rakes, trowels and wheelbarrows, just call 203-227-0677.

The tools are free. The experience is priceless.