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Cultivating simple pleasures: Wakeman Town Farm shares ever-green traditions

Published 8:54 am, Sunday, May 4, 2014

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  • Christina Wickson shears the resident sheep at Wakeman Town Farm during the GreenDay open house on Saturday. Photo: Nancy Guenther Chapman / Westport News
    Christina Wickson shears the resident sheep at Wakeman Town Farm during the GreenDay open house on Saturday. Photo: Nancy Guenther Chapman

 

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Christina Wickson showed off skills handed down for six generations, Bill Fischer tried to teach children the intricacies of a Maypole dance, and the Westport Woman's Club dedicated a new automated greenhouse, full of seedlings.

It all took place in Mike Aitkenhead's back yard -- also known as Wakeman Town Farm -- Saturday as part of the townwide GreenDay activities organized by Aitkenhead's Staples High School students.

"This is sort of our spring open house, just to get people back out, seeing the farm, hopefully getting them interested in upcoming programs and events," said Aitkenhead, who teaches AP environmental science at the school.

Aitkenhead and his family live on Wakeman Town Farm, where activities have blossomed in the four years since he moved in as the farm steward to regenerate the historic property, according to Christy Colasurdo, a member of the board that oversees the town-owned property.

"It's almost better than what we could have envisioned," Colasurdo said. "We envisioned a community hub. It's exceeded our expectations in that respect. I mean, look around, people of all different ages, all different backgrounds coming together, and it's so simple. It's not like we're doing anything outrageously interesting. People just want to have a simple, old-fashioned time."

Children took a tour with Aitkenhead before watching Wickson expertly shear two sheep -- Daisy and Bailey, also known as Cookies and Cream -- with skills she said were passed down from her great-great-great-grandfather.

Some of the kids took off to pound the drums or swing on the playground's swings, while elders watched the greenhouse dedication. Then people of all ages took Maypole ribbons and tried to figure out how to pass in opposite directions, in what Fischer called a "traffic jam."

First Selectman Jim Marpe said the farm has helped people in Westport understand the importance of sustainable living and has imparted skills to pull that off.

"You see all these children," he said. "Young, young children are understanding what sustainability is all about, and how much fun it is. I mean these kids are having fun, whether it's with the sheep and the goats, the ducks or just the gardens. These things may take generations to change the way we do things, but knowing where our food comes from.

"I am old enough to have grown up near farms," Marpe added. "I didn't grow up on a farm, but I saw farms. We were able to go out and get fresh vegetables, so I understood where food came from. That is harder and harder to understand in our society, so I think this is great. It's easy to see how popular this with all the kids, of all ages."

Board member Annelise McCay said there are 40 children currently learning in classes at the farm, and a three-week summer camp in July will give youngsters an opportunity to make egg salad from eggs laid by the farm's chickens, harvest plants and set up a farmer's market, and learn to make mint lemonade.

Colasurdo said teenagers built the beds for the farm's garden and learned to compost with waste donated by Fresh Market.

"I got involved because there was no place in town for my son, who was interested in farming and sustainable living," Colasurdo said.

Her son, Charlie, a Coleytown Middle School student, walked around the property showing children a duck, and said he now has a flock of ducks at home.

"He learns here, but he does it at home ... It's like a whole educational cycle that you really can't get anywhere else," she said.

Westport Woman's Club members said they were happy to see the greenhouse in operation, one year after they awarded a $5,000 grant for the project.

"The woman's club is just happy to support something that has to do with the environment and the children and the greening of America, all of those things," said Rose Jordan, chairwoman of the Ruegg Grants Committee.

"It's all automated," Aitkenhead said. "Rather than just a shell of glass, it's solar panel, automatic watering, automatic ventilation. I just don't have the time to do what I need to do all day, so it just kind of takes care of that for me."

Marpe said the farm has helped him understand how "relatively easy" it is to get "delicious fresh eggs" by having your own chickens.

"It's also shown me how easy it is to create your own garden at home and to do it in a way that allows you to grow the kinds of vegetables that we want to eat," he said. "To me that's just very exciting."

A future farm-sponsored event is a May 17 tour of local chicken coops. Also planned this summer are cheese making and canning workshops.

For more information about the farm, visit: www.wakemantownfarm.org