Out of the Woods / Wakeman Farm: back to the future
Published 6:37 pm, Monday, July 18, 2011
If my friends Isaac and Pearl Wakeman were still alive today, they would be pleased with the idea of erecting a 20-foot high windmill on their former farm as a source of energy.
While these old New England Yankees were traditional farmers, I discovered that they were always open to suggestions when you talked with them.
Certainly, the windmill project--conceived by the Green Village Initiative (GVI) -- a volunteer-based grass roots non-profit organization establish in 2008 to support Westporters who are passionate about creating local environmental and community change -- represents a constructive step forward.
They have already reinvigorated Wakeman Town Farm into a facility that has inspired healthy food production, responsible land stewardship, and sustainable practices and community service. It's called "Grow" and it was created "to celebrate the diversity of people in our community and beyond who have joined together to help the local food movement thrive," according to its mission statement.
Ike Wakeman told me years ago that he hoped his farm would not be forgotten and that it would be put to good use by the town. He's already gotten his wish. But the addition of a windmill to bring more energy to Westport is an extra bonus that he and his family could not have dreamed of.
The Historic District Commission will decide the feasibility of the plan, which calls for a windmill to be mounted on a barn or another roof mount. There are a lot of people involved in this forward-looking project, including the Staples High School Wreckers robotics team, which garnered top honors in St. Louis at the First Tech Challenge World Championship in May, according to an article in last Friday's edition of this newspaper by reporter Kirk Lang.
The Staple students have been working on the project for some time, and it should be completed any day. According to the plan, the power from the windmill will be connected to a battery storage system and will be used to charge power tools at the farm.
"The windmill is certainly the backbone of what GVI is all about," Dan Khan, a Westport resident overseeing the project, was quoted as saying in the news article. "We saw it as a logical tie-in with Wakeman."
Indeed, it is. The students have already volunteered a total of more than 100 man hours and further work will involve wiring electrical components and mounting. GVI is leasing the remaining 2.2 acres of land on which the Wakemans lived for the purpose of rejuvenating the farm.
Originally, the Wakemans sold the bulk of their sprawling farm to the town with the understanding that it would be left as open space. Some of it has already been converted into playing fields.
As a result of the Westport-based project, other towns have also take up the idea of "greening" their open spaces. In Bridgeport, for example, GVI is planning to cultivate gardens in all 30 Bridgeport public schools and completed the first phase this summer.
GVI is also active in Ridgefield, Darien, and Weston. Each municipality has town managers in charge. The windmill project in Westport--officially named theWakeman Farm & Sustainability Center -- according to GVI chairman Dan Levinson -- is a direct byproduct of the goals of GVI -- which include creating an organic homestead providing hands=on guidance for anyone who wants to be involved with energy conservation and land stewardship,
The windmill, estimated to cost only $1,000 for materials--is one more example, I think, of a Westport tradition of creativity and entrepreneurship. The farm, Lang's article pointed out, maintains workshops, summer internships for seniors, and after-school programs for middle and elementary school students. The project is being managed by Staples High School teacher Michael Aitkenhead, who recently moved into the refurbished Wakeman house with his family.
When this observer arrived in Westport in the summer of 1968, the Wakeman Farm immediately became part of my family's life. We walked or drove around the corner from where we once lived, and purchased all of the fruits and vegetables and chickens we could eat. For us -- straight from the crowded, impersonal supermarkets of New York City -- it was a thrilling experience.
I became friends with the Wakesmans and their family, most of whom lived nearby. It was the beginning of something important in my life: a new experience, learning to appreciate farming and the soil.
Over the years, of course, a controversy broke out when the town proposed to put ballfields on some of the open space it purchased from the Wakesmans. Many people, including this writer, objected to that plan as not in the best interests of the town. However it turned out fine.
Not only has the Wakeman farm been converted into recreational facilities, but now, with GVI serving as the sparkplug, it has been reinvigorated `as an environmental project `from which the entire town can benefit.
It addition, it has brought many people form diverse backgrounds together in what I would call a "renaissance" in farming in our town.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears each Wednesday.