A 'green' harvest celebrated in Westport
Celebrating the bounty of autumn, reflected resplendently in Wakeman Farm's gardens and farmland, Westport's Green Village Initiative (GVI) hosted its first Harvest Festival on Saturday night, supported by a cadre of volunteers and local businesses interested in preserving the town's agriculture history.
In 2008, Westport GVI lobbied to purchase the 2.2-acre farm on Cross Highway, which the town had bought from the Wakeman family. When Pearl Wakeman passed away a year and a half ago, the non-profit environmental organization was given permission to take over the residence, as well as continuing to cultivate the land as a working farm.
Constantino said the women's father "would be so pleased to see all of this ... He always wanted someone to take it over and keep it going as a working farm."
Her sister agreed. "I was at the RTM when they (Westport GVI) first came in to talk about their plans for the farm and we were just thrilled."
The farm house where the two sisters for most of their whole lives, though, has undergone major changes, courtesy of renovations made by Ted Auer, a certified "green" builder and owner of Westport's Diversified Builders, and Peter Wormser, a Westport resident and architect. (He is married to Liz Milwe, one of GVI's founders.) Plastered ceilings were demolished and the residence's exposed beams were painted, sheetrock repaired walls, original hardwood floors were refinished and new windows installed so that Mike Aitkenhead, head of Staples High School's Environmental Studies program, and his family could move in.
"There are four people who gave their life to this project and they are Ted, Peter and Cathy Talmadge and Sal Gilbertie," said Dan Levinson, co-founder of Westport GVI. "One day Ted just showed up and then, for six months, returned to crank out this beautiful house." Another volunteer, Betsy Phillips, a recent transplant to the Westport community from North Carolina, provided environmentally-conscious lighting for the fundraiser. Using 200 recycled glass bottles from Splash Restaurant, she took off the bottoms and placed votive candles inside. Resealing the bottoms, these creative light fixtures were hung on a tree located at the entrance to the party.
Levinson also brought in local photographer Stacy Bass to create a coffee table-style book, called "Grow," that would visually depict Westport GVI's mission at Wakeman Farm. A native of Westport, Bass enthusiastically embraced the project. The response to "Grow," which was handed out to all of the guests attending the party, was overwhelmingly positive, and it's now available at the Westport Historical Society.
"When I set out to work on this book project, I had no idea how much I would enjoy getting to know all of the people I encountered nor how much passion and enthusiasm I would find for GVI, Wakeman Farm and the local food movement," Bass noted.
A commitment to changing the way Westporters think about the environment, local food and maintaining the town's agriculture attracted local businesses to pitch in by offering appetizers and a selection of wines. The silent auction featured organic food-related prizes, such as a cooking class with Chef Pietro Scotto of Da Pietro's in Westport; dinner for two at the Dressing Room restaurant; chef Michel Nischan's latest cook book "Sustainability Delicious;" dinner for four at Chef Bill Taibe's Le Farm; dinner for 10 cooked by chefs Bill Taibe and the Dressing Room's John Vaast with wine pairings donated by Mimi McClaughlin of Saugatuck Grain and Grape, and an "eco-friendly pizza party for 20" provided by Jeff Borofsky of Skinny Pines, a mobile, wood-fired, brick-oven caterer. Other fun items bid on were a fishing excursion and personal gardens designed and executed by Westport GVI staff and interns.