In wake of GVI's exit, new group sprouts to manage Wakeman Farm
Updated 11:55 am, Thursday, August 18, 2011
By Kirk Lang
Green Village Initiative may have cut ties with the Wakeman Farm & Sustainability Center, but the 2.2-acre farm won't lie fallow.
A transition team is being assembled to manage the property after GVI's $1-a-year lease was officially terminated Wednesday by the Board of Selectmen, and the farm reverted to town control. Members of the transition team include Liz Milwe and Cathy Talmadge, two of five GVI board members who resigned several weeks ago when a rift emerged over the review for Michael Aitkenhead, a Staples High School environmental science teacher who managed the farm and lived on the property. The other two members are Elizabeth Beller, a Staples High School PTA vice president, and Steve Edwards, director of the town's Department of Public Works.
At the conclusion of the selectmen's meeting, Milwe said the goals of the team will essentially be the same as those promulgated by GVI -- using the town-owned farm as a center that offers hands-on guidance for those interested in local food production, energy conservation, and land stewardship.
Aitkenhead is in the midst of moving off the farm following GVI's abrupt decision to withdraw from the lease two years into its seven-year lease. Whoever takes on the role of the on-site farm manager would likely not be paid, but would be able to live on the farm rent free, according to the transition team members. The group will be solidifying its mission in the next few weeks and will then work on job descriptions for the farm.
"We have to work on how we execute the mission," Milwe said.
After the meeting, the team met privately with Selectman Shelly Kassen. At the earlier meeting, Kassen expressed no bitterness toward GVI, despite the fact it pulled out before it had agreed to manage the farm. In fact, she said, improvements were made to the property in the relatively short time GVI was involved.
"What we're taking back now is a property that looks nothing like it did when Ms. (Pearl) Wakeman passed away," Kassen said. She was referring to the wife of Isaac Wakeman, who sold the nearly 40-acre farm to the town in 1970. While most of the site has since been developed as playing fields, Isaac and Pearl Wakeman were allowed to continue living on a 2.2-acre slice of the property until their deaths. Pearl Wakeman, the latter of the two to die, passed away in 2009, clearing the way for the farm project to begin.
"It certainly has been a benefit to Westport," added First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. At the height of the summer, the site had 20 interns, many of them from Staples. Also, children of all ages have visited the farm, its demonstration gardens and learned about sustainable living.
Joseloff said it brings the town "back to our roots."
And, he added, "People are realizing they can grow their own. It's healthy. It's educational. It's fun."
Though the transition team will not be an official town committee, it plans to model itself after the Levitt Pavilion's governing board. The group will research other town farms to see how they are governed and what they do.
Finances will be another issue the group has to consider. Asked about an approximate budget figure, Talmadge estimated that $20,000 would provide an adequate cushion. Milwe added that about $6,000 has already been pledged from the community.
"Obviously, nothing would go forward unless we raise the funds," Milwe said.
If, for some reason, the funds cannot be raised and the farm cannot be continued, the site could possibly be used for local work-force housing, according to Kassen.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the Wakeman Farm & Sustainability Center should contact Beller at email@example.com