Wakeman Town Farm programs provide “link to the past”
WESTPORT — Eight years ago Christy Colasurdo and a group of other Westport residents set out to bring Wakeman Town Farm back to life. Settled by the English immigrant John Wakeman in 1629, the plot of land on Cross Highway was consequently inhabited by eleven generations of Wakeman family members and served time as a dairy, poultry, and vegetable farm before the family sold the land to the town of Westport for $350,000 in 1970.
Part of the 41-acre property became the sports field adjacent to Bedford Middle School, but the farmhouse and neighboring three acres remained fallow until Colasurdo and her team, inspired by the burgeoning farm to table movement, set out to revive the property as a demonstration farm.
“We consider this place a link to the past in a way because its a former family farm and very rich in agricultural history,” Colasurdo said. Over the past eight years Colasurdo and the team of Wakeman volunteers have focused primarily on the development and fundraising aspects of launching a new nonprofit because, while the farmland is owned by the town, it does not receive taxpayer money.
With a new state-of-the-art kitchen facility complete, Colasurdo said the Wakeman team is ready to launch a more robust array of programming at the farm. “We dreamed about this place and what we wanted to do for it and now that we have this facility we can do things year-round. It’s just a dream come through for us,” Colasurdo said.
Many of Wakeman’s programs are geared towards kids. From morning ‘Mommy and Me’ classes with acoustic music and animal time to an active teen council, Wakeman has programs for almost every grade level.
The farm serves as an anecdote to modern-tech oriented life for many of today’s youth, Colasurdo said. “Because they’re doing something with their hands and they’re busy the whole time they communicate with each other where a lot of times kids get together and they don’t know how to communicate because they’re so used to being on their phones,” Colasurdo said.
Wakeman’s apprentice programs, culinary camps, and teen council provide an alternative for middle and high schoolers who may not be involved in theatre or sports, Colasurdo said. “There are kids who don’t really know where they are and they don’t really have a place and so this place is awesome for them,” Colasurdo said.
Corey Thomas lives at Wakeman and serves as the farm director. He started in August after hearing of the position from a professor of his from the University of Connecticut, where he received a bachelors in Animal Science and a masters in education. “When I heard about this position it was instantly what I was looking for,” Thomas said, adding that he didn’t want to go into a standard high school teaching position.
At the farm, Thomas supervises the animals and garden production and teaches the K-5 and middle school farm clubs in addition to summer and vacation day camps. “Everyday is totally different. With my kids I’m all about getting outside, getting them more acquainted with the farm. A learn by doing mentality from planting new seedlings in the greenhouse to searching for pollinators in our garden to feeding the animals,” Thomas said.
Throughout the year, Wakeman offers eight-week cooking classes for different age groups. Lisa Finn, a Westport resident, teaches the ‘cooking around the globe’ class each Wednesday night for students in grades five to eight. Finn said her classes are usually an even split between boys and girls and typically include 10 to 12 kids. Although she’s working with kids, Finn said her class goes beyond the basic kid's cuisine of mac and cheese and includes Latin American, middle-eastern, and African dishes. The rise of food shows about global cuisine has elevated the food scene and sparked an interest in many kids to try different flavor profiles, Finn said.
Wakeman by no means only caters to kids, Colasurdo said, and also includes cooking classes for adults taught by well-known chefs in the area on topics from cooking with essential oils and spring cleanse to the benefits of bone broth. The farm also offers an adult cheese, chocolate and wine information and hang-out night.
Perhaps the heart of Wakeman’s programs is out on the farm where adults can come on Saturdays for spring workshops and learn about planting their own organic garden, creating a monarch waystation, or maple sugaring. In addition, family fun days, such as upcoming summer sunset Sundays with barbeque and music provide a relaxing place for people to gather as a community, Colasurdo said.
“We want to put Wakeman Town Farm on the map and have it be well-known just like any of the other entities that have been around much longer than we have,” Colasurdo said, adding, “we say this is your town farm.”
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