Giving new meaning to the phrase "down and dirty," three farm hands at Wakeman Town Farm settled their differences Saturday in an arena of mud.

What began as a dispute over being too nice to one another culminated in a fun -- and extremely messy -- frolic before giddy onlookers who turned out for the farm's first Family Fun Day.

Liz Beller, Farah Masani and Patti Popp -- otherwise, their name Saturday was mud -- tangled in the Farmer Mud Mash, one of the attractions designed to public awareness of the agriculture-education center.

"The reality is there are so many young, strong women who are doing farming today," said Michael Aitkenhead, steward of the town-owned farm on Cross Highway and a teacher at Staples High School.

He said Beller, the chairwoman of the farm's board of directors, and others thought the mud-wrestling event would be different way to highlight the spirit and toughness of some of the area's female farmers.

While they weren't actually trying to pin one another in muddy submission holds, Beller vs. Masani, who runs Farah's Farm in Wilton, vs. Popp, of Sport Hill Farm in Easton, competed to recover a slippery collection of plastic toy animals submerged in a pool of muck. Popp emerged the ultimate victor, edging Masani in a sudden-death toy dive.

Beller recently filled in for an ailing Popp at her vendor stand at the Westport Farmer's Market. A few weeks later, when Beller happened by Popp's stand as a customer, Popp insisted she not pay for her produce. Beller, however, insisted she take the money.

One thing led to another, and the two ladies began jawing and raising fists over the money-or-not "quarrel," although in a good-natured, mocking way. However, the joke carried over when they subsequently had dinner with Masani, who at one point threatened to take them both outside.

"I was like, `Stop, ladies! I'm going to take you down!' " said Masani, who entered the mud arena wearing flippers, mask and snorkel. "It was just a crazy, crazy conversation, and it led to this."

Hoping to highlight some of that pluck and spirit -- and educate the public about the fortitude of female farmers -- the mud-wrestling event was hatched.

"I have friends, even today, that think that farmers are men and women are their wives," Beller said. "Patty and Farah are two of the best farmers I've ever known."

"I thought it was kind of a nice idea to bring the attention to the female farmers in the area," said Kara Lehrer of Westport. "I didn't realize there was such a modern shift."

Others activities at the Family Fun Day included a pie-eating contest, face painting and close-up visits with the many animals.

"I think the chickens are my favorite part," said Derek Amlicke, 8, of Westport.

Asked about the wrestling, he said, "Yeah, I liked that. It was very funny."

"I thought it was going to be so much more attacking each other, but it was a lot of fun and very entertaining," said Sasha Rose McCay, who volunteers at the farm

The three wrestlers decided they probably wouldn't be tussling in the mud again anytime soon, but might consider a tomato-tossing faceoff at the end of the harvest season.

"I don't know if I'm up to doing this again," Beller said. "I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime event."