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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Garden Expo Staked for March 19-20 at FLHS

Garden Expo Staked for March 19-20 at FLHS:
Event supports 44-year-old River-Lab environmental 
study program
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 3/6)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – The passionate stand of a concerned environmentalist and subsequent formation of a river basin study program 44 years ago inspired the creation of The Garden Expo, which will mark its 13th year this March.

Presented by the Mill River Wetland Committee, the Expo will be held March 19th and 20th at Fairfield Ludlowe Middle School at 785 Unquowa Road. Saturday hours are 10am-5pm; Sunday 10am-4pm. Over 90 home and garden related exhibitors will present their wares and services.

The event is a major fundraiser for the Committee’s River-Lab program of environmental study for grades 3-6 in all public schools in Fairfield. Funding provides for classroom materials and activities for students, study-trips to the Mill River and town estuaries, extensive training for study-trip guides and professional development for teachers. Each year, more than 160 volunteers guide over 3,500 children through more than 650 study-trips.

Joy Shaw is the founder of the Mill River Wetland Committee and author of the River-Lab program. A Vassar College graduate with a rudimentary science education, she moved to Fairfield in 1956 and began renting historic Perry’s Mill, which had just been converted to a residence. The original grist mill was built in the 1640s by Richard Ogden but burned to the ground 50 years later. The Perry family, who were living in what is now known as Ogden House, had the ability to reconstruct the building and carry on the business and was invited to trade properties with Ogden.

In 1966, ten years after Shaw settled in the Mill, two local conservation groups arranged for Mill Hollow, a six-acre parcel of land below Sturges Road Bridge and along the Mill River (adjacent to the Mill), to be deeded to the town as open space and a plan for wildlife improvement to be pursued. Little did they know that a town ordinance called for removal of trees along the river’s banks 150 feet out from the center of the river to either side. The removal was called for based on a fear that jam-ups would cause flooding to properties for which the town would be liable.

“Destruction was in process when I returned from a meeting and I ran and stood in front of the bulldozer,” said Shaw. “The operator thought I was crazy and was quite annoyed.”

Shaw managed to get the work suspended, founded the Committee and began studying all the ecology of the land – plants, animals and the history of its use. She decided to create a program for children that would help teach the value of the flood plain in its natural state. She initially approached Mill Hill School, got the principal’s endorsement and trained nine volunteers from the Sasco and Fairfield Garden Clubs to provide study-trips. The River-Lab program launched in Fall 1967.  

Shaw wrote all the initial education materials and, for the first 15 years of the program, trained guides at the Mill while study-trips were conducted in open space across the river. In the late 90s and early 00’s, guides Alex Moran and Anne Weinrod took the lead in revising the materials and program to formally adapt it to the Fairfield Public Schools system and meet No Child Left Behind guidelines.

Meanwhile, guide Gay Gasser conceived of the Garden Expo as a way to raise funds for program operation and curriculum development. “Gardens are usually very absorbent areas, allowing any precipitation to be readily absorbed into the watershed,” said Shaw. “It was suitable for us to encourage gardening to align with our program.”

Now the Expo is a town fixture. As Gasser best described it, “This is a huge group effort – a happy dance for spring. It’s very visual and sensual with food and demos. It’s not like a trade show in a box. We keep it moving and exciting.”

Garden Expo admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children and seniors. Parking, lectures and demos are free.

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