By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – The event was as much a family homecoming celebration as it was a quaint seasonal happening when board members overseeing Wakeman Town Farm welcomed the Aitkenhead family back to their home at a Holiday Open House midday Sunday.
The two-and-a-half acre facility at 134 Cross Highway offered many fun activities for visitors including the opportunity to construct wreaths, make gingerbread houses, play dreidel games, decorate cookies and enjoy hot mulled cider and baked goods. T-shirts and hats with a smirk-inducing WTF acronym were also available for purchase.
An event highlight was the unveiling by Board Chairperson Elizabeth Beller of the Farm’s new logo design, which was the result of a collaborative effort between Westport Artist Miggs Burroughs, Architect Peter Wormser and Betsy P. Kahm, each of whom gave their time voluntarily.
As she worked alongside fellow board members making a large bowl of royal icing and helping prepare gingerbread structures for decorating, Christy Colasurdo explained some of the background around the Aitkenhead family’s departure and, now, their return. “The family had begun living on the farm in August 2010, working with the organization Green Village Initiative to bring the farm back to life. Unfortunately, GVI decided a couple of months ago to step out and give the farm back to the town. As the farm was in transition, the family had to move out.”
A new committee was formed, led by Beller, which raised $20,000 through fundraisers to cover costs for maintenance and upkeep of the property. Then, just last week, the Board of Finance approved the Aitkenhead family to return to the facility, deciding they would be its best caretakers and could stimulate the creation of Farm-based educational programs to benefit the community. This includes a Junior Farmers Camp and workshops related to sustainable farming, composting and planting organic gardens.
“Today really marks the culmination of the efforts of various town entities and we now have the support of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, too, which is key with regard to promoting our events,” Colasurdo said.
Mike Aitkenhead, who teaches AP Environmental Science and Horticulture at Staples High School, hoped that the family would be able to move back in before Christmas. He elaborated about the background of the property, noting, “The history of the real Wakeman Farm goes back to the turn of the century, when the property was farmed all the way to Staples. It was started by Ike and Pearl Wakeman, who ultimately sold most of the land to the town in the 1970s and stayed on the current 2 ½ acres. Ike passed a decade ago, then Pearl passed in 2009. That’s when it changed hands to the town and, for a while, its fate was uncertain. Then GVI stepped in. I’d worked with GVI through school and town initiatives, and they were looking for an educator to service and teach on the property.”
Aitkenhead said the new farm committee is just the ticket for the job ahead. “They have been amazing in supporting the efforts and unlocking the potential of the property,” he said.