Please note that this page, similar to all other parts of this website, is to be considered unofficial information, and does not reflect anyone's opinion but "About Weston"

A F T E R   M A N Y    Y E A R S ,   T H E R E   I S    A C T I O N   -   A N D    A   N E W    P A G E . . .   N E W    I D E A S   T A K E    S E E D    H E R E    F O R   L A C H A T


Back barns at Lachat (l) and upper field, which was proposed for Conservation-Education Center parkingl.  The Lachat Homestead, yellow tape period...

Through the years we have followed Lachat - photo of lower field taken around the time of the first Committee (l) with an environmental assessment done during the "charrette" phase of Education Center idea.  In-between the present "L.O.C." (July 2012) and the Conservation/Education Center earlier, there was another Committee, which ultimately involved Selectmen brokering a new legal arrangement between the Nature Conservancy and the Town of Weston (January 2012)  Got all that straight?

Special Meeting  Thursday April 17, 2014 at 6pm, Town Hall, Lachat Oversight
With a quorum present the Committee went over plans for reading Lachat for raised beds this season.  Plans for May 3, 10am to 4pm construction of raised beds under way!  Volunteers by groups and individuals to show up for a farm raising - we have the barns already!


May 31 overnight snow in Weston;  Special Meeting of Lachat Commmittee makes plans for farming this spring!

Special Monday, March 31, 2014, 7:30pm, Town Hall Meeting Room
Conservation approved the plans including crossings, parking and location of planting area plus the understanding there would be ample buffer plantings at its March 20th meeting, with Land Tech presenting.  Selectman Tracey offered procedure for how organization should proceed - Town Committee, Advisory Committee to main Committee and Friends of Lachat PLUS "Mission Statement" and terms of office, etc. and Town control of budget via have Town staff assigned.  Plus minutes taken (and notices posted).

Discussion of moving ahead for Spring planting at Special Meeting on Monday, as future structure of various operating groups discussed - Town Committee membership of active doers, Advisory Committee of specialists (membership may change as needs change) to Town Committee, and "Friends" of Lachat 501c3 arm.

Tuesday's Lachet Joint Meeting with Selectmen went well.  The L.O.C. is committed to public participation - hats off to them!!!

The watercolor at the right is "About Town" watercolor done as part of a series of watercolors about this latest phase of planning for use of the Lachat Homestead and Farm.  The plan from Land Tech was presented to the Board of Selectmen at its Feb. 6, 2014 meeting and approved...onward to Conservation and P&Z!!!

Report on Lachat Oversight Committee, January 7, 2014, after Special Board of Selectmen
First meeting of 2014 - plans in place to get to Conservation and P&Z before planting season;  animals lining up to live in one of the barns...and fund raising continues...

Lachat Oversight Committee Monthly Meeting
Town Hall Meeting Room - 7:30 pm
Tuesday,  January 7, 2014

A.  Approval of Minutes/done
B.   Restoration of the house progress/in progress even though it is so cold.
C.   Discussion of meeting with Land Tech (meeting was for information for the Ct Dept. of  Ag Viability Grant) and progress to date/done
D.   Discuss Youth Services meeting with Michelle Albright/done.
E.   Discuss job descriptions for farmer/director, etc./done
F.   Fund Raising 
        1.   Update on fund raising/done
        2.   Discuss potential fundraising committees and events/briefly noted
G.   Discuss signs/done
        1.  Discuss Will Lewis, sign maker
        2.   Discuss design and timing
H.   New Business
       1.  Website of progress for Lachat – find someone to design and implement/high schoolstudent?
       2.   Other new business

I.   Public participation as required.

Lachat Oversight Committee Monthly Meeting
Town Hall Meeting Room 7:30 pm
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A. Discussion on Fund Raising and progress on farmhouse
1. Update on fund raising
2. Discuss potential fundraising committees and events
B. Discussion of Viability Grant
1. Land Tech providing a more complete time line by Dec. 6th
2. Michelle Fracasso - update - discuss any help needed and set up meetings.
C. Sign discussion composition of sign etc. show Carol’s pictures
1. Discuss Will Lewis, sign maker
2. Discuss design and timing
D. New Business
1. Website of progress for Lachat – find someone to design and implement
2. Discuss having a Special meeting if needed
3. Discuss publicity and articles to be written and when
E. Public participation as required

Abbreviated Agenda - "About Town" will not be able to attend.
Lachat Oversight Committee Monthly Meeting
Town Hall Meeting Room - 7:30 pm
Tuesday,  November 5, 2013

A.  Gayle Weinstein from 7:30pm to 8:00pm
         1.  Questions from Committee  - future committees, boards, etc.
         2.  Can we plant in the Spring – community gardens in the spring?
         3.  Discuss setting up a special meeting with Dept. heads

B.   Robert Hatch – discuss progress on house
C.   Fund Raising   
D.   Sign – composition of sign, etc.
        1.  Discuss Will Lewis, sign maker
        2.   Discuss design and timing

Board of Selectmen Oct. 17, 2013
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 meeting of the Board of Selectmen saw a unanimolus vote to retain architectural supervision (not the exact word) for next phase of work on homestead.  The work itself was approved at a previous Board of Selectmen's meeting.

Town Hall Meeting Room
Oct. 1, 2013

Vote to retain Land Tech, who can get the work together for presentation to Conservation quickly and at least cost - recommended to Board of Selectmen.  To obtain the maps and info for Land Tect so that they have all data re:  historic designation as part of their presentation to Conservation.  Determination of the Plan that will be presented to P&Z as a special permit application, and the requirements for parking, setbacks,  intensity of use and safety considerations/Fire Department requirements to be developed.

Also, recommendation to retain (this website's terms - check minutes for actual title) "clerk of the works" to be sure all work on historic homestead is done correctly so that the town will not be left holding the bag for the cost if not done correctly according to historic rehab grant.

Fundraising for future projects to begin now that historic designation achieved - the sooner the funds come in, the sooner the porch can be repaired!

NORFIELD GRANGE FAIR 2014 - we arrived as the sun was rising, sort of.
  Will the "Masked Avenger" show in 2014?
What a gorgeous day for...a pony ride.  Or how about a contest?  Or having a lovely time in the sunshine?  How about these flags!

2014 we came at farmer-time, almost.  Bijoux department all set up first!!!  Labs came in second with natural dog biscuits!

Vegetables and fruits eliminated in the preliminary rounds...

Good thing I was working or I would have dropped a bundle here!!!

Wait 'til next year for squashed squash - melons to enter in the vegetable class next year as part of a Global Strategy!

See you next Grange Fair!!!



Check out powerful performance here

And what do you know!  Planning and Zoning looking to replace the rights of those who grow produce on their properties in Weston to sell them there, mistakenly removed at one time ???  Farmer power!!!.

Lachat Oversight Committee meets with engineer, Tuesday, August 6, 2013 and do other business.


LACHAT FARM PUBLIC INFORMATION SESSION #1 - a dozen Westonites show up including some new to the issue!  Session #2 at right - new interest shown!
SAVE THE DATE:  Tuesday June 18, 2013 at 7:30pm, Town Hall Meeting Room - Session #2 drew almost as many, and very good discussions after the presentations.

Also, take a visit to Friends of Lachat other pix here.


World-wide freshwater on the left, India 1970-1994 groundwater -related to CT Drought report?
Interesting for those considering farming projects (LWVCT ED FUND "S.I.R.") - shallow well the way to go for Lachat, my conclusion!  This whole meeting will be available on DVD for use by the Lachat Committee in conjunction with LWV of Weston for use in Sustainability discussions, too!  A trifecta!

Full presentation at Selectmen

Presentation to Board of Selectmen May, 16, 2013 went a mattter of fact two (2) wells - shallow ones - will be needed to support planting plan.
Plans to present powerpoint, maps, photos to the public for their review - with information made available prior to the meeting (s) desired by Selectmen.  Selectmen very eager to have Committee inform the public of what is being proposed so far - so that the public can react after thinking about it, also to get a good turnout at two yet unscheduled meetings - during the week at night and on Satuday afternoon.

A quorum was present to review Committee presentation for Selectmen's Meeting Thursday..

The Committee held a special meeting, a quorum being present, and approved the previous meeting's minutes.  Discussed were ideas for coordinating the various volunteer efforts of support and preparing a Master Plan for the Selectmen to bring to P&Z (my observations).  Outstanding items for research related to Conservation issues also discussed.

Lachat Oversight Committee preps Selectmen on 
April 4, 2013 on
their ideas for a plan for Lachat, short, medium and long range.  Spreadsheet on Town website"About Town" offers this unofficial outline of how the spreadsheet works:

MISSION STATEMENT:  Lachat Farm at the Juliana Lachat Preserve offers farming and environmental education experiences for all ages, community-building opportunities and an important connection with and enjoyment of our land that fosters a happier, healthier, more "grounded" and sustainability-centered Weston.



PHASE ONE:  First and second year.
PHASE TWO:  Six to nine months

NOTE:  No Town of Weston funds to be requested other than what sources are already in place.

Question at Speak Up asks what is going on at Lachat these days...

Lachat Farm blooms? What must come off, or out, as the case may be (additions removed;  mowing field and vines)?  2004 plan;  P&Z didn't want this;  have any (examples of) parking standards?

Meeting of January 8, 2013, Commission Room at Town Hall

Good, long meeting (2 and one half hours) with Green Village Initiative plus architect of historic preservation plan for Lachat Homestead.   Vote to ask for heaters for basement and first story to keep out mold formation;  discussion of revising initial parking plan to accomodate farming activity;  work completed on lolly columns in basement.

NYC Dept. of City Planning - is Lachat in this ballpark?
Lachat committee report to Selectmen
Board of Selectmen notes, "About Town"
Nov. 20, 2012

At the Special Board of Selectmen's meeting Nov. 19, 2012, First Selectman Weinstein reported on the meeting just held with the Lachat Oversight Committee, their architect, and the P&Z re:  what does that body want in the way of a plan for the overall project? 

No detail about parking requirements revealed.  However, we figure that there should not be a probem if the scale of the new Lachat project stays put on the 18 acres of the Town's part of the property.  A question had been asked about peeople entering the Den through Lachat.  POTENTIALLY SERIOUS PROBLEM.  Need for a sign to say: "Entrance to the Nature Conservancy on Pent Road.  Parking there."

Architect points out that regs read "X square feet of a use per parking space."  So that means in a busy meeting-like space, 1 parking spot per 20 sq.ft., or in a more passive use, 1 parking spot (on gravel - NOT impervious) per 50 sq.ft.  The first floor is public, the second floor a residence.  If "historic" designaton achieved at State or Federal level, standards can be relaxed somewhat (based on Fairfield's experience). 
It was observed that P&Z is very cautious and would not indicated what they would favor until an application is made - and that that application would come from both the Nature Conservancy and the Town of Weston.

Next meeting of Committee Nov. 27.

Lachat committee is making progess
Weston FORUM
By Kimberly Donnelly on October 4, 2012

The work of the Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat Property is “coming along slowly, but it is coming along,” said the committee’s chairman, Ellen McCormick, earlier this week.

The committee has been having extra meetings to jump-start the process of restoring the farmhouse on the land and developing an overall vision for the property.

The land is co-owned by the town and the Nature Conservancy, but a dual lease agreement entered into last year gives the town control over what is done with the portion of the farm fronting on Godfrey Road — including the buildings — and the conservancy is responsible for land that abuts the Devil’s Den Nature Preserve.

Over the years, the Lachat farmhouse has fallen into disrepair.

About a year ago, the Board of Selectmen began discussing the possibility of demolishing the crumbling building, which used to belong to the late Leon Lachat, who ran one of the last working farms in town there.

A Friends of Lachat group formed at that time to raise money to save the farmhouse. The town agreed to stabilize the farmhouse using a portion of the money raised by the Friends of Lachat.

The Lachat oversight committee was formed to come up with a long-range vision and plan for the town’s portion of Lachat.

The town has sent the farmhouse project out to bid twice. Both times, vastly disparate bids came back, which has delayed the start of the project.

But in the meantime, Ms. McCormick said, the oversight committee is moving forward with what it needs to do to comply with a planning grant it has received from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

The matching grant gives the town $20,000 if the town agrees to put up an additional $20,000, Ms. McCormick said. It may be used to cover costs for landscape planning, architectural drawings and structural engineering plans for the farmhouse.

Ms. McCormick said the committee needs to report to the trust by Dec. 8 with proof that those three components are sufficiently in place in order to keep the grant.

She said the general vision for the house is to use the upstairs portion as a place for someone to live on site and to use the downstairs as a limited public space.

As far as the vision or a “master plan” for the property as a whole, the committee will work more specifically on that once the planning grant requirements have been met, Ms. McCormick said.

The committee will focus on “education, with an agricultural component,” Ms. McCormick said.

“A lot of the proposals that have come forward from the public [for the property] have had some variation of a farming or community garden component,” she said. “We are planning to try to stick to the wishes of Leon Lachat and what was in those agreements he made” with the town when he sold the property, as well as what is in subsequent conservation easements, she said.

Ms. McCormick said the committee welcomes input from the public and it plans to hold hearings and informational meetings, and to meet with potential users of the property like the Scouts and the Garden Club before finalizing a master plan.

The committee’s regular meetings are on the first Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. in the Meeting Room at town hall. Notice of additional meetings — as well as all agendas and meeting minutes — are posted at town hall and online at

Lachat Oversight Committee Meeting
Commission Room - 7:30pm - 9:45pm
Thursday, September 20, 2012

A quorum was present.

A proposal for work by Robert Hatch was expanded to include necessary revisions was approved unanimously.  Discussion on finalized use of house and further investigation with town authorities, took place.  
Discussion of long and short term strategic plans for non-profit organizations to use house or not, viv a vis related uses of the land.

Report on the status of repairs to house done: 
1. windows
2. roof leaks
3. actions taken
Status report on fund raising for Lachat for this Fall.  Report on farming component brought up question regarding depletion and lowering of the water table because of need for increased use of groundwater in farming operation.

*Meeting of Lachat Committee tentatively next week sometime with invitation to those requesting one, explanation of the request for having a Master Plan and Public Hearing prior to meeting with Selectmen.

Stabilizing the Lachat farmhouse: Bids keep project in limbo
Weston FORUM online
By Kimberly Donnelly on September 19, 2012

A second bid opening for work to shore up the Lachat farmhouse has proven to be as confusing as the first time around.  Tom Landry, town administrator, said the project first went out over the summer and two contractors bid on it. However, one bid came in at about $10,000 and the other at about $34,000.

Because of the disparity, the architect, Robert Hatch, was asked to clarify the specifications and the bid package was reissued, Mr. Landry said.

Two contractors (one that had bid last time and one new one) again bid, and those proposals were opened last Thursday, Sept. 20 (13th instead?). They again were not at all close in their cost estimates: This time, one was about $19,000 and the other was about $54,000.

“Obviously, we’re looking at two contractors with very different business models, or very different ideas of what the work is,” Mr. Landry said.

Earlier this week, Mr. Landry was waiting to hear back from Mr. Hatch to get some further clarification on the two bid proposals before any decision would be made about granting the contract to anyone.  The town is looking to stabilize the historic farmhouse on the Lachat property on Godfrey Road West. The land is co-owned by the town and the Nature Conservancy, but a dual lease agreement entered into last year gives the town control over what is done with the portion of the farm fronting on Godfrey Road — including the buildings — and the conservancy is responsible for land that abuts the Devil’s Den Nature Preserve.

Over the years, the Lachat farmhouse has fallen into disrepair. About a year ago, the Board of Selectmen began discussing the possibility of demolishing the crumbling farmhouse, which used to belong to the late Leon Lachat, who ran one of the last working farms in town there.  A Friends of Lachat group formed at that time to raise money to save the farmhouse.

A committee (the Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat Property) was recently formed to come up with a long-range vision and plan for the town’s portion of Lachat.

In the meantime, however, the town — under the supervision of Mr. Landry — agreed to stabilize the house using a portion of the money that was raised by Friends of Lachat.  Mr. Landry said the general project specifications include digging out around the existing foundation and waterproofing; pouring concrete footings in the cellar for additional supports (lally columns) for the first story floor; and some beam work in the basement.

Mr. Landry said the more detailed bid specs ask the contractor to:

• Remove and identify the stepping stones from the walkway that leads up to front of the house, store the stones, and then reinstall them when heavy construction is completed;
• Excavate an outside wall and save the stone steps;
• Remove stones from an existing wall and reuse them to repair the wall; shore up or support existing adjoining walls;
• Rebuild the stone foundation wall to approximate the appearance of the adjoining existing walls;
• Damp-proof the outside walls;
• Shore up the floor joists and beams to allow removal of wood posts;
• Replace 13 wood posts with four-inch metal lally columns resting on concrete footings;
• Replace wood beams where called for in the basement; and
• Replace an existing window in the repaired foundation wall with a new window.

Mr. Landry was uncertain about when the project would be able to start. Foundation work might be tricky as the weather gets colder, but it would not affect some of the interior work, he said.

Lachat Oversight Committee meets September 4th and approved concepts to present to Selectmen re:  plans for house.  Some items recommended for removal (to storage)  others just to remove (skylights). Of extended discussion, topic of access to attic.  First priority is Town action on foundation. 

Determination of use close to finalization (as a recommendation) - second floor again an apartment, main floor a display space of its historic architectural interior.  Strategic plan draft in the works as is research on specific ideas suggested so far.

Excellent meeting arrives at decision re: house restoration
Committee approves minutes, reviews legal documents to see if it can determine precisely what uses can and cannot be entertained, then discusses possibilities, comparing Lachat to other town farms.

Lachat Oversight Committee Meeting - with our take on what happened.

Town Hall Commission Room - 7:30pm (about 2 hrs)
August 29, 2012

A. Approve last meeting minutes - August 14, 2012 Meeting/done
B. Introduce Dennis Tracey to Committee/done
1. Overview of the Town agreements with the Nature Conservancy/see center picture above
2. Understanding the parameters of Leon Lachat’s wishes for the property/see right above
C. Status report on farmhouse restoration - planning phase/done
1. Discuss the use of the farmhouse - above right
2. Discuss foundation restoration specs - plan in hand with Town of Weston
3. Discuss landscape planning component - for grant purposes only.
D. Prioritize action plan outline for restoration/vote on new preliminary drawings for homestead, 1st floor handicap accessible, leaving as much of historic elements as possible; 2nd floor for caretaker apt.
E. Discuss short-term strategic plan - do drafts for next meeting - Sept. 11?
F. Discuss long-term strategic plan - do drafts - same
G. Status report on fund raising for Lachat/ done - more fundraising ideas.
H. Report on farming component/will be done after strategic plan
I. New business/Other issues/done - roof leaks on addition, we think we heard...
1. heating for the farmhouse for the winter - very educational!
2. roof repairs for winter protection - need for tarp?  (See below) Note:  main part of building has wood roof in good condition, we think we heard.
3. repairs to broken windows and tarp for roof - Town has a plan (discussed)
J. Public discussion as required/next meeting dates (regular meetings first Tuesday of the month in the Commission Room - Special Meeting as needed) SEPTEMBER SCHEDULE:  Sept. 11 and 19 next meetings.

Committee members chosen to oversee Weston's Lachat property
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Thursday, 12 July 2012 09:39

At a special meeting held Thursday morning, July 5, the Board of Selectmen appointed a seven-member committee to oversee the town-controlled portion of the Lachat property on Godfrey Road West.

Carol Baldwin, Ellen McCormick, Nick Bell, Judy Saffan, Amy Kalafa, Paul Deysenroth, and Sheila Koehler were named to the Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat Property.

The mission of this committee is to "vet community ideas for the use of the property, ensure that the ideas are consistent with the original deeds and provide recommendations for the use of the property to the Board of Selectmen. At the request of the Board of Selectmen, [the committee] may also provide project oversight and programming initiatives."

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said she asked Ms. McCormick to be the acting chairman until the committee could meet and elect its own.

Ms. McCormick said this week she is very excited to get started with the committee's work.

"Carol Baldwin has really been spearheading this, and we've been working very closely together," she said.

Ms. Baldwin, who works full time and is also a member of both the Historic District Commission and the Weston Historical Society, said she, too, is excited the committee is now in place — and she is just as happy not to be the chairman.

But that doesn't mean Ms. Baldwin plans to slow down at all in her efforts to help restore the farmhouse on the Lachat property and to determine the direction the town should take in utilizing the rest of it.

Town and Conservancy

The Lachat property, purchased almost 20 years ago from the late Leon Lachat, is co-owned by the town and the neighboring Nature Conservancy. The two recently brokered a "separation agreement," under which the town leases a portion of the property from the conservancy and the conservancy leases a portion from the town; no money exchanges hands.

The lease agreements make it possible for each entity to do what it chooses on its portion of the property, instead of having to agree on a common use — something that resulted in a stalemate for years, with nothing happening at all on the former farm.

Ms. Baldwin said she was always interested in what the town should so with the property, but she "really jumped in head first" in March 2011, when she learned the Board of Selectmen planned to tear down the farmhouse because it had fallen into such disrepair.

At that time, Ms. Baldwin established the non-profit Friends of Lachat to raise money to save the historic farmhouse. To date, the group — which just received its 501(c)3 tax exempt designation — has raised about $125,000 in private donations and pledges, and it has secured several grants.

The Friends have also raised awareness about the historic significance of the property and its potential future uses. "The one good thing about so much time going by [since the town started talking about what to do with the property] is at least a lot more people know about it now," Ms. Baldwin said.

Two teenage students, Ross Wollman and Matthew Proctor, developed a website,, which is a great way to help keep people informed, Ms. Baldwin said.

Ms. Baldwin said she agrees with the selectmen's decision to create a committee to oversee any projects at Lachat rather than having Friends of Lachat lease it or try to be responsible for oversight.

"I feel strongly anything that happens there should be a TOWN project," she said. Friends of Lachat will continue to help and to fund raise, but anything that happens there should be what the whole town decides, she said.

She is pleased with the make-up of the committee, which she believes represents many different constituencies in town. Friends of Lachat has always been apolitical, and she believes the committee is, as well.

Ms. Baldwin said there are three main things she wants to focus on in the immediate future: continue with fund-raising efforts until the Friends of Lachat goal of $250,000 is met; decide what to do with the farmhouse; and decide what to do with the property.

"One thing I think will be important for the committee to do is to set up a long range master plan so we don't do anything that might preclude something else down the line," Ms. Baldwin said.

She was happy to report this week that architect Bob Hatch completed the specifications for foundation work on the house and has submitted them to Town Administrator Tom Landry. The next step is for the town to put the work out to bid so the house can be shored up.

"One thing I've learned in all this, though, is everything takes more time than I ever expected," Ms. Baldwin said

This Select Committee of seven (7) is concerned about the homestead as well as appropriate reuse of the land and barns
Members (the names were read quickly - not sure we got it right...)
Carol Baldwin, Nicholas Bell, Ellen McCormick, Acting Chair., Amy Kalafa, Paul Deysenroth(???), Judy Saffan, Sheila Koehler

Photo at left from 2004, prior to Special Town Meeting approving funding for Nature Education Center;  Lachat after years of  no mowing the lower field;  shoring up and restoring the farm house got grant.

Selectmen discuss what what might go on at Lachat:
  We've watched this for generation of volunteers joins with past advocates to save a farm.
Ideas have come in to Selectmen and Friends of Lachat for new uses and activities at the former dairy farm/ski hill.  A Select Committee (link to reverse chronological summary of actions taken by Town and other Committees to date) to be formed, 7 members, to do a Master Plan for future uses of the property and buildings. 

Does this sound familiar?  There already was a Master Plan done - but for  Lachat to become a Nature/Education Center.  The "Gateway" to the Nature Conservancy was shut after Public Hearing at P&Z.

Excellent discussion at Selectmen this past Thursday, both from those in support of projects for farm use, and from restoration of farm house.


Mission Statement for the Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat property

The purpose of the Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat property will be to vet community ideas for the use of the property, ensure that the ideas are consistent with the original deeds and provide recommendations for the use of the property to the Board of Selectmen. At the request of the Board of Selectmen, they may also provide project oversight and programming initiatives.

The Committee will be made up of 7 members, each serving a 2 year term.

Approved 4/24/12

Amended on 5/17/12 to include ex-officio members from the Sustainability Committee, the Arts Commission, the Board of Education and other committees to be named in the future.

Will the lower field ever look like this again?

Ideas for Weston's Lachat farmhouse and land are on the table
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Friday, 23 March 2012 00:00

After learning how much money the Friends of Lachat has raised in private donations, pledges, and grant money to refurbish the town-owned Lachat farmhouse, the Board of Selectmen agreed it's time to start greenlighting the project.

Carol Baldwin, head of the non-profit Friends of Lachat, told the selectmen at their meeting last Thursday, March 15, it has been just about one year since she learned the historic Lachat farmhouse on Godfrey Road West was slated for demolition because it had been allowed to fall into disrepair. At that time, she stepped forward and asked for some time to rally support and raise private money to save the building.

Since then, Ms. Baldwin said, the Friends group formed and raised about $125,000. Donations from more than 100 individuals range from $10 to thousands, she said.

In addition, the Friends have applied for a $15,000 community grant from a local bank that would pay for things like paint and siding, with the hope that volunteers will help with some of the labor.

"We're getting there," she said.

The Friends of Lachat is hoping now that support for saving the house is clear, the town will use at least a portion of an endowment fund account that is set aside for maintenance of the Lachat property and buildings.

There is about $85,000 available in the fund, but the selectmen expressed reluctance in using all of it on renovating the farmhouse. There are also costs for mowing and upkeep of other buildings, including a barn and another house with a tenant.
Lease agreements

The property, purchased almost 20 years ago from the late Leon Lachat, is co-owned by the town and the neighboring Nature Conservancy. The two recently brokered a "separation agreement," under which the town leases a portion of the property from the conservancy and the conservancy leases a portion from the town; no money exchanges hands.

The lease agreements make it possible for each entity to do what it chooses on its portion of the property, instead of having to agree on a common use — something that resulted in a stalemate for years, with nothing happening at all on the former farm.

Selectman David Muller praised Ms. Baldwin's efforts. "We've seen tremendous progress here," he said.

Mr. Muller suggested splitting the farmhouse renovation project into phases. First Selectman Gayle Weinstein recommended first taking care of the outer shell and the foundation. "We need to button up the house" first, she said.

Selectman Dennis Tracey agreed with the concept. "You've turned a corner" he told Ms. Baldwin, and it's clear the project should move forward, he said.
Larger vision

The selectmen believe the farmhouse project needs to be part of a larger vision for the property. They opened the floor to discussion about ideas from community members.

Ms. Weinstein said she has received several proposals for what might done with the portion of the property the town is leasing from the Nature Conservancy. It includes the buildings along Godfrey Road West and more than 19 acres of the meadow area and fields.

Ideas have ranged from using the traditional "sledding hill" for outdoor recreation to a dog park, Ms. Weinstein said.

Larry Liggett said he would like see a forge installed so he could teach kids blacksmithing.

A lot of the proposals have centered around the idea of a community farm. Ms. Baldwin said she has heard support for things like a farm stand, renting plots for vegetable gardens, summer camps, and art classes.

Mr. Tracey said he has seen "a great mix" of ideas for a number of artistic, cultural and educational uses.

Ms. Weinstein said she likes that most of the ideas she has heard do not preclude other uses.

The selectmen will continue to solicit ideas from the public about what to do with Lachat. Ms. Weinstein said they will also now talk about forming a committee to oversee the details.

"This will be an evolving project," she said. "I'm just so excited about getting ideas. We need to get a sense of where the community wants to go. I don't want it to be based on my vision. I think it needs to be a communal vision."

Mr. Tracey said, "I think we should start small and build and see what works and what people like to do and we need to be able to experiment."

Mr. Muller said he, too, envisions a plan that is wide enough in scope to allow it to continually unfold. "I want a footprint. I want to make sure that we're not doing anything that would preclude doing anything down the road," he said.


Organic farming in the future?  Indoor idea from 2011...


Planning and Zoning and Selectman Tracey do lawyerly work coming  to agreement on Lachat-Conservancy lease wording revisions at a special work session and approval of new wording, hoping to get to a point where Board of Selectmen can agree and a new Town Meeting can confirm lease document. 

Paintings by Georgiana Silk behind Selectmen and Margaret Wirtenberg (r)
Special Town Meeting: "YES" by standing room only crowd after asking questions first at informational meeting...and then there was nothing more to say.   Selectmen discuss fundraising and grants possibilities, report on Lachat progress to date at their artist's view of the scene (r).  P&Z 8-24 to come.

Main field at the Juliana Lachat Preserve, on a beautiful autumn day, rises into the woods and the Nature Conservancy's Devil's Den.

"About Town" wonders about these things...our three questions below - depending on the call of Town Meeting, some might be better suited for the info session - they were asked and answered - short version of answers below.

First question:  Who gets control and responsibility to maintain this field?  Ans.  Town

Second question:  Besides looking beautiful, are these barns in good condition and could they hold farm equipment?  Ans. Could be!

Third question:  will plans for renovation make this structure livable?  Yellow tape denotes unsafe condition.  Ans.  The looks are deceiving - actually in good shape, at least thru the winter, according to Bob Hatch.

New today, April 27, 2012, a FRIENDS OF LACHAT WEBSITE

Which Lachat Committee?  Lachat Building and Maintenance, or perhaps the latest version of the Nature Conservancy-Town Committee originally appointed?
Tuesday, April 26, 2011, Commission Room at Town Hall

Lachat Building and Maintenance Committee (last known name) - S.R.O. as all the chairs and horizontal surfaces are taken. 

Left to right:

[The Friends of Lachat would like to raise at least $255,000 to preserve the Lachat farmhouse, located on property now co-owned by the town and the Nature Conservancy. The Friends are holding a fund-raising event this Sunday, Oct. 2, from 5 to 7 p.m.. —Kimberly Donnelly photo]

Weston P&Z is still reviewing Lachat

Weston FORUM
Written by Patricia Gay
Wednesday, 07 December 2011 11:32

The Planning and Zoning Commission is working overtime hoping to issue a positive referral on the Lachat lease agreements. To further that goal, P&Z has scheduled a special workshop for Thursday, Dec. 8, at 6, at the Town Hall Annex.

The workshop was called because commissioners were unable to come to a majority decision at a public hearing on Monday, Dec. 5, on an 8-24 referral of dual proposed lease agreements between the town of Weston and the Nature Conservancy, who jointly own property deeded to them by the late Leon Lachat.

Commissioners had several concerns with the lease agreements, particularly with what would happen after the lease expires in 10 years if improvements are made to buildings on the property. They are hoping to work out those concerns at Thursday's workshop.

By state statute 8-24, P&Z is required to review leases entered into by the town. If the commission does not vote on the referral Thursday, it will vote at a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 12. If no vote is taken by Dec. 12, automatic positive referral is mandated by law.

Under the proposed lease agreements, the town will lease approximately half of the property — 19.01 acres of the meadow area along Godfrey Road West — from the conservancy.  In return, the conservancy will lease a 22.6-acre wooded portion of the land that abuts its Devil’s Den Nature Preserve from the town.  No money will be exchanged under the agreement.


On Nov. 28, P&Z sent First Selectman Gayle Weinstein a letter listing all its concerns with the lease agreements. Because there has been talk of operating a farm on the property and because the non-profit group Friends of Lachat has been actively raising money to renovate the existing farmhouse, commissioners were concerned that language in the original drafted lease did not adequately protect the buildings when the lease expires in 10 years.

At the public hearing on Dec. 5, Ms. Weinstein told the commission that while minor changes could be made to the lease agreements, substantive ones could not be made because the leases had already been approved by a Town Meeting.

P&Z would usually be asked for its referral before a matter was sent to Town Meeting for approval. In the Lachat case, however, a Town Meeting was held on Oct. 20, and the lease agreements were approved unanimously. The Town Meeting approval was made contingent on a positive 8-24 referral from P&Z.

On Monday, Selectman Dennis Tracey, who drafted the lease agreements as chairman of the Lachat Building Committee, presented the commission with numerous revisions he made to the lease agreements based on the concerns in P&Z’s letter. Mr. Tracey said he was good with the changes.

However, the concern about what would happen to the buildings after 10 years was not resolved.

Commissioners Don Saltzman and Jane Connolly asked Ms. Weinstein if she was willing to withdraw the application to allow P&Z a couple weeks to finalize revisions to the lease agreements. “Let’s do it right. Why not look at a cooperative way to protect the town and make this in the best interest of the town?” said Ms. Connolly.

Ms. Weinstein said she was not willing to withdraw the application, so the commission has make a decision by Dec. 12, or an automatic favorable referral is mandated by law.

“All we want to do is what is best for the town. We just need a little more time,” said Commissioner Pierre Ratté.

After several hours of discussion and deliberation, a consensus of the meeting showed that the commissioners all agreed the lease agreements approved at the Town Meeting did not adequately protect the town's interests. However, they were split on how they planned to vote on the application — three said they were going to vote negatively based on the original unrevised lease agreements approved at the Town Meeting; two were going to vote positively with conditions; and one member wanted to vote for the application with changes presented that night by Mr. Tracey.

Commissioner Ken Edgar said he liked the direction of Mr. Tracey’s revisions and recommended having a workshop to hammer out the language in the leases in hopes of issuing a positive referral.  Notice of the Thursday workshop was posted with the town clerk’s office on Tuesday, Dec. 6.  That same day, Ms. Weinstein sent a letter to P&Z asking it not to vote on Thursday and to vote on Monday, Dec. 12, instead.

She said she is scheduling a special selectmen’s meeting for Sunday, Dec. 11, at 9:30 a.m. Changes to the leases, she said, need to be vetted by the town attorney and a verbal approval needs to be received by the Nature Conservancy. She asked P&Z to give her all revisions by Friday, Dec. 9.

Ms. Weinstein said the selectmen will determine if they “agree to the proposed changes, agree to certain changes, or wish to remain with the original application.” She said she would let P&Z know the board’s decision as soon as it is made.

Weston P&Z has questions about Lachat
Weston FORUM
Written by Patricia Gay
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 11:31

The Planning and Zoning Commission is not yet ready to give a positive 8-24 referral to proposed changes to the Lachat property lease agreement.  Commissioners had numerous questions about proposed dual lease agreements between the town of Weston and the Nature Conservancy at a public hearing on Nov. 21. The hearing has been continued to Monday, Dec. 5.

“I believe a lot of work has gone into drafting the lease agreements and this is the correct direction for the town. However, the commission was given incomplete documentation and we have important questions about some of the language in those agreements,” said Stephan Grozinger, P&Z chairman.

The Lachat property is owned jointly by the town and the Nature Conservancy. Under the proposed lease agreements, the town will lease approximately half of the property — 19.01 acres of the meadow area along Godfrey Road West — from the conservancy.  In return, the conservancy will lease a 22.6-acre wooded portion of the land that abuts its Devil’s Den Nature Preserve from the town.  The leases will expire after 10 years, but are renewable.

Because the Nature Conservancy wants to use its portion of the land for a narrow purpose while the town wants to allow the possibility of a broader use — namely agricultural — P&Z is carefully reviewing the leases and supporting documents to make sure the town’s interests are protected.

On Nov. 28, Mr. Grozinger listed the commission’s concerns in a letter to First Selectman Gayle Weinstein, who presented the matter to the commission, and to Selectman Dennis Tracey, who drafted the lease agreements as chairman of the Lachat Building Committee.

The commission’s main concerns are:

• What happens after the lease expires at the end of 10 years?

• Suppose the town has made improvements to the property at its expense. At the termination of the lease, will those improvements become the common property of the conservancy and the town? Will that also be the case if third party funds are invested?

•When the term of the lease expires, will the conservancy be in a position as tenant-in-common to prevent all agricultural activity on the property if it desires to pursue its mission of a nature preserve?

• In a previous cooperative agreement, P&Z believes the town and conservancy had a renovation fund, which was never funded, and an endowment fund that both parties funded. Use of the endowment fund was restricted to repair and maintenance. If buildings on the property are renovated, will the town be responsible for all the maintenance and repair costs going forward?

• Can the property be used for community gardens as well as other non-commercial agricultural uses?

• Is education-based agriculture, where a farmer or teacher cultivates or pastures the land through a sublease and is paid for those services, allowed or disallowed?

Mr. Grozinger said it is important that ambiguities in the lease be explained or cleared up before the commission votes on the referral.

Following the Nov. 21 public hearing, Ms. Weinstein said she was a little frustrated that the commission did not express its concerns sooner. She said she was not sure the town could go back to the Nature Conservancy and make changes to documents that were already agreed upon. She said Mr. Tracey plans to attend the public hearing on Dec. 5, to respond to P&Z’s questions.

Mr. Grozinger said the town’s application was incomplete when it was submitted and was initially missing an amended conservation easement — a necessary part of the package. The commission did eventually receive the easement, he said, but just three hours before the Nov. 21 public hearing, which did not allow members time to review it.

He also said there were two new members elected to the commission on Nov. 8, and their first meeting was Nov. 21, so they were in no position to ask questions in advance.  By state statute 8-24, the town is required to refer any lease of publicly owned land to P&Z for a report.  In the normal course of events, P&Z would be asked for its report before the matter was sent to a Town Meeting for approval.  In the Lachat case, however, a Town Meeting was held on Oct. 20, where the lease agreements were approved unanimously. The Town Meeting approval was made contingent on a positive 8-24 referral from P&Z.

Ms. Weinstein said she originally thought the town did not need an 8-24 approval because no money was changing hands in the lease agreements. She subsequently realized the approval was still necessary, but since she had already scheduled the Town Meeting she made the vote contingent upon P&Z’s referral.

Preserving a piece of Weston history: Fundraiser Sunday for Lachat house
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Thursday, 29 September 2011 00:00

A grass-roots group, Friends of Lachat, would like to preserve one of the oldest homesteads in Weston, the Lachat farmhouse.

Dave and Alice Christopher, Carol Baldwin and Friends of Lachat are holding a “Tapas, Toasts and Testimonials!” benefit event, open to all, this Sunday, Oct. 2, from 5 to 7 p.m., to raise money to preserve the farmhouse once known as the David Godfrey House.

The house is located on property previously owned by the late Leon Lachat on Godfrey Road West. Mr. Lachat sold the farmland and its buildings to the town of Weston and the Nature Conservancy in the 1990s, with the hope that an education center would be built there.  However, the education center plans never materialized, and the farmhouse was allowed to fall into disrepair.

Earlier this year, the Board of Selectmen called it an attractive nuisance and discussed the possibility of dismantling the house.

Many objected to the loss of the historic landmark, and the Green Village Initiative said it was interested in running a community farm on the property. But the selectmen were not willing to commit town funds to renovating or restoring the house.  Ms. Baldwin stepped forward and agreed to try to raise interest and money to preserve the farmhouse. The Friends of Lachat was formed.

The Friends of Lachat would like to see the land returned to what it was for generations — a fully functioning farm — and to restore the 1770 house to its pre-Revolutionary War grandeur.

Ms. Baldwin said historic restoration expert Robert Hatch has estimated the cost of restoring the house to be about $255,000. The group needs to make “significant progress” toward reaching its goal within the next few weeks in order to prevent demolition, she said.

“With this amount, our goal is to shore up the house and stabilize it and make the second floor habitable for a farmer/caretaker/program coordinator for the town farm,” Ms. Baldwin said.

Sunday’s event, to be held at the home of Lachat neighbors Dave and Alice Christopher, 94 Godfrey Road West, is intended to raise awareness about Weston history while raising money to save the farmhouse.

Information will be available on the house and the town farm concept being proposed.

The benefit is open to everyone, including children. There is no need to RSVP. Food and drinks will be served.

A $20 donation is suggested, but any amount will be accepted.

Study: Healthy eating is privilege of the rich
Associated Press
Article published Aug 4, 2011

SEATTLE (AP) — A healthy diet is expensive and could make it difficult for Americans to meet new U.S. nutritional guidelines, according to a study published Thursday that says the government should do more to help consumers eat healthier.

An update of what used to be known as a food pyramid in 2010 had called on Americans to eat more foods containing potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium. But if they did that, the journal Health Affairs said, they would add hundreds more dollars to their annual grocery bill.

Inexpensive ways to add these nutrients to a person's diet include potatoes and beans for potassium and dietary fiber. But the study found introducing more potassium in a diet is likely to add $380 per year to the average consumer's food costs, said lead researcher Pablo Monsivais, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.

"We know more than ever about the science of nutrition, and yet we have not yet been able to move the needle on healthful eating," he said. The government should provide help for meeting the nutritional guidelines in an affordable way.

He criticized some of the marketing for a healthy diet — for example, the image of a plate of salmon, leafy greens and maybe some rice pilaf — and said a meal like that is not affordable for many Americans.

Food-assistance programs are helping people make healthier choices by providing coupons to buy fruits and vegetables, Monsivais said, but some also put stumbling blocks in front of the poor.

He mentioned, as an example, a Washington state policy making it difficult to buy potatoes with food assistance coupons for women with children, even though potatoes are one of the least expensive ways to add potassium to a diet.

The study was based on a random telephone survey of about 2,000 adults in King County, Wash., followed by a printed questionnaire that was returned by about 1,300 people. They note what food they ate, which was analyzed for nutrient content and estimated cost.

People who spend the most on food tend to get the closest to meeting the federal guidelines for potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium, the study found. Those who spend the least have the lowest intakes of the four recommended nutrients and the highest consumption of saturated fat and added sugar.

Hilary Seligman, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said Monsivais' research is an interesting addition to the debate about healthy eating and food insecurity, her area of expertise.

A lot of people assume the poor eat cheap food because it tastes good, but they would make better choices if they could afford to, said Seligman, who was not involved in the Health Affairs study.

"Almost 15 percent of households in America say they don't have enough money to eat the way they want to eat," Seligman said. Recent estimates show 49 million Americans make food decisions based on cost, she added.

"Right now, a huge chunk of America just isn't able to adhere to these guidelines," she said.

But Monsivais may have oversimplified the problem, according to another professor who does research in this area. Parke Wilde, associated professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said it's not expensive to get all the nutrients a body needs to meet the federal guidelines.

What is expensive, in Wilde's opinion, are the choices Americans make while getting those nutrients.

He said diets get more and more expensive depending on how many rules a person applies to himself, such as eating organic or seeking local sources for food or eating vegetables out of season.

"The longer your list gets, the more expensive your list will be," he said.

Seligman said her list can get longer than Wilde's, but not everything is a choice. Adding to the cost of buying healthful food could be how far away from home a person needs to travel to get to a grocery store that sells a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The government also affects food prices through the subsidies offered to farmers growing certain crops, she added.

Weston's Onion Barn is another symbol...

Roots: Westport farming traditions run deep
Westport News
Mike Lauterborn
Updated 10:07 a.m., Sunday, May 29, 2011

It was a story of indigenous people, hardy settlers, rugged farmers and bohemian artists, all of whom have called the Westport area home and are part of its rich agrarian history.

A new exhibit showcasing that legacy, "Back to Our Roots," opened Friday at Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place.

Its timeline begins in the "pre-contact" era when local land was forested and shared with wildlife, continues through Puritan and Colonial times, carries through the Civil War, when Westport was the largest supplier of onions to General Grant's army, and wraps with a look at modern-day Wakeman Town Farm. Additional exhibit features include a collection of photographs of area stone walls by Larry Untermeyer, vintage tools housed in the adjoining 1846 Bradley-Wheeler Cobblestone Barn, historic barn photos shot by Larry Silver and watercolor depictions of local landscapes by Hardie Gramatky. The exhibit opening was attended by several dozen people, who enjoyed wine and hors d'oeuvres as they browsed.

Society Board President Dorothy Curran spoke about the origins of the exhibit. "It started as a conversation between Molly Donovan, who recently passed, and Wakeman Town Farm," she said. "We quickly realized that the story about going back to our roots was bigger than Wakeman Town Farm alone and wanted to put it in a larger context."

Curran provided a synopsis of each significant timeline era. "In early times, pre-European contact, indigenous peoples grew corn, beans, peas and Jerusalem artichokes," she said. "They lived by the shore in the summer and inland in winter to be close to game. When Roger Ludlowe arrived during the Pequot War and found salt meadows, he established a foothold for farming, which was initially just to keep villagers alive. As they began to clear area land, lumber and fish became main exports."

In 1670, the Puritans divided a significant portion of the Fairfield/Westport area into "Long Lots," as a legal protection of land ownership against the crown, and more actively farmed. "Onion farmers would take carts to the shore, load up with seaweed and spread it on their fields as fertilizer," said Curran. "Try to find an abundance of seaweed now," she challenged.

In 1806, the first market boat from Saugatuck made its way to New York City. "These boats ran daily, taking farm produce to the city and bringing back goods to the farmers," said Curran.

However, because Westport was so favorably situated for sail-based commerce in general, by the 1840s, only 40% of Westporters were still farming. Maritime commerce then shifted to railroad commerce, which made it feasible to supply Grant's army.

"By the late 19th century, as farms in the Midwest expanded, local farms declined and were abandoned," said Curran. "At the same time, a new trend was happening that was unique to Westport and Weston. Artists, many from the Midwest who had moved to New York, took the train to Westport and discovered its great beaches, but also area barns that they converted to studios. As such, there are nearly 250 local barns that have been preserved. A large number of these, about 100, are concentrated in the greater Compo area due to the convenient location at the time of local trolley service and proximity to the train."

Exhibit visitor Robbie Barnes found the exhibit very complete and informative. "I grew up in the area and it's fascinating to learn about its roots," she said.

Mike Aitkenhead, program director of Wakeman Town Farm, took interest in the stone wall photos. "When you think about the amount of work involved in creating the walls, it's pretty impressive," he said. "When all of these houses fall down, the walls will be the remaining relics."

Liz Beeby, a Westport resident for the past 45 years, connected with much of the more recent lore. "I recognize many of the names here -- the Wakemans, and Fillows for example," she said. "I remember when there was a Fillow flower shop in town. I feel a huge historical connection to Westport."

The "Back to our Roots" exhibit runs through Sept. 2. For more information, visit
Westport News

Udderly outdated data, but something to chew the cud over....
However note the importance of #1 Fairfield County, in blow-up with BIG lead over New Haven and Hartford Counties, (c) and further, that agriculture that isn't for eating is where CT does half its business (r).  What is "organic farming?"

Wait 'til next year?  Next decade?  Century?

Leaders Try To Put Grass Seed Debate Behind Them
by Christine Stuart | Apr 18, 2014 7:17am

It’s been a week since the House, in a rare move, defeated a bill that would have banned genetically modified grass seed just one day after the Senate passed it.

The bill was a priority for outgoing Senate President Donald Williams, who believes he must stop the modified grass seed before it gets to market. But he failed to communicate that to House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who had concerns about taking such a drastic step. Sharkey said he was never consulted by Williams about the bill.

Instead of waiting, Sharkey put the issue out of its misery quickly last Thursday when the House voted down the measure by a 103-37 vote.

On Thursday, lobbyists for Scotts Miracle-Gro, delivered letters to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Sharkey, Williams, and Republican leaders Lawrence Cafero and John McKinney.

The CEO of Scotts Jim Hagedorn wanted to clarify some of the statements that were made during last week’s debate on the bill and invited University of Connecticut scientists to join a consortium of turf scientists to help test the grass seed.

“In terms of offering genetically modified seed for commercial sale in Connecticut, I see no scenario under which this would occur before 2017, and only then based on the continued findings from our research,” Hagedorn wrote.

The letter opens the door to the two-year moratorium the Senate Republicans offered as an amendment to the bill last week. But proponents of the ban have expressed the desire for the moratorium to last five years.

In the meantime, lawmakers and lobbyists with interests beyond genetically modified grass are worried about the relationship between Sharkey and Williams because it could impede the flow of business in the final few weeks of the legislative session.

Asked about the relationship Thursday, Williams said “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Pressed on if the Senate would take up House bills or if he was concerned about Senate bills that needed to make it through the House, William said “I’m not going to speculate on that either.”

So there’s no tension between you and Sharkey?

“I’m not going to comment on that as well,” Williams said.

Asked the same question, Sharkey said they both recognize there’s important work to do “and that we’re going to move in a positive direction to make that happen.”

“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be able to get done everything we need to get done this year,” Sharkey said.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said at the end of the day even though he had strong disagreements with both Williams and Sharkey on policies they want to see passed he thinks they will be able to put aside their differences and “whatever personally upset them with the GMO bill.”

He said this isn’t the first time there’s been disagreements over bills within the same party or between the two chambers.

“I don’t think this is the first time it’s happened,” McKinney said. “And it probably won’t be the last.”

However, he did agree that it was unusual for the House to defeat a bill the Senate had passed less than 24 hours earlier. He agreed with the decision Sharkey made to take action on the bill instead of letting the issue linger.

House Defeats GMO Grass Seed Ban
by Christine Stuart | Apr 10, 2014 4:46pm

Less than 24 hours after the Senate approved a bill banning genetically modified grass seed, the House found bipartisan agreement to kill it.  The bill was a top priority for outgoing Sen. President Donald Williams. But House Speaker Brendan Sharkey was not sold on the idea or consulted about the bill.  In a show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans worked Thursday to defeat it by a 103 to 37 vote.  Following the vote, Sharkey said Williams never had a conversation with him about the legislation.

“I’ve never, ever been consulted about this bill by anyone in the Senate,” Sharkey said. “And the advocates wanted a vote on the bill, so I thought it was important to have vote and avoid the distraction that was going to inevitably occur if we kept it on our calendar.”

He said the same thing happened last year with the GMO labeling bill, which bounced back and forth between chambers before finally winning the approval of all the stakeholders.  Sharkey said he voted against the GMO grass bill because he believes there should have been a public hearing.

“It’s too important to take up and do without getting input from all those stakeholders,” Sharkey said.

Genetically modified grass isn’t on the market yet, but supporters worry about what will happen if it gets out there. Proponents of the legislation say the genetically modified grass would increase the use of glyphosate or other herbicides because it would be resistant to those herbicides.  There’s also the threat of the seed spreading and cross-pollinating with other grass species and spreading individual genes from one species to another. This could lead to an artificially modified gene spreading into the broader gene pool, with untold consequences, Williams explained Wednesday during the Senate debate.

However, opponents of the legislation say it sends a bad message to business and scientists.

“We have a bill before us that says if some business out there is even thinking, thinking about making such a thing, don’t bother cause you ain’t gonna sell it in Connecticut,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.

Cafero thought the concept was absurd.

“It doesn’t even exist and we’re going to ban it,” Cafero said. “Put down your beakers, put down your microscopes…save your time, change professions cause you ain’t doing it in Connecticut. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?”

A number of lawmakers, even those who supported the bill, said they were insulted the bill wasn’t raised for a public hearing.

“I don’t know anything about the substance to feel comfortable voting on this,” Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said.

Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said she was concerned about how the bill came to the Environment Committee, but she worries the product will be sold next year. She said she believes it could be dangerous to the environment.

“This is our one chance to make this product go away before it arrives on the state,” Mushinsky said.

Lance Latham, a spokesman for Scotts MiracleGro, which is developing a genetically engineered grass seed, said Wednesday that it won’t be on the market for another “few years.”

“They’re welcome to visit our research facilities in Ohio, talk with our scientists and see firsthand why we believe our enhanced grass seed can one day bring about significant environmental benefits,” Latham said.

“They’re also welcome to visit any of our facilities in Connecticut and meet with our 260 employees who live and work in the state.”

OP-ED | Farm Bureau Urges Rejection of GMO Amendment
by Henry N. Talmage | Apr 6, 2014 9:37pm

For the last few years, the news has been positive for the agricultural industry here in Connecticut. The number of farmers markets across the state is on the rise. Our friends and neighbors are committed to buying our products.

The legislature and Gov. Dannel P.  Malloy reestablished the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development—aimed at growing the industry. And, a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that for the first time in decades the number of farms is on the rise in Connecticut.

But that trend could be reversed if a piece of legislation before the General Assembly this session becomes law.

Lawmakers have added an amendment to a pesticide bill that would ban the use and sale of some grasses, even grasses that have been genetically engineered to be more environmentally friendly or need less water. The amendment calls for an outright ban on a product that isn’t even on the market yet.

But, because this amendment was added late in the legislative process, we don’t really know what the justifications are for this drastic step. Without a public hearing on this amendment, the experts and those whose livelihoods would be impacted never had the opportunity to share their views and the science that shows that these products are safe.

Nor do we know how far this ban would go—what about plants developed using genetically modified techniques that have other beneficial characteristics like drought tolerance, require less pesticide use, or that need less mowing? Would the ban include the sale and use of GMO feed corn seed in Connecticut?  After all, corn is a grass. That would wipe out our dairy industry that has been using these products safely for many years.

We are incredibly disappointed that on an issue with such wide ranging ramifications for the agricultural and landscape industry we might not have an open and transparent process to hear from constituents and experts that will be directly impacted. We urge the Connecticut General Assembly to reconsider this measure.

More farms are doing business in Connecticut
By Kelly Catalfamo Day Staff Writer
Article published Mar 31, 2014

Kerry Taylor, 38, and her husband, Max, 27, decided three years ago to leave western Massachusetts and start their own farm in Connecticut, braving the state's notoriously rocky soil because it brought with it the opportunity for more independence and less competition.

"It's super rocky, it's awful," said Taylor, but "you just learn how to weld and fix equipment."

The Taylors' move to Salem made them part of a statistic recently publicized by the governor: a preliminary report of the federal census of agriculture shows that the number of farms in Connecticut has increased by 22 percent in the past five years. The full report will be available in May.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture, which documents a national decline in farmland, shows that Connecticut boasts the highest farming increase in New England. The average size of a farm, however, decreased from 83 to 73 acres, and the average market value of agricultural products sold decreased by almost 18 percent (from $112,195 per farm to $92,120).

The state Department of Agriculture confirmed that farming seems to be becoming more popular but also noted the trend may be somewhat exaggerated.

Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff George Krivda said the last five years have been an exciting time for agriculture in the Connecticut, but he doesn't want to draw hard and fast conclusions from the census numbers.

The census relies on self-reported data, and the department worked hard to encourage local farmers to fill out the paperwork this year, said Krivda, so the increase may be artificially large.

Nevertheless, the state has a long history of farming, and that's not going away anytime soon, he said.

"Agriculture was firmly planted in the state before Connecticut was a state," said Krivda, referring to the "three sisters" planted by Native Americans: corn, squash and beans.

He said the department has noticed an increased interest in agriculture over the past few years, especially from young people. The census reflects that trend: The Connecticut farmers younger than 25 years old nearly doubled between 2007 and 2012, jumping from 24 to 55. And the number of farmers between 25 and 34 years old increased from 161 to 226.

The DoA also is receiving more and more inquiries from people just out of college about the price of land and farming apprenticeships. Their youth may be a bit surprising those who picture farming as an old-fashioned, aging profession, but Krivda isn't terribly shocked.

There was a whole generation that grew up not really understanding where vegetables came from, he said, but today's young adults are more environmentally conscious.

"I think there's a certain panache to it" among young people these days, said Krivda. "I think farming is a little bit romantic from the outside."

And perhaps it is. Kerry Taylor grew up in Providence and studied biology at Mount Holyoke College. She never planned to become a farmer but found herself drawn to the idea when she "happened upon" Pomykala Farm in South Hero, Vt., on a post-college road trip.

She worked at Pomykala for a season and "really, really, really liked it."

Taylor went on to do agricultural work in Togo with the Peace Corps and spent several years at a large vegetable farm in Amherst, Mass. Now she and her husband - who grew up outside Chicago and studied sustainable agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst - operate Provider Farm in Salem, where the smell of cabbages still reminds Kerry of tending her grandfather's garden as a child.

Both Krivda and Taylor, however, were quick to stress that it's not all romance.

"Farmers are like artists," explained Krivda - they must make difficult and imprecise judgements about how to nurture plants every day.

And they always have to work, even when they're tired or sick. With vegetables to grow and animals to take care of, vacations can be nearly impossible. The natural world dictates the farmer's schedule.

"Farmers don't really go by clocks, they go by the sun," said Krivda. "The elements are your boss."

Certain people adapt to the lifestyle and wouldn't have it any other way, he said. But for others, it's too much.

Fortunately for Taylor, she had no trouble adapting. And she's thrilled to hear that the number of farms in Connecticut has increased.

"Right now farming's pretty trendy and a lot of people are talking about it," said Taylor. "There's a lot of great energy around it."

But she cautions against young people starting a farm without getting experience first.

"It's a really hard job," said Taylor, adding that her five years learning how to manage a vegetable farm at Brookfield Farm in Massachusetts were critical. She encourages apprenticing farmers to stay at one farm and volunteer to help with anything they can, getting a depth of experience in one place, rather than jumping from farm to farm.

As she made her way across Provider Farm last week, wearing worn jeans, a camouflage baseball cap, wetland boots and a thinning sweater over multiple layers, Taylor said New England farmers are fortunate because they don't have to deal with the droughts plaguing their peers out west.

But farmers here have their own challenges. Taylor spoke as she thinned out beet sprouts for spring planting in her warm and slightly humid greenhouse, but outdoors the late March weather was still blustery and cold - not the ideal situation for growing plants.

The Taylors are able to help sustain themselves through the long winters by offering customers winter Community Sponsored Agriculture shares. CSAs invite customers to share in the risk and unpredictability of farming in return for weekly portions of the produce harvest - in winter, "all the roots you can think of," squash, onions, garlic and spinach, said Taylor.

The number of CSAs has taken off in recent years and farmers markets are springing up everywhere, said Krivda, who said their popularity is probably related to the locavore movement.

"What we're seeing is more of a connection between what people eat and how they feel," he said.

Is this part of the proposal to be discussed at Board of Selectmen, perhaps, Thursday, April 15, 2010?
COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE:  In Connecticut, Community-Supported Agriculture Gaining In Popularity
Hartford Courant
April 13, 2010

Once a week, people drive out to the farm to pick up their prepaid share — a bag or a box of fresh produce grown right there. They chat with the farmer who has planted the seeds and turned the soil that produced their tomatoes or peppers or squash.

These customers are partaking in community-supported agriculture, known as CSA. Ten years ago, there were fewer than 10 CSA farms in Connecticut. Today, there are more than 40.

There are organic and non-organic CSA farms. But all are evidence that this model of growing and selling and buying local produce has become more than a fad. As farmers sell shares of their farm in exchange for a cut of their products, it has evolved into a viable business model. CSA is helping farmers stay in business while responding to the national trend among consumers to eat more food that is locally grown.

With the 2010 growing season underway, state agriculture officials say it looks like CSA will keep its momentum.

"To me, it's the future," said Fred Monahan of Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton. "It's a good way to connect the grower with the consumer."

The CSA model is fluid. Each farmer decides what works best for his or her customers or community: Sometimes customers pay upfront for only a weekly or biweekly share; some farms require pickup, some will deliver; some sell half-shares while others sell only full shares.

But the crux of the system is that, as one University of Connecticut commercial agriculture expert explained, "The customers share the risk instead of putting it all on the farmer who, usually when Mother Nature strikes, takes it all on the chin."

Because customers are paying upfront for their vegetables, said UConn's Jude Boucher, the farmers are able to cover costs for the season.

Boucher said that farmers throughout the state are starting up CSAs to complement their other marketing avenues.

"There should be at least a CSA in every single town," Boucher said.

Monahan and his wife, Stacia, have been growing vegetables on their Shelton farm since 1998 and, after three seasons, their CSA portion of the farm is up to 400 shares, one of the largest totals in the state. Their shares cost $600 each; but prices each farm charges for a share vary. "I wish I did it sooner. We've doubled every year," Monahan said.

Beyond Organic

Monahan has also noticed a shift in the focus of his customers, who seem more enamored of the locally grown aspect of CSA shares than with the organic principles, which had fueled the CSA fire for years.

"We use organic measures, but we're not certified organic," he said. "It's more important [to some customers] to know that it's grown here and that you're protecting farmland."

The organic customers are still a vital part of the CSA structure, but the appeal has broadened in the past few years, said Steven Reviczky, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, an independent organization of farmers.

"There is a huge demand for consumers to know their farmer and know where their food is coming from," he said. "It's an amazing turn of events where people are willing and able to buy local."

The most recent tally in the state counted 42 CSA farms, Reviczky said.

"Clearly this is a growing way that agricultural producers can market their fruits and vegetables and other Connecticut-grown products," he said.

The Griffin family in Suffield started selling CSA shares last year to save its family farm for a few more generations. Sheri Mandirola, her brother, Jonathan Griffin, and her sister, Sarah-Jean Griffin, are the 10th generation to farm their family's land.

They aimed for 30 shares on the Oxen Hill Farm CSA, and ended up with 36 families buying $425 shares. This year they'll shoot for 100, and last week had 60 signed up.

"There was such a demand for it," Mandirola said. "It's a local way to sustain our open space and to keep it in our family name. Being the 10th generation is not something we take lightly, and this is a viable way for us to do that."

For those who remain loyal to the 100 percent organic farms, the list of options is growing as well. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut keeps a list of certified organic CSA farms on its website, Other CSA farms can be found at"We're very supportive of anything that promotes economic viability for farms, and CSAs are an up-and-coming thing," said Don Tuller, farm bureau president.

Community Gardens in Greenwich

Cos Cob Community Garden grows over the weekend

Greenwich TIME
Posted on May 19, 2014 | By Anne W. Semmes   

The gardeners – some two dozen of them, including half a dozen Boy Scout volunteers, showed up on the sunny Saturday and put their muscle into getting the job done. Overseeing them was Terri Browne Kutzen who chairs the Greenwich Community Gardens of which there are now two: Armstrong Court Community Garden and now the Cos Cob Community Garden.

Before them laid out neatly the day before were 86 wooden framed beds –each spoken for by gardeners across town.  Included in those beds are beds reserved for Neighbor to Neighbor just as there are in the Armstrong Court Garden. Still to be added were wheelchair accessible plots. “They’ll be raised higher for handicapped accessibility,” says Kutzen.

The Natali Brothers concern built the garden frames. “They were very generous with their time and advice,” says Kutzen. Summer Rain is providing the water access from the street, with hoses for garden watering, says Kutzen, “and we’re paying for that.”

The gardeners have actually been at work for a month  clearing the great open space in the verdant woods of the Montgomery Pinetum property  – some 40 acres of which is located on the east side of Bible Street, across the street from the Greenwich Garden Education Center.

After the piles of wood chips were laid out along the paths, next came on Saturday the two truckloads of rich organic topsoil mixed with compost – 40 yards worth, bought from Brookside Nurseries.  “We’ve had 10 people spreading the dirt in the beds,” says Kutzen. By the end of the month she guesses that 93 percent of the beds will be planted with vegetables.

Still to come is a shed and “cartport” for wheelbarrow storage, with a roof that will facilitate rainwater collection. “There’s an 8-foot deer fence,” says Kutzen, “It’s black and you can hardly see it. Below that fence is a three-foot wire mesh barrier underground to keep out the burrowing predators. Nothing left out to make for an abundant harvest.

“It’s all due to our generous donors and gardeners and our leaders who organized and got it together,” says Kutsen, “It’s a public-private partnership with the Town that has made this new garden possible. ”

For more information about the Cos Cob Community Garden visit

LWV of Weston attended Fall Conference 2012 and learned all about this
Conn. bill would expand pesticide restrictions
Mar 15, 9:53 AM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut state lawmakers are considering whether to expand restrictions on pesticide use to include more public places like parks, playgrounds and municipal greens.

Legislators say they drafted a bill to shield children from toxic lawn pesticides. The General Assembly's Environment Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal and other bills for 1 p.m. Monday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

The bill would expand current restrictions on using pesticides at schools to include all high schools. It also would restrict their use at parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and town greens.

Members of a state association of public parks and recreation officials oppose the bill. They say it has little basis in science and would lead to more injuries on sports fields because of turf damage from insects.

Bridgeport ‘urban farmer’ told to remove animals
By The Associated Press
Posted: 01/23/14, 8:20 AM EST | Updated: 41 secs ago

BRIDGEPORT >> An “urban farmer” who received permission from Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch to raise chickens in the city last year says he’s now being ordered to get rid of most of his animals.

Christopher Toole said Wednesday that police gave him 30 days to relocate his donkeys, goats, pigs and all but six of his chickens he’s been raising near the police department’s animal shelter.

Toole drew the attention of city health officials last year for raising chickens in his apartment, but Finch allowed him to keep the chickens near the animal shelter. Hearst Connecticut Newspapers report that Toole continuing growing his heard with little to no oversight.

City officials are limiting Toole to six chickens, because that’s the number of hens residents could keep under a planned new policy.

Community garden gets P&Z approval
Justin Pottle, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:15 pm, Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cos Cob is one step closer to getting a little greener.

Greenwich Community Garden's application to convert an acre of the Montgomery Pinetum currently used for leaf storage into a communal garden for Greenwich residents was approved unanimously by the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday evening. The plan, which entails Greenwich Community Gardens leasing the Bible Street parcel from the town for one dollar a year for 10 years, will next go in front of the RTM in September for final approval of the lease agreement.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the lease deal earlier this week and endorsed the project in March.

"The Board of Selectmen believes that the new community garden will provide a sustainable resource for healthy local food, as well as recreational and community benefits to the residents of the town of Greenwich," wrote First Selectman Peter Tesei in a memo to Town Planner Diane Fox and the Planning and Zoning Department.

Modeled after Greenwich Community Garden's flagship project, the Armstrong Court Community Garden, the Cos Cob garden will be open to all Greenwich residents and the plots will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

"These are open spaces for all members of the community," said Patty Sechi, president of Greenwich Community Gardens, "not just gardeners."

Greenwich Community Gardens expects roughly 45 to 50 gardeners to use the plots, with some gardeners choosing to adopt more than one plot.

The community garden plan, if passed by the RTM, would go forward as a sort of public-private partnership. Prior to the start of the lease, the town would, under the current agreement, clear the acre of foliage and large debris, remove "interfering trees" from the property and build necessary parking spaces, among other obligations.

Following these developments, the Greenwich Community Gardens would finance all other improvements to the lot using privately raised funds, including installing some 88 garden beds, implementing a new water system and constructing deer fences and other accessory structures. Private finances would also cover future maintenance costs.

In Greenwich
Crucial step for Cos Cob community garden plan
Justin Pottle, Greenwich TIME
Updated 9:43 pm, Monday, July 29, 2013

A community garden project is waiting for a green thumbs up from the Planning Zoning Commission. At its Tuesday night's meeting, the commission is expected to vote on Greenwich Community Garden's proposal to turn an unused acre of land in Cos Cob into a communal garden open to all Greenwich residents.

Taking as a blueprint the group's flagship project, the Armstrong Court Community Garden, organizers hope to secure a 10-year lease of the town-owned plot, on Bible Street. Approval by P&Z remains one of the final hurdles to the project's realization. If the commission gives its nod, the garden will go before the Representative Town Meeting to have the lease approved.

The proposal is about continuing the successes of the Armstrong Garden elsewhere, said Patty Sechi, president of Greenwich Community Gardens.

"All of the benefits we hoped to see at the Armstrong Garden we are seeing now," she said. "And we hope to bring it to other parts of Greenwich."

Momentum is on the gardeners' side: The Board of Selectmen has given the project thumbs up, unanimously voting to grant the plan "municipal improvement status" in March and unanimously approving the lease plan last week.

"We believe, and I think so do the Board of Selectman, that community gardens provide a great service for the town by managing green space and providing avenues for the production of food, well-being and community building, all benefits for us residents," said Sechi.

Under the guidelines used thus far, the lease on paper doesn't appear to be a great benefit for the town. Greenwich Community Gardens will pay the town a one dollar a year for use of the land, but justifies the rent by characterizing the project as a public-private partnership and communal asset. The town has similar agreements with other groups that provide services for residents, a practice that has caused some controversy in the RTM.

If the town agrees to clear the acre of brush, build a small access driveway and grant the lease, the group will finance all other improvements, including the implementation of a new watering system and the raising of 88 garden beds, with privately raised funds. Other privately funded improvements would include deer fencing, a tool shed and seasonal restrooms, as well as all maintenance costs, though the proposed garden would not have light or electricity.

Offering the lease, Greenwich Community Gardens maintains, would be in accordance with the town's goals in the Plan of Conservation and Development.

Organizers have suggested that garden plots would be available on a first come, first served basis, and would be open to all residents.

The proposal previously went before the Planning and Zoning Commission at its last meeting, but the commission postponed making a decision until the July 30 meeting so as to factor in the Board of Selectmen's verdict on the lease.

Sechi said she remains confident that the proposal will receive the commission's approval, but was hesitant to call the project a done deal at this stage. Greenwich Community Gardens, pending project approval at the Planning and Zoning meeting, will go before the RTM when it reconvenes in September.

"I think we need to answer any questions that RTM members may have," she said. "Find out what questions they have, and provide them with good answers."

Urban Gardening: An Appleseed With Attitude
May 3, 2013

Ron Finley was home by the pool recently when his thoughts once again turned to dirt. “People need to realize how powerful the transformation of soil can be,” he said, with a hint of evangelism. “We’ve gotten so far away from our food source. It’s been hijacked from us. But if you get soil, plant something in it and water it, you can feed yourself. It’s that simple.”

Mr. Finley’s two-story house in South Los Angeles used to be headquarters for a swimming school but the pool was drained long ago to make way for greener dreams. Potted cactuses, bags of organic fertilizer and gardening equipment cluttered the shallow end. Graffiti emblazoned its once-white walls. Old shopping carts planted with succulents lined the pool’s edge.

“We’re going to do a parade with a hundred of these to show you can repurpose the carts instead of just junking them,” he said.

It was early afternoon and Mr. Finley, who is tall, extroverted and disinclined to give his age (he has two sons in their 20s), had been up since dawn dealing with e-mails, invitations and other byproducts of what he called “the TED effect.” Last winter at TED, the annual ideas confab in Long Beach, his rousing 10-minute talk about guerrilla gardening in low-income neighborhoods was the hug-your-neighbor presentation of the week, and Mr. Finley was suddenly the man to meet.

“I should have brought a stripper pole and had people throw money at me,” said Mr. Finley, who juggles jobs as a fitness trainer and fashion designer to support his passion for gardening. He does not receive a salary for his work at L.A. Green Grounds, the volunteer organization he helped found three years ago to install vegetable gardens in vacant lots and sidewalk medians in blighted areas.

TED was a world apart. “Sergey Brin from Google was standing there clapping,” he said, “Benedikt Taschen was inviting me to his Hollywood parties and Goldie Hawn wanted to say hi and kiss me. I kept thinking, what am I doing here?”

Since then, Mr. Finley has been thrust into the unlikely role of pavement-pounding Johnny Appleseed. His talk has received almost 900,000 views on TED’s Web site and his message that edible gardens are the antidote to inner-city health issues, poverty and gang violence (“if you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta,” he told the crowd) has gone supernova.

The talk show host Carson Daly, the actress Rashida Jones and the celebrated Danish chef René Redzepi were among hundreds of new admirers issuing shout-outs on Twitter.

Alice Waters stopped by Mr. Finley’s house, Russell Brand put him on his late-night talk show, and corporations like Reebok, Disney, Stihl and Toms Shoes had collaboration ideas. A graduate student asked to write a dissertation about Mr. Finley, who, to his credit, has kept an eyebrow arched over his newfound fame.

“All the attention in the world won’t do my dishes,” he said.

“Ron is compelling, funny and completely authentic in his quest to redefine what’s possible in areas where there’s no nature to be seen,” said Chris Anderson, the TED curator who helped select Mr. Finley as one of 34 speakers discovered during a worldwide talent search that drew thousands of applicants last year. “He takes on the depressing narrative that our inner cities are irretrievably decaying. Watching him fight back rewires your worldview.”

Mr. Finley, who grew up with seven siblings near the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues, where the 1992 Los Angeles riots began, aligns more with graffiti artists like Risk and Retna, both friends of Mr. Finley’s, than with English horticulturalists of yore. Neat rows of zucchini are for grandmas. His gardens have spirals, color, fragrance and curves, and, to him, soil is sensuous. “How much more sexy can it get than you eating food that you grew?” Mr. Finley asked.

In a city where an elite few fuss over $13 plates of escarole wedges, too many others eat at 98-cent stores and drive-throughs or go hungry altogether. Mr. Finley estimates that the City of Los Angeles owns 26 square miles of vacant lots, an area equivalent to 20 Central Parks, with enough space for 724,838,400 tomato plants.

His radical fix is to take back that land and plant it, even if it’s the skinny strip between concrete and curb.

It was the barren 150-by-10-foot median outside Mr. Finley’s house that inspired his first act of crab grass defiance. In 2010, he planted a sidewalk garden to reduce grocery expenses and to avoid the 45-minute round-trip to Whole Foods.

“I wanted a carrot without toxic ingredients I didn’t know how to spell,” he said.

A few months later, neighbors were gawking in delight at the sight of pumpkins, peppers, sunflowers, kale and corn in an area better known for hubcap shops. Late one night, Mr. Finley, who is a single father, noticed a mother and daughter sneaking food from his garden. He conceived L.A. Green Grounds as a way to share the abundance with people like them.

The city was less magnanimous. As do other metropolitan areas, Los Angeles owns the “parkways” that run alongside the curb, and the Bureau of Street Services cited Mr. Finley for gardening on his median without the required $400 permit.

Outraged, he and a band of green-thumbed activists petitioned a member of the City Council, who convinced the city to back off.

“People in my neighborhood are so disconnected from the fresh food supply that kids don’t know an eggplant from a sweet potato,” Mr. Finley said. “We have to show them how to get grounded in the truest sense of the word.”

That missionary zeal got Mr. Finley noticed by Jesse Dylan, a filmmaker whose company made a short video about the gardener’s City Hall battle. It helped that Mr. Finley is a magnetic character. He motors around town in a three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder roadster, often dressed in the couture garments he designs for his clothing company, the Dropdead Collexion. His storehouse of African-American entertainment memorabilia is considered one of the country’s most impressive, at least by Mr. Finley.

“Ron’s got a deep and feisty spirit,” Mr. Dylan said. “He’s a modern Walt Whitman with attitude.”

On a sparkling Saturday morning in March, Mr. Finley was overseeing a “dig-in” in Baldwin Hills with around 20 volunteers from L.A. Green Grounds. “We’re usually begging people, but this time we had 300 requests,” he said.

After a few hours of working with donated shovels, mulch and seedlings, the team transformed a backyard tangle of weeds and pale grass into an outdoor salad bar offering Japanese eggplant, black tomatoes, Swiss chard, red kale, dragon kale and plum trees. It was organic proof of Mr. Finley’s second most indelible line from TED, that “growing your own food is like printing your own money.” (His most memorable line is not suitable for printing here.)

Mr. Finley now faces the challenge of living up to the hype. “The world is behind Ron, and it’s wonderful that his efforts and instincts intersect with latent support,” said Ben Goldhirsh, a co-founder and chief executive of GOOD, a publishing and marketing business that promotes social causes, and whose Goldhirsh Foundation plans to give Mr. Finley a grant. “The question is how to convert that energy into outcomes. Ron’s got a lot of energy and ability. It’s up to him whether he can harness that for the long slog.”

With a shovel in one hand and a cellphone full of new messages in the other, Mr. Finley appeared to have as many plans as there are seeds in the new garden.

“I want to plant entire blocks of vegetable beds,” he said, back in preacher mode. “I want to turn shipping containers into healthy cafes where customers can pick their salad and juice off the trees. I want our inner-city churches to become ministries of health instead of places that serve up fried, fattening foods. I want to clean up my yard, my street and my ’hood.”

The neighbors are certainly responding. In April, a local dialysis clinic pictured in his PowerPoint slide show at TED wrote to say it had more than 200 volunteers ready to serve Mr. Finley’s cause. “It’s definitely a start,” he said. “Although the kind of support this community needs might eventually put them out of business.”

If nothing else, Mr. Finley hopes to use his moment in the spotlight to give the next generation an alternative. “I wish,” he said, “somebody had told me, ‘don’t go down that street,’ or ‘find yourself a mentor,’ so that’s a role I’m trying to play.”

The future he envisions is full of shovels, not guns, and mint and marjoram instead of drugs.

“I saw a kid walking down the street listening to music when he came face to face with one of my giant Russian Mammoth sunflowers,” Mr. Finley said. “He said, ‘Yo, is that real?’ ”

“He thought it was a prop or something. That’s what I want on my streets. Flowers so big and magnificent, they’ll blow a kid’s mind.”

A Vacant Lot in Phoenix Offers Refugees a Taste of Home
November 26, 2012

PHOENIX – Hussein Al Hamka is going to farm his famous cucumbers on a 15-acre vacant lot in the heart of this city, where nearly half of all lots sit empty and unused.

If his piece of fertilized dirt had a price tag, it would cost much more than he could ever dream of affording; the lot is valued at $25 million, or at least it was before the housing market collapsed and it was left undeveloped. To survive, Mr. Al Hamka, 50, an Iraqi refugee three years into his life in the United States, grows and sells cucumbers just like the ones he ate in his home country.

On Friday, Fidele Komezusenge, 25, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, picked rocks from the loose soil in the raised beds next to Mr. Al Hamka’s. On Monday, Mr. Komezusenge is going to plant carrot and cabbage seeds, his first farming foray since arriving in the United States in June. Nearby, Safala Chhetri, 50, a refugee from Bhutan who arrived in 2009, wavered between planting spinach or kale, but then decided to give onions a second chance.

“I planted them on my backyard last year, but they didn’t do so great,” Ms. Chhetri said.

The refugees are accidental farmers in an unlikely urban field that is part of an ambitious plan to transform vacant land. The lot sits on one of the busiest corners of this expansive city, across from an English pub, near a light-rail stop and in sight of the glimmering high rises that punctuate downtown.

In Detroit or Buffalo, empty lots are ubiquitous reminders of what once was, places where buildings stood until they were abandoned during rough times that still endure. Here, the lots are a sign of what could be – promise and eyesore wrapped together in undeveloped slices of weeds and packed dirt.

In his inaugural speech in January, Mayor Greg Stanton spoke about the fields as empty canvases “filled with opportunities.” Last Monday, he broke ground on the lot where, on Friday, the refugees were preparing the land for farming and where, soon, shady trees and murals painted by local artists will color the barren landscape. Food trucks will operate there someday, he said in an interview, and there will be plenty of space for children to play and adults to socialize.

“We want to change the conversation about vacant lots in the city,” Mr. Stanton said.

The land came into the city’s hands at no cost, at the tail end of a three-way land-swap deal involving the federal government and a private developer. It used to be part of a bigger lot that held a boarding school for American Indian children who were taken from reservations across the southwest and brought there to be indoctrinated into Euro-American values. Some of the buildings still stand, in the adjacent Steele Indian School Park.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the lot’s former owner, traded it with a developer, Barron Collier Companies, for a piece of swampland in Florida. The city then gave the developer a different plot downtown in exchange for the area that houses the park. The remaining 15 acres stayed in Barron Collier’s hands. A few months ago, Mr. Stanton asked if the city could loan out the lot – for three years, but “maybe longer,” if in three years the developer still had no plans for the land. The developer agreed.

The project is simple. Mr. Stanton said his goal was to create “not a Taj Mahal, but something replicable,” fit for lots of all sizes, in spots of high visibility and in hidden corners of poor neighborhoods.

The lot stands at the intersection of Indian School Road and Central Avenue, which slices Phoenix from north to south and from where the refugees’ crops eventually will be visible. Seven families have prepared a half acre of land for planting. Timothy Olorunfemi, the farm program coordinator in Phoenix for the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement agency, said that soon, 80 families would be working on two acres of land.

The first season runs through February or March; leafy greens, onions and root vegetables are among its main crops. Summer crops include melons, eggplants, tomatoes and, for Mr. Al Hamka, his cucumbers.

Mr. Al Hamka was a mechanic for the Iraqi Army, but he learned to farm from his parents, who grew wheat, barley and other grains on the family farm near Kurdistan. When he left Iraq for a refugee camp in Syria, he carried some cucumber seeds, which he then brought to Phoenix, where he planted them. The cucumbers they yield are a lighter shade of green than the cucumbers found in the supermarket here, and they have a smoother skin and a sweeter taste. He sells them in Arabic markets in Phoenix and San Diego, where they are known as “Al Hamka cucumbers.”

Ms. Chhetri, who has a degree in history, also learned to farm from her parents. She said she pays her mortgage here with the money she makes by selling the vegetables she grows in her backyard.

Mr. Komezuenge is an agronomist and worked for the Congolese Ministry of Agriculture before he escaped to a refugee camp in Rwanda and, from there, to the United States. When he got to Phoenix, he said: “I was surprised. The area is very different from Africa. Africa is very green. Maybe no agriculture here.”

But he said he was again surprised when he spotted leaves sprouting from a neighbor’s garden, a sight that taught him “The land can feed you anywhere, even in the desert.”

Young farmers develop organic seeds for Whidbey Island farmers
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
September 27, 2012 · 10:35 AM

Amid the work training farmers for a life in agriculture is a project that could be a boon to organic farmers on Whidbey Island.

The Greenbank Farm is home to an Agriculture Training Center that teaches farmers the ins-and-outs of the field. As part of their studies, several students and teachers are developing varieties of organic seeds catered to thrive on Whidbey Island.

Sebastian Aguilar, training director, said there is a huge need for organic seeds in many varieties and in large quantities.

“In the organic farming, seeds are one of the last frontiers in the industry,” Aguilar said. Often organic farmers are left to use conventional seeds when organic counterparts aren’t available in the marketplace. Those varieties may not be as resistant to pests or the conditions of an organic farm.

Students are now going through a project that will take years to complete, examining varieties of produce that work on Whidbey and under organic farming conditions. Trainees during the growing season planted varieties of zucchini, cucumbers and other vegetables.

Aguilar highlighted the efforts of Nathanial Talbot in getting the seed program off the ground.

Talbot, a Portland native who was a student at the training center last year and is a current assistant, had become interested in organic seed production as he learned about farming. He hopes to someday lease a farm on Whidbey Island.

He outlined the work necessary to gather the seeds from the crops. The seeds are carefully removed from the plant in order that it doesn’t shatter. He has to work to remove any additional non-seed material before it is stored in a dark, dry, cool place.

Aguilar said a dehumidifier is brought in to help combat the damp conditions that are common at the Greenbank Farm.

The Greenbank Farm Agriculture Training Center is rounding up financial support to continue the research.

The center received a $15,000 grant from Sustainable Path in Seattle.

That award will fund workshops that will teach area farmers about such topics as plant breeding for organic seeds and seed saving.

Aguilar also said that the center is being considered for a United States Department of Agriculture grant administrated through the state. If awarded, the grant will provide $150,000 in funding.

The grant will help the training center develop a regional seed system that will develop a network of “seedspeople” who will share knowledge and experiences, according to information provided by the training center. 

The center hopes to share information with the Whidbey Island community. In addition to the workshops, Aguilar said the data collected will be posted on the center’s website, 

Next year he hopes to continue the research, only on a larger scale. Students will also continue talking with local farmers about their needs and goals.

“We’re interested in finding other growers on the island interested in seed production,” Aguilar said.

For more information, go to

When the Uprooted Put Down Roots
October 9, 2011

SAN DIEGO — At the Saturday farmer’s market in City Heights, a major portal for refugees, Khadija Musame, a Somali, arranges her freshly picked pumpkin leaves and lablab beans amid a United Nations of produce, including water spinach grown by a Cambodian refugee and amaranth, a grain harvested by Sarah Salie, who fled rebels in Liberia. Eaten with a touch of lemon by Africans, and coveted by Southeast Asians for soups, this crop is always a sell-out.

Among the regular customers at the New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home balancing boxes of produce on their heads.

New Roots, with 85 growers from 12 countries, is one of more than 50 community farms dedicated to refugee agriculture, an entrepreneurial movement spreading across the country. American agriculture has historically been forged by newcomers, like the Scandinavians who helped settle the Great Plains; today’s growers are more likely to be rural subsistence farmers from Africa and Asia, resettled in and around cities from New York, Burlington, Vt., and Lowell, Mass., to Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego.

With language and cultural hurdles, and the need to gain access to land, financing and marketing, farm ownership for refugees can be very difficult. Programs like New Roots, which provide training in soil, irrigation techniques and climate, “help refugees make the leap from community gardens to independent farms,” said Hugh Joseph, an assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts, which advises 28 “incubator” farms representing hundreds of small-scale producers.

Cameroonian peanut plants are growing at Drew Gardens in the Bronx, chronicled on the Facebook page of Angela Nogue, a refugee farmer. Near Phoenix, a successful goat meat farm and store was begun by Ibrahim Sawara Dahab, an ethnic Sudanese from Somalia. “In America, you need experience, and my experience was goats,” he said.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement in Washington formed a sustainable farming program in 1998, financing 14 refugee farms and gardens, including one in Boise, Idaho, where sub-Saharan African farmers have gradually learned to cope with unpredictable frosts.

Larry Laverentz, the program manager for refugee agriculture with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said inspiration came from the Hmong, Mien and Lao refugee farmers of Fresno County, Calif., who settled in the late 1970s and now have 1,300 growers specializing in Asian crops.

These small plots of land can become significant sources of income for refugees, with most farmers able to earn from $5,000 to more than $50,000 annually, as the Liberian refugees James and Jawn Golo do on their 20-acre organic farm outside Phoenix, including sales to five farmers’ markets, restaurants and chefs.

In Burlington, a four-acre farm started by Bhutanese-Nepali, Somali Bantu and Congolese farmers is still reeling from the flooding of the Winooski River after Hurricane Irene, which ruined crops at the height of the season and caused an estimated $15,000 in losses.

“This is a significant supplement to our diet, and budgets are geared to it,” said Yacouba Jacob Bogre, 38, executive director of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont and a lawyer from Burkina Faso. “Emotionally, we lost a lot, along with fresh vegetables for our households.”

New Roots in City Heights, which Michelle Obama visited last spring, is a model for today’s micro-enterprise. (It is also a culinary education, where a Zimbabwean grower can discover bok choy.) It was started at the request of his Somali Bantu community, said Bilali Muya, the effervescent trainer-in-chief. “There was this kind of depression,” he said. “Everyone was dreaming to come to the U.S.A., but they were not happy. The people were put in apartments, missing activity, community. They were bored.“

They were also homesick for traditional food, grown by hand. In City Heights, where half the residents live at or below the federal poverty line, the three-year-old farmer’s market was the city’s first in a low-income neighborhood, a collaboration between the nonprofit International Rescue Committee and the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

One can hear 15 different languages there, amid the neat rows of kale, rape and banana plants — but body language is the lingua franca.

“If I see a weed, I pull it, shaking my head,” said Mrs. Musame, the Somali farmer. “We understand each other.”

The hub of refugee life, City Heights was largely home to African-Americans and Mexican immigrants until the fall of Saigon in 1975, when thousands of Southeast Asian refugees arrived to a massive tent city at nearby Camp Pendleton.

From 1980 through 1990, the population almost doubled with immigrants and refugees (most recently from Iraq). The changing demographics of the neighborhood resemble an electrocardiogram of international conflict.

But the exquisite fruits and vegetables for sale, lovingly grown, belie the life experiences of the growers. Mrs. Salie, the Liberian, was raped by rebels and hid for two years in the bush after reporting the crime, she said. Mrs. Musame, a Somali Bantu, came to San Diego as a widow after her husband and three of her sons were gunned down.

And Mr. Muya said Somalis had taken his father, who dug irrigation trenches for a local banana farm, and tortured him, his screams echoing through the village. His grandfather went to help and was beaten with the butt of a rifle. Many hours later, Mr. Muya said, the villagers were told: “Come pick up your dogs.”

“As a Somali Bantu, you don’t go to sleep really deep,” Mr. Muya continued. “You sleep awake.”

In addition to accepting food stamps, the market offers $20 a month to low-income shoppers to buy more produce (financing comes from Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit based in Connecticut, and a $250,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

“Especially in tough times, farmers are becoming pharmacists — providing healthy fresh local fruits and vegetables to vulnerable families,” said Gus Schumacher, a former under secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture and now an executive vice president of Wholesome Wave.

Their produce is sold to restaurateurs like George and Samia Salameh, who buy the farm’s tomatoes and mint. Mr. Salameh, a former airline pilot, came to the United States from Lebanon 37 years ago. “This product is absolutely fitting for me,” he said.

The country’s pioneering refugee farm program, in Lowell, Mass., was founded by Tufts University and continues to thrive.

Visoth Kim, a Khmer refugee from Cambodia, now 63, farms land in Dracut, Mass., owned by the widow of John Ogonowski, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Mr. Ogonowski, whose ancestors were Polish immigrants, made land available to Hmong and Cambodian refugees, teaching them modern irrigation techniques in exchange for fresh vegetables.

Mr. Kim, who witnessed mass starvation in Cambodia, losing a brother, refers to his two-acre plot as “my plenty.” His fellow farmer Sinikiwe Makarutsa grew up in Zimbabwe and now grows maize on land rented from a local church. She made enough money to buy a tractor and rototiller.

Ms. Makarutsa was inspired to farm, she said, after tasting supermarket tomatoes. She uses the Zimbabwean phrase “Pamuzinda” to describe her seven-acre plot.

Roughly translated, she said, “It means ‘where you belong.’ ”