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"
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 I D E A F
L A C H
OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE'S SPREADSHEET HERE
Through the years we have followed Lachat - photo of lower field taken
around the time of the first Committee (l)
and upper field (r), with an environmental assessment done during the
"charrette" phase of Education Center
idea. Inbetween 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?
TOWN MEETING - JANUARY
19, 2012 says "YES"; prior to this, much discussion took place
among boards and commission.
Oversight Committee news.
elsewhere; gardening a good fit here?
ED FUND: 2013 Symposium on International Relations ("S.I.R.")
here; 2012 "Food" Fall Conference here.
Back barns at Lachat (l) and upper field, which was
proposed for Conservation-Education Center parkingl.
OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE MOST RECENT GROUP...
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?
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!
presentation at Selectmen
to Board of Selectmen May, 16, 2013 went well...as 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
SPECIAL MEETING TO PREPARE FOR
SELECTMEN PRESENTATION 5-16-13
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
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
LOCATION, FUNCTION, WORK NEEDED, WHO WILL DO IT, MATERIALS, TIME FRAME,
RATIONALE, DETAILS, COST, FUNDING SOURCE
PHASE ONE: First and second year.
PHASE TWO: Six to nine months
PHASE THREE: TBD
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
COMMITTEE AT WORK...
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.
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
that body want in the way of a plan for the overall project?
about parking requirements revealed. However, we figure that
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
been asked about peeople entering the Den through Lachat.
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
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
a residence. If "historic" designaton achieved at State or
level, standards can be relaxed somewhat (based on Fairfield's
experience). It was observed that P&Z
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
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
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
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 westonct.gov.
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
Report on the status of repairs to house done:
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
2. roof leaks
3. actions taken
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
Two contractors (one that had bid last time and one new one) again bid,
and those proposals were opened last Thursday, Sept.
(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
“Obviously, we’re looking at two contractors with very different
business models, or very different ideas of what the work is,” Mr.
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
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
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
• Replace wood beams where called for in the basement; and
• Replace an existing window in the repaired foundation wall with a new
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, SEPT.
Lachat Oversight Committee meets September 4th and approved concepts to
present to Selectmen re: plans for house. Some items
removal (to storage) others just to remove (skylights). Of
discussion, topic of access to attic. First priority is Town
Determination of use close to finalization (as a recommendation) -
floor again an apartment, main floor a display space of its historic
architectural interior. Strategic plan
the works as is research on specific ideas suggested so far.
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
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
Overview of the Town agreements with the Nature Conservancy/see center
C. Status report on farmhouse
restoration - planning phase/done
2. Understanding the parameters of Leon
Lachat’s wishes for the property/see right above
Discuss the use of the farmhouse - above right
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.
2. Discuss foundation restoration specs
- plan in hand with Town of Weston
3. Discuss landscape planning component
- for grant purposes only.
E. Discuss short-term strategic plan - do drafts for next meeting -
F. Discuss long-term strategic plan - do drafts - same
G. Status report on fund raising for Lachat/ done - more fundraising
Report on farming component/will be done after strategic plan
I. New business/Other issues/done - roof leaks on addition, we think we
heating for the farmhouse for the winter - very educational!
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
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)
Committee members chosen to oversee
Weston's Lachat property
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
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
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
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, friendsoflachat.org, 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 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.
SELECT COMMITTEE FOR THE
OF THE LACHAT PROPERTY APPOINTED JULY 7, 2012
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
FRIENDS OF LACHAT
AND WAY BEFORE
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 years...new generation of volunteers joins with
past advocates to save a farm.
Ideas have come in to Selectmen and
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
Statement for the Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat
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.
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.
IN THE BEGINNING
Will the lower field ever look like this again?
Ideas for Weston's Lachat farmhouse and
land are on the table
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
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.
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.
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
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
Indoor farming...an idea from 2011...
SPECIAL TOWN MEETING JANUARY
2012, 7:15PM, TOWN HALL MEETING ROOM TO SAY "YES" AGAIN!
LACHAT AGREEMENT REDUX;
19, 2012 SPECIAL TOWN MEETING AT 7:15PM, TOWN HALL MEETING
ROOM...SELECTMEN INVITE QUESTIONS AT THEIR JANUARY 5, 2012 MEETING.
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
Paintings by Georgiana Silk
behind Selectmen and Margaret
WOULD IT BE A BIG "YES" FOR
CROWD IN TOWN HALL MEETING ROOM SAYS SO!!!
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
meeting..one 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.
LACHAT AGREEMENT MODIFICATION SPECIAL TOWN MEETING; INFORMATIONAL
MEETING FIRST OCTOBER 20, 2011 BEGINNING AT 7PM, TOWN HALL
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
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
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
Tuesday, April 26, 2011,
Commission Room at Town Hall
Building and Maintenance Committee (last known name) - S.R.O. as all
the chairs and
horizontal surfaces are taken.
Left to right:
- First Selectman Gayle Weinstein explains
where we are now, and no one wanted to revive the "why" until it became
necessary later on in the discussions. Still left unsaid were
some of the most fainful parts of the history - as well as some of the
most uplifting ones (why the town meeting bought it in the first place
at two meeting - first 32 acres, then 10 acres.
- Thirty-two acres Leon Lacat would mow
himself prior to the Town of Weston and the Nature Conservancy purchase.
- The Lachat Homestead: One of the
older buildings in Weston, added onto and with power and septic service
tied into the garage and the garage apartment, where Leon Lachat
lived. The main house was rented in those years in the 1980's and
- Ten acres of skiing - at the Special Town
Meeting in 1999 when this property was purchased, a Weston High School
student and Co-President of H.O.W. remembered how this was the
community's ski hill when he was smaller.
- Early in the meeting, a request to stay
the demolition of the Homestead for a certain defined period until
either a source of funds, an Historic District Study Committee can be
formed (for the corner of Godfrey and Newtown Turnpike including
signature properties such as the Toll House) or a different area but
including the Homestead can be attempted to be designated. A
search for possible grants also to be undertaken.
- Westport Green Village Initiative
speakers discuss Wakeman Farm and another small project - they point
out that they see this as potentially a much larger endeavor if the
town wants it to be - GREEN
[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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
P&Z has questions about Lachat
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
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
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
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
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
report before the matter was sent to a Town Meeting for approval.
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
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
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.
eating is privilege of the rich
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
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.
Onion Barn is another symbol...
Roots: Westport farming traditions run deep
Updated 10:07 a.m., Sunday, May 29,
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
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
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
"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 www.WestportHistory.org.
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
this part of the proposal to be discussed at Board of Selectmen,
perhaps, Thursday, April 15, 2010?
AGRICULTURE: In Connecticut, Community-Supported Agriculture
Gaining In Popularity
By SHAWN R. BEALS
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.
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
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, www.ctnofa.org/CSAs.htm. Other CSA farms can be found
at www.buyctgrown.com."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.
Urban Gardening: An Appleseed With Attitude
By DAVID HOCHMAN, NYTIMES
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
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.
“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
By FERNANDA SANTOS, NYTIMES
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.
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.”
develop organic seeds for Whidbey Island farmers
By NATHAN WHALEN
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
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
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
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
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
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
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
Roughly translated, she said, “It means ‘where you belong.’ ”