Wilton’s state legislative delegation joined Ambler Farm officials at a press conference on Wednesday, June 21 to announce the state has awarded a $225,000 grant as part of the recently approved state budget to the Friends of Ambler Farm to support improvements at the farm.
State Sen. Ceci Maher (D-26) and State Rep. Keith Denning (D-42) were joined by Ambler Farm Executive Director Ashley Kineon and Wilton’s First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice for a press conference highlighting the $225,000.
Kineon said there are “critical projects” the funding will support, primarily improvements to infrastructure and multiple historic buildings on the site, as well as to agricultural operations, including a new well.
“The funding is truly a gift for our entire community and could not have come at a better time,” Kineon said. “With over 18 acres and multiple historic buildings on the property that need work and safety improvements, this funding will assure a safe and welcoming and enjoyable experience for everyone who visits.”
A portion of the funds will be used toward improvements to the historic Raymond Ambler House or “the White House,” which was the home to the Raymond and Ambler families for more than 200 years before the town of Wilton purchased the Ambler Farm property in 1999 after the death of Betty Raymond, the last heir.
The deed stipulated that the town restore and maintain the property’s historic buildings and farm lands for educational programming and agricultural use by the public. In 2005, the 501(c)3 nonprofit Friends of Ambler Farm was formed to manage day-to-day operations and restore several structures.
That included the farmhouse, which, per the deed, was to be restored in a way that preserved its architectural character and made it safe for use by the community. Kineon said the Friends of Ambler Farm intends to use the building for hands-on educational programs, events and rental space, as well as administrative office space.
The restoration has been an ongoing project dating back to before 2010.
“Initially the project was broken up into three separate phases. The first two phases have been done — that includes stabilization, structural work, both inside and out. The third and what we hope to be final phase is to restore the inside,” Kineon said. “Right now it’s completely gutted. There’s 14 rooms, approximately 3,800 square feet of building to put back together. We also have site work — septic, fire suppression, ADA compliance. We have plans for a patio out back, we need to replace the long white picket fence. There’s a lot of work, it’s a very detailed project.”
During the press conference, Kineon noted that some of the recent grant money would be used for lead remediation in the farmhouse as well.
Kineon later told GOOD Morning Wilton that there are multiple projects that need attention, and while a portion of the funds will be used on the White House, “there are [also] many other pressing needs right now.”
Aside from this grant, the majority of funding to operate comes from Ambler Farm programs, events, members, donors, and sponsors, as the Friends of Ambler Farm is a separate entity from the town and responsible for funding over 90% of its operational expenses each year. Kineon said additional and ongoing support from the community is always welcome and vital to ensure Ambler Farm remains a viable resource to all.
“Ambler Farm has evolved into an essential community resource in keeping with its mission, offering hands-on educational programming, dynamic events, sustainable farming and historic appreciation, all of which celebrate the local agrarian history. But what makes Amber Farm so important is the connections that are made here. The farm is a place to come and unplug and enjoy, to breathe fresh air and connect with the land, the animals, ourselves, and one another,” Kineon said.
Maher said she often takes long walks at the farm and appreciates how much of a resource it is to the community.
“I see the children and families that are here using the farm all the time. And the importance to them of having access to the animals, having access to picnics. So to think that we are doing anything to continue this and improve upon it and help the farm grow makes me tremendously happy,” she said, later adding that the farm is an important piece of history.
“To know that this is grounded in history that is representative of Wilton is a very firm driver for me in terms of supporting Ambler Farm,” Maher said.
Denning said supporting Ambler Farm in his first year as a member of the legislature was significant for him.
“This is a great community resource, especially as we move towards a more technological age. This takes us back to an agricultural age where we still actually need to grow food and show people how we can live safely on the land. So I love having this as a resource, not only just for Wilton, but the surrounding community,” he said.
While town officials have determined that significant restoration work is needed on a different structure on the Ambler Farm property — the yellow house owned by the town and leased by Ambler Farm as a rental residence for employees — the state grant will not be used to support that effort.
Vanderslice said the Board of Selectmen is currently discussing how to proceed on that project as part of a long-range infrastructure plan for several town-owned buildings.
“For at least a year, we have been looking at the yellow house. There is remediation that needs to be done. The Board of Selectmen has been through it, we feel it all needs to go down to the studs,” she said, adding that a committee will be formed to evaluate the needs and potential costs involved.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the article indicated that the majority of funds awarded to Ambler Farm would be directed toward improvements of the “White House.” The article was updated to reflect that Ambler Farm will use the grant funding on multiple projects, and the White House renovation will receive only a portion, not the majority.