This Sunday, Oct. 1 is one of Wilton’s signature days and events–Ambler Farm Day. Rain or shine, our community farm will show off all it has to offer to the thousands of people who visit on this day annually. This will be the 17th year that the hundreds of volunteers mobilize to show off Ambler at the annual festival.
There will be all the things that we’ve come to enjoy: the trebuchet, hay tumble ground, hayrides, farm animals, pumpkin patch, children’s crafts, apple slingshot, scarecrow-making, hay maze, pie stand, bake sale, sheep shearing, great food and drinks, and live music.
Ambler Farm Day is also one of the biggest fundraisers for the Farm, so as you walk around enjoying the apple slingshot, as your kids navigate the hay maze, as your family builds its scarecrow, and as you enjoy that volunteer-baked apple pie after your salad overflowing with Ambler Farm-grown vegetables, remember what Ambler Farm give the whole community.
GOOD Morning Wilton got a chance to spend a little bit of time with Ambler Farm’s program director, Kevin Meehan, during the last week of summer camp, and he gave us a personal tour to show off all that Wilton’s crown jewel has to offer.
The camp served 900 children over the 8 weeks it ran. That number grows every year–up from 850 the year before. From preschool age up to 8th grade, the children enjoy four stations every day, including cooking so they learn how everything is tied into the gardens and growing food. It’s a way for the children to connect to the land and the animals, and make friends. It’s a farm camp led by educators.
“Farmers are great at farming; educators are great with kids. When I look for a chef to be a cooking teacher, I’m looking for somebody who’s great with kids, that’s the bottom line,” Meehan says.
We watched as kids learned to make salsa with farm grown tomatoes, corn, onion cilantro and black beans – and tasted the delicious results – thanks to a lesson from educator Jen Grass, who now works at the Farm part-time. She taught them about how to dice a tomato that’s fragile like a berry, and what it meant to have layers of flavors on a chip.
But even before they prepare the food, they learn quite a lot about growing and gardens and harvesting. Early in the summer there’s strawberry picking season, which rolls into blueberry season, and that’s followed by raspberry season. Big impressions are made all the time, and everything fits together, as the kids got to make a berry crisp from the berries they had picked. The connections get made. The day before we visited in August, the campers had harvested potatoes from the production fields with Farmer Jonathan. One of the campers had harvested 60 potatoes in one day–he was celebrated in front of the whole camp and received a big bag of potatoes to bring home.
“It sounds silly, but it makes such a big impression, it was a big deal, and everybody cheered. It’s just a different kind of experience,” Meehan says.
Mondays and Tuesdays are days the children build–Meehan gets projects from the Eli Whitney museum for the campers to work with on one day, and the kids get to free build the other, with hot glue guns and scraps of wood and other materials.
There are also fun ways to cool off, with a slip-and-slide or sprinklers to run through. Or taking hay rides through the fields. The bigger kids get the opportunity to help run the farm stand, as visitors stop by to buy Ambler’s organic bounty.
Of course the kids also get to have hands-on interaction with all of Ambler Farm’s animals, from the chicks to the rabbits, to the sheep, Clover and Nutmeg, and the goats, Betty and Raymond. There are chickens that lay eggs, and there are turkeys too. This year’s new additions, pigs Hazel and Willow, are new favorites. The kids get to hold the chicks and rabbits, and watch the growing cycle with new chicks coming to the farm every two weeks. They get to go into the pigs’ corral to sit on the porch of the house and brush the pigs and feed them corn.
“Everything that we do is about connecting with each other,” Meehan says, as he shows off one group of kids with the baby chicks and rabbits. “There are conversations going on. There’s structure in the rotations, and fun.”
There are, in fact, close to 60 animals on the farm. That number grows–sometimes even when Meehan doesn’t want it to. “We had one un-neutered male rabbit, and he went at it,” he laughs. “We had 22 rabbits born at the farm this year. All those jokes they make, it’s true.” They are finding homes for all of those rabbits, and have made sure it won’t happen again (cough, cough). “He’s not happy,” Meehan laughs again. “He’s separated out, and he’s on his own, over there,” he says, pointing to a different spot away from the four females.
That also means high vet bills. “We spend easily $3,000 a year in vet bills,” Meehan says.
Saturdays are family time, where families are invited to spend mornings at the Farm.
One of the incredible experiences offered by Ambler Farm is the apprentice program, which now boasts 150 students participating. It’s big, and now there’s a wait list to take part. They work with the animals, taking care of the animal enclosures, and some are learning how to build and do construction–everything from gates to garden beds to the pig enclosure. They work in every area of the farm.
The centerpiece that the farm is fundraising for now is the White House, Betty Raymond’s former house, that will be turned into offices and an education center. The current stage is getting the first floor ready. “It’s the patio,” Meehan says, talking about his vision. “Once again it’s about community, that’s what makes it all work. We can have a class inside, and we can have a class outside on the patio. We are building an educational station where the culinary station will be next summer. I went to Heather Priest with the plans. I said, ‘Tell me what you need.’ She is great with kids–last summer, working with the kids, she went into the gardens and grabbed the fennel and taught the kids how to prepare it. After she’s done getting her master’s degree, I’m going to make such a great area for her, that it can be a self-sufficient program, even get to the point where the kids can prepare meals for their families on family day. It will be a real farm-to-table experience.”
As a non-profit, Meehan knows that the farm always has to be thinking about how to drive up revenue. “If we can bring up revenue, we can do more things,” he says.
Ambler Farm Day is Sunday, Oct. 1, from noon-4 p.m. (rain or shine). Parking and entrance fee is $20 per car/family ($10 for senior citizens). Parking is limited, and spillover parking is at Cannondale Train Station (with a free shuttle to the farm). All proceeds benefit Ambler Farm. For more information, visit the Ambler Farm website.
Ambler Farm is located at 257 Hurlbutt St..