For many people in Wilton, the first face they think of when they hear “Ambler Farm” is that of Kevin Meehan, the former, long-time Wilton Public School elementary science teacher who, from 2007-2020, was the omnipresent program director at Ambler.
When he left in 2020, Wilton turned out for an emotional farewell, a COVID-pandemic car parade that inspired tears for Meehan, Ambler Farm staff and supporters, and well-wishers alike.
But as GOOD Morning Wilton has exclusively learned, Meehan will return to his beloved Ambler Farm in the role of program director once again, as of Monday, Aug. 28.
“After being away for three years and pushing a reset button and finding balance in my life, I want to do what I always loved most — working at Ambler Farm,” Meehan told GMW.
During his first tenure, Meehan developed Ambler’s educational programs, including the Apprentice Program and Summer Camp. He was also instrumental in creating the program areas of the farm, with hands-on work in property improvements. Meehan designed and constructed the gardens and most of the animal enclosures one-by-one with apprentices.
“What we were doing was connecting with the land, the animals and each other. And it wasn’t just a tagline, that was the best way to explain why everyone loved being there. The land is fascinating. The animals are fascinating, and we all felt connected to each other regardless of what program it was,” he said, adding that he’s thrilled to be returning. “It’s actually a little selfish in some way, I get to do something that brings me the most joy.”
When Meehan decided to leave in 2020, it wasn’t because he was burnt out. Instead, like many people, he saw the pandemic as an opportunity to push a reset button.
“I had, for about 30 years, been working 70-80 hours a week. With the pandemic, I had an opportunity to seek some balance in my life. I don’t think I realized how much I needed to do that until I started doing it. It’s like going on vacation, you don’t realize how badly you need the vacation until you’re there and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, this feels so good!’ I’d forgotten what it feels like to slow down,” he said.
Meehan took time to reconnect with family, as he put it, “on a much deeper level.” He also did a lot of traveling and relocated to the Catskills, where he worked for other farming-related organizations, including the Ashokan Center.
Meehan’s move to the Catskills presented an entirely different way of life but helped him achieve his goals as “the ultimate reset button.”
“This moment that I’m speaking to you, I’m actually on a mountaintop, which is where I live. My elevation is 2,500 feet. You cannot hear any sound up here. And I have a 140-degree view of mountains right now. There is a trade off — I have no [running] water. I have no kitchen. And tomorrow I’m having the electrical wires removed from my house for a couple of months. And I love it. It’s perfect,” he said. “This place forces me to live a life of reflection and intention. [And] it was a great way to actually expand my skill set and be exposed to different things and to do what I love.”
Meehan said that despite the different surroundings and environment of his new home, he recognizes similar elements at Ambler Farm.
“My job at Ambler never felt like work. It was all grounding. That’s why kids loved coming to the Apprentice Program — it was actually a release for them from all that they were doing. One of the things that came so easily to me was being in the moment at Ambler Farm and pausing — having the kids look at the sunset, go to the sunflower field, be present with the animals, there’s downtime and everything,” Meehan said, adding, “That’s what made Ambler special — it was always there.”
Incredibly Excited to Return
While Meehan will divide his time between Wilton and his home base in the Catskills depending on the needs of Ambler Farm programming, he said it won’t be a challenge despite the distance.
“My life is so simple. At this point. It gives me the flexibility to be available for whatever the program needs are.”
That philosophy giving him a renewed purpose is something Meehan thinks will resonate with so many of the new residents who have moved to Wilton since Meehan left — many of them transplants from New York City.
“The activities and the things that we’re doing is just about being grounded and being present. A lot of [the new residents] moved out here because they were looking for those things. They want to be more grounded. They want their children to have incredible, meaningful memories and they want them to be connected. So I think the connection with new families is going to be fairly easy,” he said.
One thing that has changed during Meehan’s time away is the number of staff at the farm. There are now four full-time and five part-time staff members. Meehan will replace departing program director Stacey Valimont; still onboard is Ambler Farm’s director of agriculture Jonathan “Farmer Jon” Kirschner; property manager/assistant director of programming Matt Oricchio; special events director Laura Guzewicz and sponsorship specialist Amy Devore; farm coordinator Hannah Fischer; bookkeeper Sheena Shen; and a new executive director Ashley Kineon, among them.
Kineon was a board member when Meehan left three years ago, so she knows how good a fit he’ll be when he returns. One of the biggest factors was Meehan’s experience as a teacher.
“Since COVID, we’ve seen educators challenged with the kids that have behavioral issues. And I really felt very strongly that because our programming is educationally based, and it’s focused on the youth, that an experienced educator was absolutely necessary,” Kineon said.
That, in combination with his extensive background at Ambler Farm, made Meehan the obvious choice for Kineon.
“If you walk around the farm’s program area, everything you see was put in place by Kevin. His DNA is in the farm everywhere you look. While Ambler Farm is a fairly small nonprofit, it’s incredibly complex. So having the history, the institutional knowledge, was key,” she said. “He has not only the program experience, he has property experience, which is great.”
She’s looking forward to seeing Meehan in the context of a farm that’s grown while he’s been away.
“The staff and board have done an incredible job since Kevin’s departure despite COVID. We are looking forward to taking the best of the old and the best of the new,” Kineon added.
Meehan also has many fans among Wilton’s families, especially those whose children he taught.
“Not only is he an experienced educator, he’s a visionary, is incredibly charismatic, wonderful with kids, wonderful with parents, wonderful with visitors on the farm,” Kineon added.
It’s easy to hear the joy in Meehan’s voice as he talks about coming back to Ambler Farm, as he looks forward to seeing the kids learn and grow — especially the participants in the Apprentice Program. He is eager to get back to work at Ambler and collaborate with the new staff.
“I’m incredibly, incredibly excited. And I love the challenge. The only way that you can grow… is if you’re willing to look hard at yourself. And everything’s possible. I love this idea of working with a new staff and looking at all the programs and asking, ‘What are we truly trying to do here? And how do we do it better?’ I find all of these challenges incredibly exciting.”