TO THE EDITOR:
As an original member of the Friends of Lachat, I feel it necessary to provide some background information to readers in response to a recent letter submitted to the Weston Today’s editor:
The Friends of Lachat was formed when Carol Baldwin decided that she was going to do all she could to save the broken-down historic David Godfrey 1770 farmhouse from demolition. She asked Ellen McCormick and me to join her in forming a 501c3 so that FOL could gain non-profit status in order to raise funds for the project.
The farmhouse was restored over a period of more than three years. It took focus, dedication and time: Carol and Ellen worked tirelessly to raise money, hire contractors, create publicity, and keep up a pace that would eventually produce the jewel of a historic building that you now see. Throughout the process, we, as a board, maintained strict adherence to what we knew Leon Lachat desired for his beautiful land.
The Lachat Town Farm Oversight Committee was formed to write a master plan for the whole farm. Along with official members, Michelle Fracasso and Amy Kalafa offered suggestions from their vast experience. Eventually, the Lachat Town Farm Commission was created to take the master plan forward.
Much work had to be done. After years of neglect, this was no easy task. As the Commission moved ahead in its desire to improve the property, it was clear that volunteer support was needed. Slowly but steadily, individuals stepped up. (As I write this, 400 volunteers offer their time.) Members of the corporate community donated time in order to give back.
Many hours went into long, hard work to remove massive overgrowth, which included invasive plants, as well as, poison ivy. On occasion, it became necessary to include paid labor so that this growth could be pulled out and hauled away. (The farm uses no pesticides; everything has to be done by hand.) Community organizations such as Kiwanis and Builders Beyond Borders stepped up, along with many devoted individuals.
The growth of Lachat Town Farm has truly been organic. And through every aspect, FOL and the Commission have very carefully maintained their focus on what Leon Lachat’s vision for his farm was when he signed the deed. Throughout, decisions were made with a basic organizing principle in decision making: What would Leon want? Consistent guidance from the original deed was like having a Bill of Rights for all. What would Leon say to us? How would he feel about the use of his land?
As an educator, I saw the potential that Lachat, as with the Sustainability Committee, could foster education on subjects that pertain to healthy living: recycling, organic gardening, best practices in tick management, protections for animal and bird habitat, and many others.
Several residents came to us to offer classes in yoga, tai chi, farmer’s cheese making, how to plant garlic, bee keeping, metal working, etc. Weston High School agreed to include Lachat in its May senior Internship Program. In the future, there are plans to offer “How to Live in the Country” lectures.
Many times, Westonites were invited to visit the farmhouse to learn about the former dairy farm. We’ve shown old family movies taken when Leon’s mother milked the cows and when Leon built a ski lift at the highest point of the meadow—a location that is regularly used for snow sledding. At every turn, FOL and Commission members knew their mission: to remind anyone and everyone that we had to honor Leon’s wishes.
When Elizabeth Zeppernick suggested a farmers’ market, decisions were always made with that same care. What would Leon say? It was decided that a farmers market would be limited in scope and in frequency. We would hold it only once per month for four hours. It was also important that the farmers markets not compete with other local farmers; instead, they were invited to sell their produce at the farmers markets.
It was also decided that one component would be to entertain the children with educational and fun crafts and face painting. We limited the capacity to 20 children per one-hour session so as to ease foot traffic. At the markets, we would provide entertainment and a chance for people to mingle and get to know each other. A barn bar would offer liquid refreshment using ingredients grown in our own community garden beds. Beer, wine and soft drink sales would provide funds that would defray costs and support overall maintenance of the property.
The Farm now has a Giving Garden, which provides fresh produce to Weston Social Services and Bridgeport Food Banks; it has a Community Garden built entirely by volunteers, which holds 50 gardening plots, each of which is paid for by rental fees; it has a Children’s Garden that provides education to little Westonites; it offers several Saturday Music in the Meadow events with carefully managed parking—the lower field requires pre registration to lessen the impact on neighbors who live near our entrance.
It is interesting to note that Lachat has a history of music in the meadow events from as far back as the 1930s. I would also like to add that the Commission has been approached by three separate music promoters looking to do large music events, and in each case, they have been told, “We won’t do that to our neighbors, or to our land.”
Eighteen months ago, FOL (again, the financial arm that oversees spending as a 501c3) was offered a $2M grant from the Daniel E. Offutt III Charitable Trust to replace the dilapidated three-garage apartment and to build what will be called the Daniel E. Offutt III Education Center.
The purpose of the grant is to provide Weston with a new building that will enhance its mission to provide space for classes and small events. There is a great need for better storage. Also, due to the changing climate, Lachat will provide options for when the weather is excessively cold, hot and rainy. Bathrooms will be accessible from the outside and will better serve the disabled and children. Studio space will offer opportunities for many educational activities.
Friends of Lachat grew from three people to five. And this five member board has met once per week (without fail) every week for the past 16 months — all through Covid — to plan the new building. (We still do!)
As plans became clearer, Commission members became deeply involved in plans and details. We interviewed architects, took field trips in separate cars, always masked, to other town farms and nature centers, and interviewed timber-frame and post-and-beam manufacturers. Our research extended as far as New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.
We reached out to people who knew Leon and who knew the history of his farm for feedback on our planning. After this exhaustive initial period of research and planning, we started the design. Rob Sanders, a local architect who is renowned for his work in historical restoration, listened to our ideas. He helped us with the many features regarding how best to design and maintain the new building. Nicholas Bell volunteered his time, as did Stirling Collins, by attending meetings and offering their own expertise in areas that educated us. All the while, we maintained contact with Dick Orenstein, who manages the trust, and provided frequent updates.
Now, I want to go back to where I started in this letter: I want to emphasize that at every turn, the Friends of Lachat and the Lachat Town Farm Commission have returned to Leon’s words, and we have reached out over and over to those who knew Leon. What would Leon want?
We know that he approved a 6,000 square foot building in a previous time period. We know that he approved both renovating and adding additional buildings to the property. This is stated in the language he thoughtfully crafted when planning for the transfer of his beloved property. (Please take note: The new Education Center would add approximately 3800 square feet to the EXISTING footprint).
But what kind of building and for what purpose? We knew we could create options for education concentrating on matters that affect the environment—clean water, fresh air, organically produced foods, recycling, conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon in the atmosphere, sustainability in all its aspects, etc. In addition, there are these questions: How to Do things: How to preserve foods? How to protect our bodies from ticks and mosquitoes and poison ivy? How to grow things safely?
Friends of Lachat and the Lachat Town Farm Commission have planned this new building with adherence to, not only to Leon Lachat’s vision, but also, to Daniel Offutt’s mission. We are duty bound to do this.
Make no mistake: The new building is NOT a wedding venue AND IT WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE. Neither Leon nor Dan would want FOL or the Commission to overstep what they cared about. They cared about the arts and nature, and so do we. And that is our pledge going forward. We will remain true to Leon’s wishes and continue to offer programs that make Lachat a vibrant town farm.
— Deirdre Doran
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