AMBLER FARM, A COMMUNITY RESOURCE|
History of Purchase
At the May Town Meeting 1999, Wilton Voters approved, by a 9 to 1 margin, the most significant open space purchase in Wilton's history. The death of Betty Ambler in June 1998 was the catalyst for this activity. Ms. Ambler was the sixth generation and last of her family on one of the few remaining farms in Wilton. Ambler Farm had 31 acres of hilltop meadow, two rambling houses, two barns, and other typical farm buildings.
A similar open farm on Belden Hill had been lost to developers just a year or two earlier. As a result, many Wilton citizens pleaded with the town to intervene and preserve Ambler land as open space. After extensive negotiations, 22 acres were purchased for $2.6 million. Two soccer fields have since been built on the land but the rest of the Farm is under deed restrictions to preserve the significant buildings and farmlands for educational and agricultural use by the public.
In May of 2004 at a Town meeting, voters unanimously voted to approve a bonding proposal of $400,000 to apply toward the restoration of the white carriage barn and the Betty Ambler house. Of this $150,000 was made available on a matching funds basis.
At the time of the property purchase, the Town of Wilton lacked the resources or people to dedicate to the farm. A volunteer group of individuals was appointed by the Board of Selectman to oversee the property and have become the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee decided the farm would be best served over the long term by a nonprofit organization that could more easily raise money and develop a use plan. This led to the formation of the nonprofit Friends of Ambler Farm (FOAF). The Steering Committee is overseeing the renovation of the buildings and will cease to exist when the buildings are fully renovated.
The charge to the nonprofit by the town is to oversee the use, development, funding and long term management of the Farm as a self-sustaining entity. It was approved in early 2005 by the IRS as a charitable organization under section 501(c)3. The arrangement for management of Ambler Farm is expected to be similar to the Wilton Garden Club arrangement for management of Old Town Hall. Furthermore, Ambler Farm must be self-supporting, therefore the Friends of Ambler Farm must have the ability to raise operating funds from programs and from the community. The Friends of Ambler Farm has had an operating board of directors since fall of 2004. Today there are 14 members of the board.
Since Ambler is located in a residential area, it is a unique place in Wilton. In addition to the land, the buildings and the Ambler-Raymond family story are of historical significance to the community. There is only one other farm in Wilton actively being farmed at this time. In addition, there are plans underway for a large parcel of land recently purchased privately, to be developed as an organic farm.
On the property are several historic buildings. There are two homes built in 1799. One of these homes, "the yellow house", has been renovated and is to be used by an Ambler employee.
The second home, "the white house", is uninhabitable and needs extensive renovation work. The historic ice house and several small outbuildings including a corn cribCand outhouses have been renovated. The bonding for this project passed in the spring of 2007, click here for details.
Work has been completed on the conversion of the 40' x 50' carriage barn into usable education and meeting space. A kitchen addition will serve a wide range of activities and programs involving volunteers, groups of children, and organized adult activities, as well as the day to day uses resulting from agricultural and farming activities. FOAF will offer farm to table programming, cooking classes and hands on classes for the community.
The red dairy barn has been partially renovated. As funds are available, it is planned to renovate the original Ambler house and complete the red dairy barn.
Community Fund Raising Activities
The current focus of the FOAF has been to raise funds towards the renovation of the buildings and for the operating budget of the farm. Three popular annual fundraising events have helped FOAF to establish our identity in the community include the annual Ambler Farm Day, the Holiday Greens Sale, and the June Summertime Barbeque. A golf marathon was also enthusiastically supported by the community last June. Click on the highlighted links above for pictures.
A program committee of FOAF is researching viable uses of the farm that adhere to the purchase deed and have proven successful in other New England communities. The deed states that the land and buildings should be dedicated to preservation of the agricultural heritage of the town and kept in agriculture. Research has been focused on models of community farms, market gardens, sustainable food education, the historical aspect of the farm and its past inhabitants, developing curriculum connections to the school system, and offering community programs that encourage stewardship of the land and an appreciation of Wilton's agricultural past.
The FOAF participates in the Community Farm Coalition sponsored by the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association and the CT Agricultural Experiment Station. Participating farms in this group share common attributes and goals. Most are on town or other publicly-owned land, and are operated by a nonprofit organization. Members of this group recognize the educational opportunities a farm can provide to their community and are interested in finding ways to provide those benefits. Most have historical buildings worthy of being preserved, educational goals to be met, and need to be run on a self sustaining budget. This group is a valuable resource in connecting Friends of Ambler Farm to the agricultural community in Connecticut. It is a tremendous source of information on funding, farm advice, technical expertise, land care, educational programming, and community building.
A town wide survey has been conducted now by the FOAF to further determine what the citizens of Wilton want for Ambler Farm. The conclusions of the survey indicate very positive support for making Ambler Farm a solid representation of what Wilton was like as a farming community and how agriculture is so important to our well being.
Ongoing Activities and Programming
Ongoing activities already in place at the farm include
The Wilton Public Schools have committed to summer curriculum development hours for Ambler Farm in June, 2006. Children's programs are beginning with the help of Wilton Public Schools Science Instructional Leader Kevin Meehan, and are based on farm activities. The summer 0f 2006, FOAF partnered with the Wilton Independent Summer Program in a one week children's farm program held at the farm. FOAF has successfully partnered with the Wilton Library sponsoring speakers from the agricultural community to speak to the public on the concept of an educational farm in our town.
Two new growing plots have been initiated for this season. Herbs and sunflowers will be grown and marketed under the Ambler Farm label. Sunflowers will also be used in programming for the fall.
Where FOAF is Headed
As a non-profit organization, Friends of Ambler Farm, was formed in 2004 to provide future educational and environmental programs and to manage the farm. The Friends of Ambler Farm is actively focused on establishing a community farm that will educate people about the food we grow, the land that produces it and the sustainable resources and historical heritage we steward. By building partnerships with other organizations in town we strive to make the farm an integral part of the Wilton community.
Click here for a May 2005 commentary on Ambler Farm.
Click here to download a complete description from 2004.
Click here for a 2005 detailed discussion of the White Barn plan.