Ambler Farm’s red barn immediately reminded me of Margaret Wise Brown’s board book, Big Red Barn, which I must have read, complete with animal sounds, hundreds of times to my children. How fitting that the stories told and lessons taught at Ambler Farm are in great part designed for children.
Ann Bell, President of Friends of Ambler Farm, took two hours out of her morning to walk a group of local/sustainable food advocates around the farm and educate us about their mission, history, programs and plans for the future. That Ambler has a close working relationship with the Wilton Public Schools is reason enough to celebrate. And celebrate they do. Sunday, October 4 is Ambler Farm Day and all are invited from noon-4 for good old fashioned on-farm fun and games. A $20 family entrance fee buys you apple sling shots, pumpkin catapults, live music, crafts including making your own scarecrow, hay rides, farm animals and much more.
The mission of the Friends of Ambler Farm “is to celebrate Wilton’s agrarian roots through active learning programs, sustainable agriculture, responsible land stewardship, and historic preservation.” 2009 marks the group’s third consecutive year hosting the New Canaan Nature Center’s intradistrict LINKS program, which links suburban schools like Wilton’s Cider Mill with urban schools like Norwalk’s Marvin School together for five hands-on environmental programs. Ambler’s day-long LINKS event is an opportunity for the children to experience what life on a New England farm was like. Their day is packed with sack, wheelbarrow, and egg and spoon races, along with hands-on activities including cornbread baking, landscape painting in watercolors, and potato planting in the fields with Farmer Ben. The children form lasting bonds with their partner schools while learning about where their food really comes from.
Kevin Meehan, the Science Instructional Leader at Wilton’s Cider Mill School, also happens to be Ambler’s manager-in-residence and therefore one very busy person. The fifth graders participate in a mid-May seed planting program and an Underground Railroad event, which is tailored to the school’s curriculum. In March the fourth graders came to the farm, instead of the Eli Whitney Museum, for hands-on learning about this famous American best known for inventing the cotton gin. Third graders studying about forests and Native Americans now come with their families to participate in the collection of maple tree sap and work involved in evaporating it down in to maple syrup in the early spring. The program has been so successful that it will likely be expanded to include more of the local community.
The Apprentice Program runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through the spring, summer and fall and allows 20 middle schoolers to earn volunteer hours by performing farm activities ranging from taking care of the animals to collecting eggs, working in the educational garden, moving the lawn, building chicken coops, fixing tractors, helping farmer Ben in the fields and evening cooking! The season finale is a camp out and pasta party. Participants who want to continue on may become apprentice mentors in high school.
Fear not! Even if your kids are not in Wilton Public Schools there are ample opportunities for them to visit and enjoy the farm. Ambler recently hosted kindergarteners from Fairfield’s McKinley School who got to collect eggs in the hen house! Summer Farm Camp is overseen by Kevin and runs daily from 9-2 for 4 weeks beginning the end of June and ending the last week of July. Student campers from pre-K through 7th grade are divided by grade level for age-appropriate activities and “learn about the plants and animals on which farmers and communities depend. Each week includes hayrides, planting, harvesting, hands-on projects, cooking, animals to visit, fun and games, and more” according to the web site.
Family and adults only programs include a green gardening program to help you prepare and compost for your own organic garden, the honey harvest in September, wreath making in the winter, farm BBQs in the summer, and cooking classes year round. Ambler Farm Day on October 4 offers you a rare chance to buy their maple syrup. The Friends of Ambler Farm are working to expand programming to include more adult cooking classes and plan to partner with the Wilton Historical Society to offer soap-making, quilt-making, scrapbooking (old fashioned), and felting classes.
Ambler’s farmer stand runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10:30-5 through October and then reopens for the week of Thanksgiving. The farm also sells its organic, heirloom vegetables to Tuscan Oven, where they’re highlighted on the menu, and on Wednesdays’ at Wilton’s new farmers’ market at the Wilton Public Library.