Farm's 'Friends' ask for community support
The town-owned, 104-acre farm along Park Lane Road (Route 202) bought from the Sullivan family in 1997 features a large, historic barn and farm stand, a sugar house and a large organic vegetable garden.
The back property has hiking trails.
Ms. Bailey knows the expected takeover this year is not going to be an easy task. Yet she and 13 other members of the newly organized board, including the chairman of the Youth Agency, embrace the challenge of creating a lasting, agri-educational center on the site.
The Friends have arranged a five-year lease approved by the Town Council.
"We want to build on the vision and the hard work over the last decade of Mark Mankin (the agency's 33-year director), who is a town treasure,'' Ms. Bailey said. "He has done a splendid job creating a magnet for youth that is loved by the community. He hopes we'll build on that to assure its survival.''
The Friends had high hopes they might be able to attract Mr. Mankin to head up the new operation.
He has opted against making that move because the organization still needs to build financial resources so they could afford to hire a professional staff.
The newly structured program also needs money so it can continue to hire youth and attract teen volunteers to do a bulk of the labor.
Mr. Mankin, who has been the backbone of the agency's farm program and was instrumental in helping the Friends kick off their efforts, has proved invaluable in garnering support for this effort, so his decision was something of a disappointment, Ms. Bailey admitted.
Still, Ms. Bailey said the board is now moving forward with hiring a farm manager with youth development experience.
Mr. Mankin will continue to assist the board as he is able, and will work on an appropriate transition with whoever is chosen as his successor, she and others suggested.
The Friends predict the budget for the farm operation, with the addition of a micro-creamery, will be about $300,000, Ms. Bailey said.
They have raised a substantial amount toward that goal, but are still soliciting donations from private donors and foundations, Ms. Bailey said.
"We've been touched, honored and really motivated by the outpouring of support and excitement people have shown us so far,'' she noted.
Mayor Pat Murphy said her expectation is the Friends will continue to offer programs to youth that revolve around agriculture. She said this farm is an integral part of New Milford's agrarian roots, and it is important for future generations to know about their food source.
"It's not about how many tomatoes or sunflowers we grow," the mayor said, "but rather the importance of farmland and our history."
Town Council member Katy Francis, who is part of the Friends' board, said this organization is all about assuring the town does not lose a program that has meant so much to the town's youth and general community.
As funds become available, the local native said she sees the farm expanding to include healing gardens, more trails and even areas for the evolving sport of geocaching.
"I always want what is good for New Milford because, long after I'm gone, I want people to have what I had,'' said Ms. Francis. "I think it's going to be wonderful. I have a lot of hope for its future.''