Changes are afoot at Sullivan Farm, the 106-acre, town-owned farm site along Park Lane (Route 202) in New Milford.

Friends of Sullivan Farm, the nonprofit organization operating the farm since spring 2012, has stepped back, taking a year off to regroup and reassess their agro-educational program there.

Joe Listro, the farm manager under the Friends' auspices, resigned in April to attend graduate school. He held a bachelor's degree in environmental science when he was hired to come to Sullivan Farm in spring 2012, and plans to teach.

"We realized when Joe said he was going back to school that this was an opportunity for us to step back and take a look at our progress and future at the farm," said Katy Francis, Friends of Sullivan Farm spokeswoman.

The Friends have a five-year lease with the town to operate what had been in previous decades an agro-educational program managed by the New Milford Youth Agency.

"The first year, we ran the farm program exactly as the Youth Agency had," Francis said. "Last year we changed to a bit more intensive agro-educational training program. We still plan to hold some workshops and the Harvest Festival as well as other fundraisers, and will likely take over management again the following year."

In the interim, the town has now entered into a one-year lease with two young farmers, Graham Baldwin and Riva Martin.

Baldwin and Martin will raise vegetables, rhubarb and flowers on the property through organic farming methods and sell their crops at the farmstand in the barn along Route 202.

"We're excited and very honored to be farming the property," Martin said. "This is a hiatus year for the Friends of Sullivan Farm, and we're honored to be stepping in."

"We're hoping to have family and friends contribute what we don't grow to sell at the farmstand," Martin said. "We'll offer my sister Felice Weed's raw milk from the Sunny Valley Preserve farm."

Baldwin and Martin are graduates of Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, known for its vocational agriculture courses, and each has a year of college.

She studied sustainability and events management while he studied natural resources management.

"About a month ago, (Youth Agency director) Mark Mankin came to see me and asked `Do you want to farm Sullivan Farm,' " Baldwin said, of his boss at the Youth Agency. "We quickly formed a limited liability partnership with the help of (Moots & Pellegrini attorneys) David Albanese and Barbara Dratch."

The couple is hoping their management of the farm will put them in the running to stay on the following year, whether as employees of the Friends of Sullivan Farm or via the town.

"They'll farm the 20 acres to the right of the barn," Mayor Pat Murphy said. "The Youth Agency will cut the hay on the back field and handle the trail maintenance. The Friends of Sullivan Farm still plan to do three or four programs there this year."

Baldwin and Martin will use town-owned farming equipment which will be maintained by the Public Works Department.

Gas for the equipment will be supplied by the town. The couple is paying $50 for the year's lease.

Keeping the land cultivated and a working farm is paramount in Murphy's plans, she said.

The Youth Agency will continue to play a role at the farm, maintaining the trail that runs from the farm to Northville School to the north, and running its popular maple sugaring operation in the spring.

"We have a trail crew that works the land-trust properties in the northwest corner," explained Mankin, "Most of the trail work we do is for the Weantinogue (Heritage) Land Trust."

The Youth Agency had been in a collaborative partnership with the Friends of Sullivan Farm since spring 2013 when it again assumed reins of the maple sugaring operation.

Listro had overseen a paid internship program for 18 boys and girls, teaching the youths how to do everything from soil tests and food preservation to growing vegetables and flowers. That program will be suspended for this year.

Baldwin and Martin will work the 20 acres with volunteers. The Town Council approved their lease May 12.

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