A more specific vision for the future of the town-owned Lachat property is beginning to come into focus. Members of the Lachat Oversight Committee offered glimpses of that vision at the Board of Selectmen meeting earlier this month, and plan to hold a public presentation and informational meeting in June.
The committee, working with the Friends of Lachat fund-raising group and a slew of volunteers, is fleshing out a plan to use the farmhouse and surrounding farmland, with a focus on food and farming, history, youth, and community.
The historic farmhouse on the more than 40-acre property off Godfrey Road West, which was deeded to both the town and the Nature Conservancy by the late Leon Lachat in 1997, had fallen into such disrepair that in the summer of 2011, the Board of Selectmen began discussing the possibility of demolishing the crumbling building, fearing it could pose a public nuisance.
A Friends of Lachat group — spearheaded by Carol Baldwin — formed at that time to raise money to save the farmhouse.
The town agreed to stabilize the farmhouse using a portion of the money raised by the Friends of Lachat, as well as some town funds.
In addition, the town created the Lachat Oversight Committee in 2012 after entering into a dual lease agreement with the Nature Conservancy.
According to the lease agreement, the town is now responsible for the front meadow portion of the property (about 19 acres), including the buildings, and the conservancy oversees the wooded area next to its Devil’s Den Preserve (about 22.5 acres).
The oversight committee has been tasked with creating and overseeing implementation of a master plan for the town’s portion of the property.
Ellen McCormick, chairman of the Lachat Oversight Committee, said the mission of the committee is to create “a farming experience for future generations with a look to Weston’s past.”
Ms. McCormick explained the committee’s overall vision for the property: “The Lachat Farm and Juliana Lachat Preserve is devoted to honoring Leon Lachat’s original vision to preserve a piece of Weston’s agricultural history for the purpose of educational enrichment, as well as spiritual and physical refreshment for our community.”
The committee has received lots of public input regarding ideas for Lachat, Ms. McCormick said. Because there are so many possibilities, it has divided its master plan into phases, with projects that relate to each of the four main objectives (food and farming, history, youth, and community) included in each phase.
The following are some of the proposed projects for Phase I:
Food and farming
• Preparing a community garden.
• Pick-your-own fruit and vegetable area.
• Children’s gardens.
• Hiring a farmer.
• Hoop houses.
• Historical herb garden.
• Kitchen garden.
• Girl Scout-run chicken coops.
• After-school farm clubs and programs.
• Art classes.
• CSA (community-supported agriculture) pickups; people buy “shares” in a community farm and then may pick up produce grown there on a regular basis.
• Other “fun events.”
Ms. Baldwin said the phases could each last “a year or six years, it’s hard to say.” Phase I projects like fencing, gardens, and maybe some parking improvements will likely use some of the $75,000 grant from GVI (Green Village Initiative) the group has been offered. That grant can be collected only when the project is up and running, however.
First Selectman Gayle Weinstein got a laugh at her pun when she said, “I don’t have an issue with the town putting in a little ‘seed money.’”
Some highlights of Phase II of the plan include:
Food and farming: Planting a production garden and opening a farm stand, and planting an orchard and a vineyard.
History: Restoring the barn.
Youth: Summer children’s programs.
Community: Cross country skiing and snowshoe trails, and sledding.
Ms. Weinstein suggested the committee contact and work with Weston Youth Services regarding the youth programs. “That would be a great crossover opportunity for them to run some of those,” she said.
Phase III of the plan includes:
Food and farming: A greenhouse, cheesemaking, a sugar house (for maple sugaring).
History: A museum in the farmhouse.
Youth: Some family-friendly animals on site.
Community: A warm-up hut for winter sports and recreation.
These ideas are only the tip of the iceberg, said Ms. Baldwin. Others include beekeeping, ironworking, pancake breakfasts, produce picking, and branding of local crafts and locally grown commodities.
Ms. Baldwin explained that many of the activities planned for the farm will also serve as income sources for future projects. Money could be made from farming, annual fund-raising events, youth programs, classes, and seasonal events. Additional income will come from grants, donations and memberships, and in-kind donations.
And, Ms. Baldwin added, volunteer participation has been the key to getting things moving and will continue to be critical. “My hope is as [Lachat] becomes more a part of our community, people will become more involved and will want to support it,” she said.
“I’m so blown away by what you’ve done and what you’ve created,” First Selectman Weinstein said after hearing the Lachat Oversight Committee’s latest update, calling the amount of time and effort, as well as the cohesive vision the committee has come up with, “tremendous” and “really incredible.”
Selectman David Muller agreed. “If ever there was a model of a community-driven effort, this is a great example,” he said.
Before the selectmen can sign off on the master plan, the oversight committee has to have some information meetings to get public input.
The committee’s PowerPoint presentaion to the selectmen has been posted on the town website, westonct.gov.
Once the board approves an overall concept, a professional master plan, including an A-2 survey done by a landscape architect, will need to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.