Photo: Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media
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WILTON — There were no police cruisers, no fire trucks. Just a slow and steady stream of cars from tiny convertibles to packed SUVs full of individuals and families who came to Ambler Farm Thursday to wish Kevin Meehan well.
The longtime program director officially stepped down Tuesday, June 23, after 13 years at the farm — although on Thursday he still had a punchlist of things to do — and will head off to his home in the Catskill Mountains of New York by the end of the month.
Each car pulled up to where Meehan stood near the red barn and stopped as he reminisced briefly about the occupants’ — mostly kids — experiences at Ambler.
“My girls have been coming to camp here for eight years,” Rachel Prior said from the driver’s seat as her daughters Lucie and Ruby sat in the back. “Kevin has been such an important part of camp and my older daughter [Lucie] has been an apprentice.
“Kevin’s been such an influential part of my son’s life,” Sharon Murphy said. “He’s been another adult figure to support his growth as he has been with all the children here.”
“I’ve been coming to Ambler a bunch of years,” her son Connor said. “It’s kind of sad to see him going.”
Sherry McCulloch’s two children are much younger, still in car seats, and she, too, was sorry to see Meehan go. “We come to the farm every day and Kevin’s so friendly. I’m so grateful for that,” she said.
Before the parade began at 4, Meehan took a few moments to reflect on his time at Ambler and what comes next, pausing some work on the sheep pen. The future was the short part.
“We have no plans and I’m OK with that,” he said, referring to his partner Aditi Goswami, who will be with him.
“This job has been all-encompassing, including my family, and I need time to breathe and find my center.”
Meehan is looking forward to taking a break from the physical work at the farm.
“We do all the work here side by side with the kids,” he said. “Now, with no kids [due to the pandemic] it feels like work. With the kids it’s a shared experience.”
Meehan said he is most proud “that we showed Ambler Farm can work. If you said you were going to take a dilapidated farm and make it a community treasure, a defacto teen center, no one would have believed it.”
One of the most powerful aspects of the farm, he said, is proving that kids can make a difference.
“We get kids from fifth to 12th grade. To see who they become has been an absolute honor,” he said. “My life has been made more rich by having them in it as well as their families.”
“I’m also incredibly proud of our maple sugaring. There was none here and we turned it into a viable project. And, it’s incredibly good tasting syrup,” he said.
“I never dreamed I would be a [maple] sugar maker or a beekeeper.”
Learning from mistakes
One of the farm’s most impactful programs, he said, is the young builder program for middle to high school students. Through it they learn there is more than one way, as many as three or four ways perhaps, to approach a project.
“We look at the ways of doing something and discuss which is best,” he said.
“I’m an expert in many things,” he added with a wink. “I’ve made every mistake you can.” The kids consider, “How are you going to handle it?”
He joked they have been employing the Next Generation Science Standards of problem solving — coming up with a plan, testing the plan and rebuilding — long before the standards came out.
Standing in front of the animal enclosures, he said, “I have built or designed everything I’m looking at. I”m so proud of what we’ve built and what the farm has become.”
The homes for Ambler’s menagerie began with two sheep — Clover and Nutmeg — living in the rabbit hutch until the pen was built and expanded and expanded some more when the goats came.
“We built it one step at a time,” he said. “It was very organic — no pun intended — on how it grew out of trial and error.”
Dreams come true
Just as important as learning to handle setbacks is discovering dreams can come true, even if the dream is pigs or flinging pumpkins across a field.
“We were dreaming about having pigs for four or five years,” Meehan said. “With the kids we would brainstorm and dream and the kids would see dreams come true.”
Two American Guinea hogs took up residence at Ambler three years ago.
The same is true of Ambler’s locally famous trebuchet, a huge wooden catapult.
“I watched the punkin chunkin championships on television and thought, ‘we could do that. We could go to the world championships.”
He and the kids built the machine that he described as “the most inefficient but perhaps the most fun trebuchet” and in November 2013 a contingent from Ambler Farm traveled to Delaware for the World Championship Punkin Chunkin contest.
The farm’s future
Meehan has no regrets about leaving, noting he will have more time for his family and expects to help his son begin his college search.
“I feel great about where we’ve brought the farm and handing it off,” he said. “There’s a sense of community in everything we do. It’s well-situated to grow more.”
Taking over for Meehan is Jennifer Grass, who has been associated with the farm for 10 years as a volunteer and assistant program director. She will oversee all educational programming for students in preschool through high school and their families.
“It is an honor to take on this role and I have big shoes to fill,” said Grass. “Kevin leaves behind a legacy of having educated a generation of children and families. He taught them about the land — building their appreciation for organic farming, sustainability and caring for animals in every season — while passing along practical, life-long skills. I am excited to build upon my educational work at the farm as we move forward with our apprentice program this summer in our outdoor classroom, and as we welcome new animals.”
“Kevin’s contributions to the farm and the broader community are immeasurable. We are grateful for the many programs he established at Ambler Farm and for enriching the lives of so many,” said Ambler Farm Executive Director Tim Burt.
Candidates interested in applying for the position of assistant director of programming may send a resume and cover letter to email@example.com.