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Westport Hands Out WeGreen Awards

(L-R) David Mann, Chair Westport Green Task Force, Michael Aitkenhead (Awardee), Nick Mancini (Awardee), Sal Gilbertie (Awardee), James S. Marpe, First Selectman. Credit: Contributed
(L-R) David Mann, Chair Westport Green Task Force, Michael Aitkenhead (Awardee), Nick Mancini (Awardee), Sal Gilbertie (Awardee), James S. Marpe, First Selectman. Credit: Contributed

The Westport Green Task Force announced winners of its 2013 WeGreen Westport Awards Wednesday.

Since 2008, the Green Task Force has recognized the efforts of outstanding individuals, businesses and community organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to protecting and improving the environment in Westport.  

This year, Michael Aitkenhead, Nick Mancini and Gilbertie’s were recognized for WeGreen Awards.

First Selectman Jim Marpe congratulated the group, saying their contributions make Westport more sustainable and environmentally friendly.  

"They truly deserve our thanks and recognition for their commitment to a wide variety of environmental initiatives,” said Marpe.

Green Task Force chairperson David Mann echoed Marpe’s sentiments.

“I’m thrilled. I can’t imagine anyone who is doing more for green issues in our town that Mike Aitkenhead in educating our next generation about sustainability and environmental science,” said Mann. “Along with Nick Mancini, the area’s go to organic gardening guru, and our community’s fixture Gilbertie's, this year’s awardees are among the most deserving we’ve ever had.”

Below is a description of the recipients and their work to improve the environment in Westport, according to the Green Task Force:

Michael Aitkenhead is one of the most committed environmental stewards in Westport. Not only has he "turned on" an entire generation of teens to the importance of being more environmentally conscious as a full-time environmental studies teacher at Staples High, where he has won teacher of the year, he practices what he preaches every day at Wakeman Town Farm. At the Town Farm, his OTHER full-time job, Mike is responsible for returning a dilapidated farm property back to its former glory, using sustainable methods to grow organic gardens, grow native grapes, install a fruit orchard, raise bees and farm animals and fight off invasive pests. He is committed to protecting and preserving a town treasure, which is having a positive effect on Westport by serving as a town hub for sustainability and environmental stewardship while also reviving a generations-old former farm property for future generations. Throughout the property, Mike is working to eliminate invasive plant species, plant native species in their place, and create natural pathways and bee and butterfly gardens for children and adults to enjoy. Mike works to educate jr. apprentices and children of all ages through farm camps and internship programs, and he routinely teams up with Builder's Beyond Borders on projects, such as building compost bins and garden beds to create an environment that focuses on eco-friendly agriculture and sustainability.

Mike also spearheaded the Westport EcoFest, which was a major town event that allowed teens to put their environmental studies into practice through exhibits and programs that brought together the town's various eco-friendly initiatives and concepts, from solar to wind power to town cleanups, etc.

On a personal level, Mike is a composter, a recycler and a living model for environmental stewardship. If someone donates lumber to the farm, he finds a way to use it in a project. If someone donates old farm equipment, he finds a way to repair it and put it to use. When a tree is chopped down, he turns the logs into benches. When there is a surplus of a particular crop, Mike and his wife, Carrie, find a way to use it through canning or cooking or hosting a farm stand. Mike actively collaborates with many of the environmental organizations in town, from Earthplace to The Green Task Force, and is always up for hosting community groups and visitors at the farm, teaching them about the practical applications of being environmentally conscious. Mike is well respected and well liked by all for all that he does for our town and our children.

“How rewarding and fulfilling to be able to share my life's passion with the youth of this great community!  Westport has given me that opportunity and I am so very fortunate to live in a town where such high value is placed on the environment.  Over the years, I've had the honor of working with a number of Westport’s brightest, most talented, and most driven citizens, and the inspiration I have gained from their actions is incalculable.  Westport is a leader, and we must continue to strive to serve as an example of sustainability that other communities can aspire to.  There is still work to be done, but our town is well on its way.  We live in a very special place and it gives me great pride to call myself a Westporter.”

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Nick Mancini has been living sustainably for many years, long before "being green" became fashionable. He is credited with being the mentor and teacher of many in Fairfield County, and has encouraged people to start living more sustainably. Besides his being a wonderful person and teacher, he has walked the talk for years, and teaches the skills to grow an incredible organic garden in a small space, demonstrating that one can live sustainably on a small yard, that you don't have to live on a farm to live "green". Organic methods, composting, vermiculture and crop rotation are a few examples of what he teaches. He has been a valuable advisor to the school gardens in Fairfield county, involved in the Granges, NOFA, Norwalk Community College, Bartlett Arboretum, the Master Gardeners Program, The Gardening Education Center of Greenwich, and countless Green Events. He has also recently published a book, "The Complete Organic Garden".  

Nick comments: “An organic garden on every lawn will keep us healthy and adds to our longevity.”

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Gilbertie's is serious about nurturing the organic gardener and growing organically with a great respect for our environment. Gilbertie's works closely with local non-profits (GVI, Wakeman Town Farm and Westport Farmer's Market) as well as community gardens and garden clubs throughout the region. They have been extremely generous in

donating plants and expertise to both GVI and WTF and space in their Westport retail store for the Westport Farmer's Market during the winter season . Additionally, after the terrible vandalism a few years ago at the Westport Community Gardens, Gilbertie's delivered a van full of vegetable and herb plants for members to start rebuilding their plots. They educate the community in general through lectures and also host many classes and events on subjects including organic gardening, weed and insect control, and native New England plant gardening. Gilbertie’s is also an active member of NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Association .

Established in 1922 Gilbertie's is a 4th generation family business. It made the decision to go organic back in 1967 with its herb business ( located in Easton, CT) because it had already begun to see the destructive nature and ultimately bad economics of petroleum based fertilizers. It is an excellent example of the importance of supporting local businesses for the health of the community and it gives back to our community in so many meaningful ways.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and David Mann, Chair of the Green Task Force, are honored to recognize these awardees, who have clearly played a vital role in sustainability, education and development in Westport and Fairfield County.  

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