Report by Paula Antolini, July 12, 2022, 8:27AM EDT
Bethel appears to be losing a wonderful UConn Master Gardener Demonstration Vegetable Garden and valuable learning source, due to having their lease suddenly terminated, and having nowhere to relocate. The land was expertly and lovingly developed for the last ten years, to produce food for the needy as well as teach people the nuances of expert gardening knowledge. Take a look at the photos below to see the heart and soul that went into this project.
Information from Lorraine Ballato, the Administrator of the UConn Master Gardener Demonstration Vegetable Garden Fairfield County Extension since September 11, 2016, indicated that a sudden notification by owners of the property said they planned on ending their lease early, no reason given yet. “The lease termination is currently scheduled for August 1, 2022 although UConn is working to invoke a clause in the lease to extend it a few more months,” according to Ballato. What will be the fate of this garden?
The Master Gardeners annually plant an organic fruit and vegetable garden in Fairfield County, CT. Their purpose is to demonstrate techniques while training Master Gardener interns for their certifications. All produce is donated to food banks and homeless shelters. Most of their materials are donated by generous supporters like Coast of Maine, Espoma, Corona Tools, local independent garden centers, etc. They also conduct various fundraisers throughout the season.
But now it appears the UConn Extension Master Garden property, located at 67-69 Stony Hill Road in Bethel, has possibly changed ownership and might possibly be developed for another reason yet unknown.
Here is the information posted by Ballato:
HELP US SAVE BETHEL EXTENSION LAND
Master Gardener Offices and Demonstration Garden Being Forced to Vacate the Premises
Please support us in this goal by any or all of the following actions:
- Sign our Petition: Saturdays: 9 – 1 at the Bethel Farmers Market AND M, W, F: 9 – 11 at the Demo Garden, 67 Stony Hill Rd, Bethel
- Email or write letters to local newspapers and your local government officials
- Post on your favorite Social Media Platform
Stony Hill Preserve, Incorporated (SHP), the current owner of this property at 67-69 Stony Hill Road, has suddenly terminated the lease for the UConn Cooperative Extension offices at this location. The Extension offices at this location include the Fairfield County Master Gardener program and the Fairfield County Demonstration Garden (since 2013). SHP has not provided any reason for this early termination.
The lease termination is currently scheduled for August 1, 2022 although UConn is working to invoke a clause in the lease to extend it a few more months.
This property has been supporting agricultural education in Fairfield County since the 1950s. The Fairfield County Agricultural Extension Council, Inc (FCAEC) was formed at that time to partner with the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System (Extension) to provide educational programs for agriculture, home life, and youth in Fairfield County. Extension currently includes the Master Gardeners, 4H, Urban Agriculture, and Nutrition.
In 2017, the property was transferred from FCAEC to the Stony Hill Preserve along with a significant amount of FCAEC money, with the understanding that the newly formed SHP would provide continued support to the existing Extension operations on the property. However, SHP has now served UConn Extension a lease termination notice and we are being forced out.
We, the Master Gardener volunteers at the Demo Garden are asking for the public’s support to protest this action. The Demo Garden’s mission has been to generate interest in potential gardeners and to support and educate existing gardeners. All garden harvests are donated to local community food pantries.
We, the MG volunteers would like to see the property transferred back to its original owner, the FCAEC, and have the mission of the property to support Extension agricultural education remain in place. The Master Gardener office and Demo Garden are among the many valuable community resources Extension provides to our community.
Thank you for your support.
View beautiful photos of the garden in progress, and vegetable yields and more below, photographed by Master Gardener Diane Sehringer Ryan:
A filing with the Secretary of the State of Connecticut Annual Report on July 8, 2022 shows that Stony Hill Preserve, Inc. is listed as a “domestic” business, with a “non-stock” business type, under “Environment, Conservation and Wildlife Organizations” located at 275 Greenwood Avenue which is the location of the office of attorney Peter Olson, listed as a “land use and conservation counsel” by the Connecticut Bar Association. He is presently an attorney in Bethel who specializes in zoning and land use. Lately he has represented clients wanting to build 8-30g multi-unit buildings and is presently doing so. Could this be a hint as to what the fate of the garden property will be?