Wren’s Nest Preschool finds a new home
MONKTON — Not long after Wren’s Nest Forest Preschool, a program of the Willowell Foundation, learned it would need to find a new home, Willowell Administrative Director Tasha Ball found herself driving by Wild Roots Farm on Harey Road in Bristol.
“And it just popped into my head,” Ball told the Independent. “Landscape is more important than buildings, since we do mostly outdoor education, and Jon (Turner) is fabulous. We’ve been so impressed with his work.”
Wild Roots, which is owned and operated by Jon and Cathy Turner, centers its work around community engagement and resilience through food systems education. In the past Wild Roots has welcomed kids from the Walden Project, another Willowell program.
Ball cold-called the Turners and asked if Willowell could relocate Wren’s Nest to Wild Roots Farm later this year.
The answer was a resounding Yes.
“Cathy and I are delighted,” Jon Turner told the Independent. “It’s always been part of the plan to have land- and forest-based education on the farm, and we’re really excited that we can engage the community in this way.”
Wren’s Nest bills itself as a “holistic, interdisciplinary, and sensory-based approach to learning” for children ages 3-5. The program’s goal is to “foster students’ independence and an initial understanding of their interconnectedness with the whole world. Children come away with a deep level of comfort and love for the land they play and learn on,” according to the Willowell website.
Under the agreement Wild Roots would act as the “host site” and Willowell would provide the programming, but Turner said Wild Roots will be happy to participate here and there.
“We’re creating a space dedicated for kids,” Turner said. “Kids’ gardens and animal paddocks in the lower pasture, wooden raised beds, trees and shrubs for fruits and berries, chickens and eggs.”
Wild Roots also has an 1,800-square-foot high tunnel with space available for a classroom and storage.
Starting this fall, Wren’s Nest will occupy a yurt on the farm, but a plan for building something permanent is already under way.
“I’m revisiting a barn design I put together a while ago,” Turner said. “Going through code requirements, hashing out details with Willowell. It will be a simple post-and-beam with loft space, near the existing greenhouse.”
The plan eventually is to have a capital fundraising campaign and to complete construction by the winter of 2022, he said.
The building would be used both for the preschool and as a community workshop.
Wren’s Nest teacher-director Suzanne Miller is excited to be collaborating with Wild Roots.
“Wild Roots is known for its community outreach and education and I believe this will provide real opportunities for our kids to engage with the landscape, make real connections and be educated in the natural world,” she said. “Kids will learn about sustainability, farm life and working forests.”
Wren’s Nest currently occupies a space at Treleven Farm in New Haven, but pandemic-related circumstances have forced the program to find a new home.
In relocating Wren’s Nest to Wild Roots Farm, Willowell is hoping for a “forever home,” Ball said. “We know that’s a big ask, but we really would like to stay five, 10, 50 years.”
“We’re hoping to be there long-term and to grow together in our new space,” she said.
Wren’s nest is currently accepting applications for the 2021-22 school year. For more information, visit willowell.org/wrens-nest-preschool.
WILD ROOTS UPDATE
Wild Roots Farm has made a name for itself in the community over the past six years, but soon its work will be accomplished under a different name.
“I (recently) made the decision to dissolve Wild Roots as an entity to focus our efforts a little differently on site,” Turner told the Independent in an email last week. “Our lower pasture area, which has been largely used for food systems education, is to be transformed into a community farm space that, with the completion of the new structure Wren’s Nest will use, will include a public kitchen space and farm stand.”
The new project, which will include the high tunnel, annual beds, perennial forest and the potential for raising poultry and small livestock, will be known as For the People Farm.”
The Turner homestead and the farm’s pasture will be a separate entity, but will occasionally be available for education, Turner explained.
“We want to maximize our effectiveness with the community,” he said. “While continuing to provide education, (we) will now provide a medium for production for families who are interested.”
For more information about Wild Roots and For the People Farm, visit wildrootsfarmvermont.com. Follow both on Instagram at @wildrootsfarmvermont and @forthepeoplefarmstand.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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