By Kate Barcellos
PITTSFORD — If we reap what we sow, the town of Pittsford will be in for a mighty harvest thanks to ongoing efforts to revitalize the Pittsford Village Farm as a town community center.
Kelly Connaughton, public relations supervisor, said since the beginning, the 20-acre former dairy farm, now a registered 501(c)(3), which grants exemption from federal income taxes, has enjoyed overwhelming support from the community.
“Back in January, we held a series of community meetings, and we invited the public to come together,” Connaughton said. “We asked what they wanted to do with the property, and they had huge ideas.”
A “working group” was formed earlier this year to handle the swell of thoughts and opinions from the community: Around 30 people actively volunteer their time and energy however they can to urge the farm progress forward, including coming together to clean up the grounds last weekend.
“We had a crew of 23 people that got together with rakes, shovels, weed-whackers and tractors,” said Betsy Morgan, who donated the farm to Pittsford along with her husband, Baird, in 2017. Both now serve on the board of directors. “It was a nice community effort.”
The farm has undergone a series of transformations this year, all in accordance with the three initiatives that residents decided to concentrate on earlier in the spring — redevelop the farm, create a space for community, and consider retail opportunities.
As it often does, food came first. The initial goal for the Pittsford Village Farm was to re-establish the farm as a local agricultural hub, and a thriving community garden now grows where once there were only weeds.
There’s no age limit on plots, either: this year, the garden welcomed the Sprouts program, a youth initiative teaching the basics of gardening and horticulture, an effort to form a connection between the farm and Pittsford’s younger generations.
For improved access by way of the 16 miles of trails that wind through Pittsford and for a more scenic stroll to Saturday’s Sprouts, the Village Farm was recently connected to the Cadwell Loop with a new, 1-mile trail.
The next phase of the farm’s renaissance is creating a community center that can be rented out for classes, events and youth programs.
“You know where most of the teenagers go after school?” Morgan said. “The library. They have nowhere else to go.”
Betsy said the main building on the farm recently received a new roof, fresh paint, running water and electricity, just in time for a community cook out and concert on Aug. 4., and a Sept. 29 flea market.
But the community center initiative still needs a figurehead to keep the momentum going and organize revitalization efforts, especially now that the board and working group are considering the prospect of building another free-standing structure.
The old barn on the farm has retained its structural integrity, but Morgan said a recent engineering study indicated it would need a significant amount of renovation if it were going to be made suitable for renting out to the public for weddings, theater productions, and art studio space.
“It would be very expensive,” Morgan said. “The best way to deal with this might be to take the building down and build a multi-purpose building on the property.”
The next piece of the grand scheme for the farm is in progress: moving local entrepreneurs into the space as a business venture to bring commerce and tourism to the space.
“We have people working on the retail part,” Connaughton said. “A number of businesses in Pittsford have said ‘if you have space, I’d love to move here. That’s why we’re running these events — to get people there.”
Morgan said the community continues to overflow with suggestions, including a Touch-A-Truck, a fall Oktoberfest, fireworks displays, antique car shows, concerts and even pig roasts.
“It was kind of a slow start, but now that we’ve gotten going and gotten a lot of people involved, its kind of taking off,” Connaughton said.
Connaghton said the farm now has a Paypal account for those looking to donate to the efforts, and Pittsford Village Farm T-shirts printed by Winning Image graphics are being sold for $20 to raise money and publicize the new venture.
But nothing beats a pair of willing hands.
“We’re always looking for people — investors and volunteers — to come and help out,” Connaughton said. “The response from the community has been amazing so far.”