Nestled throughout 80-plus acres of serene natural beauty, the community center and cultural institution known as Grace Farms utilizes the bountiful outdoor surroundings to inspire thought, increase communication, garner preservation, foster education and understanding, and widen an appreciation for all aspects of nature. Open seven days per week, and free to the public, Grace Farms invites visitors to actively engage in various on-site programs, hear from thought leaders within various disciplines, interact with people from diverse backgrounds, encounter thought provoking art, and get close to nature.
Though Grace Farms is steadfastly multifaceted in its’ offering of programming, the lush surroundings lend a hand to year-round natural offerings. In fact, the 80-acres that compose Grace Farms constitute one of the largest open areas available to the public in Fairfield County. Below, we examine some of the bountiful nature-based offerings at Grace Farms. Sharon Prince, President and Chair says, “The whole idea for Grace Farms was inspired by the land. This expansive property inspires a sense of awe, it’s so beautiful.”
Seasonal Bounties at Grace Farms
Summers are plentiful at Grace Farms, where activities range from catch-and-release fishing at Cattail Pond, to exploration of lush nature in full bloom throughout vast walking trails. Under the heat of the summer sun, Grace Farms shines brightly, offering a serene, introspective, naturally beautiful respite from daily hustle and bustle of life. Community focused programming encourages individuals from all walks of life, in all stages of life, to join together in their exploration of the natural wonders of Grace Farms. The summer season provides Nature Initiative specific programming, as well as casual pick-up games, and non-structured opportunities for exploration.
The beauty of a New England fall is showcased exuberantly at Grace Farms, where 80-plus acres of preserved lands showcase an unparalleled display of beauty in shades of warm golds, vivid oranges, and rustic reds. Considered a top destination for viewing fall foliage, viewing areas are immersive both in and outside the River building.
This symphony of autumnal colors presents the perfect backdrop for sparking creativity, taking casual photos, or taking a scenic walk surrounded by fall’s natural splendor. Grace Farms offers small-group guided Fall Foliage Tours, where participants are invited to explore the science behind the changes experienced by over 1,000 trees at Grace Farms.
Winter offers breathtaking topography, with all news ways to explore photography amongst the vivid white snow-capped trees. Vistas covered in powdery snow make way for views only available once trees lose their leaves. Not only does the winter provide a quietly serene aesthetic presence but is also a wonderful time to engage with the wildlife that flourishes throughout these months.
Various animals traipse throughout the premises, leaving prints ripe for animal tracking activities, full of educational opportunity. Additionally, while some of the species of birds seen at Grace Farms migrate for the winter, there are other species that absolutely thrive throughout this time period and can be seen majestically soaring all winter. Birds of prey, including owls, and hawks, do not migrate, and remain active throughout the cold months, providing an enthralling bird-watching experience. To garner a fully engrossing winter experience, Grace Farms offers a walking trail one mile in length, where individuals can explore all facets of winter.
Biodiversity and Ecological Appreciation
Upon acquiring the acreage that became the setting for Grace Farms, one of Grace Farms Foundation’s goals was to enrich the habitat, and to biologically restore the land, creating a nurturing environment that fosters indigenous wildlife. In 2017, Grace Farms Foundation President Sharon Prince addressed this goal, stating that “a multi-year process of restoring Grace Farms from its days as an equestrian facility to a healthy and sustainable ecosystem is underway.”
By creating, and restoring the native meadows, and habitats that once inhabited the grasslands, various indigenous species have returned to the once forgotten habitats. Grace Farms has already restored more than 70 percent of the areas that were formerly mowed to native meadows.
To date, these lush meadows have provided a home for over 80 species of birds, many species of native bees, and fluttering butterflies. The influx of biodiversity in the reinvigorated ecosystem has seen the emergence of the Kestral Falcons, which were recently removed from Connecticut’s Threatened and Endangered Species List. People are invited to join meadows tours once a month between June and September.
Birds at Grace Farms
With over 40 species of birds enjoying the natural landscape of Grace Farms, there is so much life to see, and hear, fluttering about throughout the expansive flora and fauna. According to Grace Farms Foundation President Sharon Prince, “wildlife preservation is a central tenant of our Nature Initiative at Grace Farms, and we are honored to be able to draw attention to its importance.”
Throughout the fall migration, various bird watching groups meet at Grace Farms to engage in scenic hikes, filled with bird watching, educational conversation, and appreciation for the many native birds that have returned to the area. During the previous fall migration, master birder Frank Mantlik was invited to Grace Farms to education with Nature Initiative Director Mark Fowler regarding fall migration, and the specific species of birds that inhabit Grace Farms. Various beautiful species were viewed, including the American Goldfinch, Chipping Sparrow, and the Yellow Warbler.
Community Garden and Gardening Education
With a Community Garden on premises, a spotlight shines on the vast benefits of self-sustainability, community involvement, and stress relief experienced through the act of gardening. Within the Community Garden at Grace Farms, individuals are invited to actively engage in activities that foster a sense of community, teach sustainable farming methods, and eventually yield produce that aides others.
Open year-round to all visitors, individuals are encouraged to experience the full array of natural wonders offered by the Garden, including rows of growing vegetation, naturally occurring pollination from buzzing bees, and more than 20 raised beds. The harvested crops are utilized for true garden-to-table preparation in dishes served at the Commons, Grace Farms’ on-site food and beverage amenity.
Healthy, organic, and innovative, these dishes are an inspiring reflection on sustainable gardening, and healthy living. Produce that has not been utilized throughout this operation is donated to local charities and food banks, including Person-To-Person, a not-for-profit organization that provides nourishment resources to local Norwalk families in need. In fact, every year, Grace Farms Foundation donates about 500 pounds of fresh produce!
In addition to housing this useful space, Grace Farms offers a garden series with expert Nick Mancini, developed to instill confidence in those wishing to create, and maintain, their own home gardens. Topics include interactive fruit tree pruning on the apple and plum trees in Grace Farms’ Plaza, seed grafting and early spring sowing, tomato grafting, warm weather vegetable planting, and specialized vegetable growing. The varying programs within this series offer hand-on learning and opportunities for the community to meet each other over shared interests.
Earth Day Festivities
With such an all-encompassing focus on nature, conservation, and wildlife protection, Grace Farms celebrates Earth Day annually, complete with comprehensive activities. Free and open to the public, Earth Day festivities are family-friendly, and focus on preserving open space, restoring wildlife, and exploring the natural world.
Each set of activities is thoughtfully curated to encourage families, and individuals of all ages, to interact with nature, and garner insights that can be applied throughout daily life. Partners including The Nature Conservancy, New Canaan Nature Center, and New Canaan Land Trust participate and share their experience in programs, activities, and expert-led discussions. This year will focus on the importance of restoring native habitats, with demonstrations from Pollinator Pathway about the importance of ecosystems to pollinators, native bird walks, falconry demonstrations, talks about co-existing with wildlife, and bird walks.
Throughout the inception of Grace Farms, Sharon Prince masterfully described the Foundation’s purpose for the creation of Grace Farms, stating that “the Foundation aspired to preserve this site as a gift of open space, a peaceful respite for the community to enjoy and to encourage people to draw inspiration from nature, pursue justice, encounter the arts, explore faith, and above all, collaborate for the common good.”
Though Grace Farms offers many thought provoking, introspective, and inspiring programs throughout five distinctive Initiatives, the extensive Nature centered programming remains a standout, and programming is seamlessly integrated within the natural beauty that invokes education, appreciation, and conservation. With seasonally driven activities, annual special events, and ongoing opportunities for community engagement, nature is fully alive at Grace Farms.