Grace Farms Foundation has created an 80-acre preserve at Grace Farms, a new center for nature, arts, justice, community, and faith in New Canaan, Connecticut
A single idea joining families and children to the wonder of nature while mixing-in worldwide social justice and protection of wildlife is a beautiful thing. Add to that mix art and music then spread relaxation and a sense of well-being over it all - and you have Grace Farms.
Recently we visited there and spoke with our good friend, J. Mark Fowler, Grace Farm’s Nature Initiative Director and Chairman of the Wildlife Committee at the Explorers Club. (Don't miss Mark's editorial, What is the Value of Nature and Wildlife)
Roberta: Please tell us about Grace Farms.
Mark: Grace Farms is a new kind of community and cultural center that supports five initiatives: nature, arts, justice, community, and faith. We have an 80-acre preserve on the property which features the award-winning SANAA designed River Building. We serve as a place for the community to come together and connect with each-other, get involved with our five initiatives, connect with Nature, and ultimately have a type B experience in a type A world.
Roberta: How did you come to Grace Farms?
Mark: I have worked at Grace Farms as the Director of the Nature Initiative and Wildlife Ambassador since February of 2016. When I saw the beauty of our 80-acre property, I knew that we could really be leaders in connecting the public with nature and wildlife and getting the public involved in conservation and exploration of the natural world.
Roberta: What is your favorite place or thing about Grace Farms, what should no one miss?
Mark: Other than the very inspiring things we do through each initiative, my favorite experience at Grace Farms is walking down the River building and being surrounded by the beauty of nature, and then taking a hike out to our beautiful Cattail Pond, where native plants and animals thrive.
Roberta: What other conservation initiatives are you currently pursuing?
Mark: The Nature Initiative has three goals: preserving open space and wild lands on a local and International level; restoring wildlife habitat and endangered species, on a local and international level; and inspiring people to get outdoors, connect with, and explore the natural world.
Roberta: What is the biggest challenge of your work here at Grace Farms?
Mark: The largest challenge I have here as Nature Initiative Director at Grace Farms, is to get people to turn off and unplug from the modern world, take a deep breath and truly experience the awe and wonder that only nature can provide. New studies show that children are spending no more that 5 to 30 minutes a day outside in nature, and I believe that reconnecting kids and families to the natural world is one of the largest challenges of the 21st century.
Roberta: What is the best part of your work at Grace Farms?
Mark: The best part of my work is creating exciting experiential ways to get the public out into nature. There is a nationwide movement that started in CT called “No Child Left Inside” which was created because children today grow up indoors, and they are more digitally connected via their smartphones, tablets and computers that ever before, but at the same time have never been more disconnected from natural world. Therefore, we work very hard to give children and families exciting experiences that will enable them to connect with the wonders of wilderness, wildlife and nature.
Our Grace Farms Explorers program is designed to inspire multiple generations (kids, parents and grandparents) to get outdoors and explore our 80-acre preserve, and truly experience nature. During the spring and summer, we have guest experts and guides who present native wildlife (i.e.: hawks, owls, falcons and reptiles), teach wilderness survival skills, and guide edible plant walks with our guests.
We are in the process of creating a year-round dedicated bird watching program, where the public can come and see the beauty and diversity of the 40+ species of birds that call Grace Farms home.
Roberta: What is your best advice for viewing wildlife at Grace Farms or elsewhere?
Mark: My best advice for wildlife viewing is to bring a pair of binoculars and a bird identification book out into your own backyard or to preserves like Grace Farms where we have confirmed over 40 species of birds, and start viewing the diversity and beauty that exists in nature. Look for the birds, the butterflies and bees, and stay quiet while other animals like hawks, falcons, owls, foxes, bobcats and begin to come out around dusk and dawn. Wake up with Mother Nature in the morning and you will hear and see that all of nature’s creatures wake up together and start making a chorus of sound.
Roberta: When people visit Grace Farms what do you want them to come away with?
Mark: I would like our visitors to see the beauty of the River Building and our 80-acre preserve, learn about the important work we are doing through our five initiatives, get outside for a hike and a birding walk, and connect with nature. Then when they go home, they too can be ambassadors for Grace Farms and for the natural world.