It’s only been a few short years since a successful campaign to preserve Coogan Farm in Mystic, but the property is now home to a robust set of programs. The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has introduced everything from hikes to cooking classes at the historic site.
These activities have been geared toward both adults and children. Visitors can explore the trails winding their way over the hillside, take part in cooking and gardening classes, or enjoy an evening around a campfire.
“Coogan Farm is a place where conservation, farming, education, sustainable tourism, public health, and community spirit come together,” says Bergin O’Malley, director of marketing and communications at DPNC. “Here, we celebrate our natural world, and our local heritage.”
It’s free to visit and explore the 45-acre property, which opened in September 2014 as the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center. The trails take hikers past stone walls, gate posts, paddocks, and foundations which were part of the original farm.
Reaching the top of the hill rewards you with a sweeping view of the landscape, including the Mystic River. You’ll also see the brick and stone foundation for a palatial 49-room mansion, which was being built for the Stillman family in the late 1800s but ultimately never completed.
Coogan Farm has been used for agricultural purposes since the 17th century. That tradition continues today with the Giving Garden, which includes 30,000 square feet of garden plots both outside and under a toasty hoop house.
The produce grown by volunteers is donated to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center. This organization, which distributes food to 63 emergency food programs in New London County, received 13,000 pounds of food from Coogan Farm in 2016. A blessing of the Giving Garden will take place on June 22 to celebrate its fourth year.
Some of the food is also used for cooking programs held at Coogan Farm. The farmhouse, now known as the John E. Avery House and Welcome Center, includes a spacious chef’s kitchen. Kid’s Cooking events for ages 7-12 will take place on May 25 and June 1, while Kiddo Cooks—a parent and child cooking class—will run on Saturdays in June.
Other culinary programs are centered on making yogurt (May 28), buttermilk quick breads (June 8), pesto and chimichurri (June 15), a New England summer dinner of seafood and locally sourced food (July 20), “nourishing bites” such as a summer salad and smoothie (Aug. 10), and oatmeal (Aug. 31).
Craig Floyd, the farm manager at the property, leads a number of gardening programs through the year. A May 20 event will educate attendees on growing plants to support native pollinators. Visitors can learn how to grow tomatoes on June 17, use essential gardening tools on July 15, and prepare their gardens for autumn on Aug. 12. Another program on Aug. 12, Stewards of the Earth, will look at conservation strategies for the home such as composting and rainwater harvesting.
Nature’s Fireworks, where guests can look for fireflies and roast marshmallows at a campfire, will take place on June 30 and July 7. A bonfire night is scheduled for July 22.
An after-school program called Nature Kids, open to students in kindergarten through sixth grade, gives children an opportunity to play outside every day. In addition to free play and exploration around Coogan Farm, participants take part in nature-inspired activities such as making art outdoors, playing music in the woods, and learning about planting seeds and other farming skills at the Giving Garden.
“While Nature Kids should not seem like a novel idea, getting children back to nature in our technology-heavy society is breaking ground that has been long forgotten,” says DPNC Associate Director Davnet Schaffer. “DPNC has pioneered this model of committed and consistent daily outdoor time in other areas with great success. Our nature preschool, founded 10 years ago, has shown that daily nature education enriches the lives of students.”
Live reptiles and amphibians will visit Coogan Farm for a June 11 program on the characteristics of these creatures. A drop-off educational program on insects, open to ages 5-12, takes place on Aug. 5.
DPNC educators will lead a Nature Trivia event on July 13, with teams of up to six competing for a prize. Coogan Farm also regularly hosts events on nature writing, including an Aug. 24 discussion of “Upstream”, Mary Oliver’s collection of nature essays.
Coogan Farm is also home to the Jules Xavier Schneider Barn for Nature and the Arts. The programs hosted here include Super Sunday, which takes place once a month. Visitors can see the professional artwork on display in this studio space, or use the art supplies provided to create their own piece. Super Sundays are scheduled for June 4, July 2, and Aug. 6. Howard Park, a local artist, will lead visitors of all ages in a watercolor workshop on June 17.
Starting on June 28, an eight-week yoga and meditation class will be running on Wednesday evenings. Participants will enjoy this activity in the peaceful surroundings of the farm.
Coogan Farm is connected to the DPNC by trail, and it is a 17-minute hike between the two properties. Upcoming programs at DPNC include the Butterfly Extravaganza on June 24. This event features a live butterfly release, scavenger hunts, craft activities, and more.
For more information on the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center, visit dpnc.org.