The future of Litchfield’s landmark Arethusa Farm, a source of speculation since the death of co-owner George Malkemus, became clear with the news that a major part of the farm south of Route 63 will be donated to a foundation that will make it permanently available to the Region 6 and Litchfield public schools, which are unifying as the Region 20 school district.
The farm is the centerpiece of an agricultural empire that includes a dairy operation, a world-class cheesemaking operation, ice cream shops in Bantam, West Hartford and New Haven, and two restaurants.
Below are more details from a News release posted to the Region 6 schools website:
A group of local area residents has been meeting with Tony Yurgaitis, the owner of Arethusa Farm, over the past couple of months with the goal of finding a way to guarantee his wishes that the farm operations on Webster Road continue, rather than having the land be sold, developed and all the agricultural activities abandoned.
Mr. Yurgaitis and Mr. Malkemus bought the farm in 1999 and operated an extremely successful dairy and breeding operation there (as well as on the former Keefe Stables property on South Plains), later branching out into the ice cream, cheese and restaurant businesses that are currently thriving in Bantam in their beautifully renovated properties.
Since Mr. Malkemus’ death in 2021, Mr. Yurgaitis has been seriously deliberating about the future of the farm, and the recent discussions with the working group that shared his goals and vision have helped Mr. Yurgaitis decide what to do with the farm.
The result is the formation of the Arethusa Farm Foundation, Inc. as a nonprofit to be located in Litchfield.
Mr. Yurgaitis decided that as his lasting legacy to the Litchfield area community, and more particularly to the high school age students in Litchfield, Region 6, the new Region 20, and Northwest Connecticut , he will donate the Arethusa Farm property on the south side of Webster Road, consisting of two farmhouses and multiple barns and outbuildings on over 125 acres, to the foundation.
The purpose of the foundation will be to make the farm permanently available to the Region 6 school district for its Agriscience programs, and the Litchfield Public Schools, which as of 2024-2025 will be the new Region 20.
The foundation will also make educational programs related to agriculture, animal welfare and sustainability available to area students and residents, possibly in collaboration with other existing organizations that similarly promote local agricultural, environmental, and scientific endeavors.
The new foundation, which plans to raise its own separate endowment, is in the process of preparing its application to the IRS for recognition of its tax exempt status, which, when received, will enable Mr. Yurgaitis to complete his gift of the farm.
In the meantime, Mr. Yurgaitis has granted Region 6 use of the fields and barns on the farm so that it can commence using the farm as part of its Agriscience program.
Christopher Leone, the school district’s Superintendent, and the agriscience staff are hoping to start using the farm immediately in connection with Wamogo’s existing animal husbandry, horticulture, aquaculture and other Agriscience programs that supplement current classroom instruction.
This donation by Mr. Yurgaitis will ensure the permanent preservation of the Arethusa Farm on Webster Road, which started as a dairy farm in 1868, while at the same time making it available as a hands-on, outdoor classroom to the agriscience program students in the area, an opportunity that will be unique to such a high school program.
“On behalf of three boards of education, our current and future students, along with our families, I extend our thanks to Mr. Yurgaitis and Mr. Malkemus for what has been created and what is now possible in education,” Mr. Leone said. “Arethusa has created a national and international standard of excellence. It is that same standard to which we aspire in education. It will be our goal, through this partnership, to ensure a legacy for generations.”
The volunteer working group consists of Tom Breakell, Tony Yurgaitis, Christopher Leone, Bonnie Burr, Eliot Wadsworth, John Morosani and Mike Reardon. The officers and directors of the new foundation have not yet been named.