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Farmer, Entrepreneur, Environmentalist, Innovator: Matt Griswold '81 is 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Winner

The Country School is thrilled to present the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award to Matt Griswold '81 P '11, '13, a small business owner whose family-run farm is making a difference in the local economy while contributing to a global conversation about renewable energy and sustainable business practices. Our plan was to present the award to Matt during a special alumni ceremony with the Class of 2020 on June 9, but given our social distancing requirements, the celebration will be postponed and rescheduled for a later date. 

Matt runs Judges Farm in Old Lyme with his brother, Martin '88, on land that has been in the Griswold family since 1640. Matt, his wife, Mik, and sons, Max and Eli, both Country School graduates, make their home on the property, known as Griswold Point, as do Martin and his family and several other Griswold aunts, uncles, and cousins. The Griswold land may be steeped in history, but Matt and Martin are in the vanguard with their innovative efforts to make Judges Farm carbon neutral — or as close to neutral as possible. As the brothers say, "If you grow green plants, you'd better be a green business."

Located at the mouth of the Connecticut River and named for Matt's and Martin's great, great, great grandfather, Judge (and Governor) Matthew Griswold, Judges Farm grows and delivers high quality perennial plants for the independent garden trade. When they started out in the plant business, after working in other sectors (music/restaurant industry and graphic design for Matt; education for Martin), their first venture was growing Christmas trees. Eventually they shifted to perennials because of the plants' popularity, longer season, and quicker turnaround.

Martin, left, and Matt, right, on the farm.

With the move to perennials, the brothers began to explore ways they could ramp up production while simultaneously increasing the farm's environmental sustainability. First up was solar. In 2009, the Griswolds installed a pole-mounted, 12 kilowatt photovoltaic array which, at the time, supplied nearly 80 percent of the farm's electrical needs, powering water pumps, a potting machine, and office equipment.

Next came a focus on biodiesel, and in 2010 the brothers took delivery of a 500-gallon bio-diesel fuel tank, switching to vegetable-based fuel for their trucks, an endeavor which cost a bit more per gallon but cut their emissions down to near zero. They were also able to run the farm's fleet of Kubota tractors on veggie oil, leading to an occasional "burnt toast" aroma in and among the scents of blooming flowers.

The brothers have tried to expand their use of organic alternatives to chemical fertilizers and also explored adoption of post-consumer recycled plastic pots. Likewise, they're looking to increase their existing Integrated Pest Management practices through adoption of biological pest control wherever feasible.

Green efforts at the farm may become even more trailblazing in the not-too-distant future, as the Griswolds revisit their solar capacity. Over time, as the business has grown, the percentage of the farm's electricity usage generated by their solar array has declined, so the brothers have been exploring new solar opportunities, including the possibility of using the sun's energy to help fuel distribution. The plan is in its early stages, but if they do what they hope to do, the on-site activities on the farm will not only be almost entirely solar powered, but their delivery trucks may also be battery electric, rechargeable by solar. "The future is here right now," Matt says. "We just have to reach out and connect with it."

Matt and Martin are not the only Griswold's attempting to connect with the future. Matt's oldest son, Max, a member of the Country School class of 2011, has a long-standing interest in environmental science, and particularly ocean science. (Max is pictured at right with his dad at the time of his Country School graduation. He's grown about a foot — or perhaps more — since then.) Having explored marine life on the Mesoamerican reef during a summer aboard Dr. Robert Ballard's E/V Nautilus in high school, Max went on to the University of Rhode Island to study Marine Biology. This month he will graduate with a degree in Ocean Engineering, and he's looking to work in offshore wind and ocean renewable energy.

As for Eli, Country School class of 2013, he is interested in connecting with the future in a different way. A junior majoring in Motion Pictures at the University of Miami, he has a double minor in Broadcast Journalism and Sports Administration. We look forward to seeing where Eli's interests take him (this spring it was L.A. until, like students across the world, Coronavirus sent him home from his semester off-campus; word has it he's been a great help around the farm since he returned home).

Eli and his uncle Martin at the farm this spring.

Matt, a graduate of Bowdoin College (BA, History, 1989), has fond memories of his years as a Country School student, which he attended alongside his sister, Sophie '83, now a doctor in Vermont, and Martin. We look forward to hearing some of his back-in-the-day stories, including an entertaining memory about the MacLane Poetry Recitation, during the award presentation.

Mik, Sophie, and Eli on campus in 2008.

We also imagine we'll hear some stories about Matt's and Mik's experiences as Country School parents. Mik, a professor of Public Health at the University of Southern Connecticut, was an active volunteer when her sons were attending The Country School, serving on the Parent Association, including a stint as its leader. The Griswolds supported the school through an annual fall plant sale at Judges Farm, where Matt's father (Matthew Griswold X) would offer a wildly popular tractor-pulled hayride to the beach. The Griswolds and Judges Farm also supported countless campus beautification efforts, including the creation of the butterfly garden in front of Clark House, planted in honor of former Lower School Director Peggy Chappell.

Fun times on the Judges Farm Hayride.

"We can't wait to welcome Matt and his family back to campus so we can present the award and learn more about his innovative work at Judges Farm," said Liz Lightfoot '77, director of Alumni Relations, who joined Alumni Board co-chairs Eric Fabricant '99 and Marina Sachs '07 to select this year's award recipient. "Especially at this time – with all that students have been doing to protect the environment, from spearheading a plastic bag ban to urging administrators to install solar panels on campus, both of which have come to fruition — Matt is a perfect choice. We love how Judges Farm is making a difference locally while embracing environmentally friendly innovations that could have global implications. What a fabulous lesson for students."

There are also great curricular tie-ins. Through the signature STEAM program, not to mention the Rothberg Catalyzer and the Avantor Sciences biotech grant, Country School students and teachers are always searching for innovative solutions to some of our world's problems. The catalyzer, for instance, seeks to promote confidence, problem-solving, and creativity through coding, engineering, robotics, and biotechnology, while the Avantor grant infuses biotech concepts into the biology curriculum and allows Country School students to connect with professional scientists and share their learning with students in underrepresented communities. (Learn more about the $50,000 Rothberg Catalyzer and the $10,000 Avantor grant.) Who knows? Maybe sometime down the line there can be an innovative Judges Farm/Country School collaboration aimed at enhancing sustainability and expanding the use of renewable energy.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually to an alumnus/a of The Country School whose work and path in life speak to the school’s mission. For more about the award and previous recipients, click here.

* Watch the website for updates about the Distinguished Alumni Award presentation.

A few back-in-the-day Matt Griswold photos. Below, Matt (far right) and friends.


Matt, third from left, and friends.