Elizabeth Almeida of the Agricultural Commission uses a watermelon as a prop to ask how much of Westford's produce should be locally grown.

Strategic Planning Retreat Draws Record Crowd

It’s a Massachusetts tradition for most towns to hold town meetings in the fall and spring. Westford shares that tradition as well as a developing tradition for a unique type of town meeting in the summer that is continuing to grow.

The town of Westford held its fourth annual Strategic Planning Retreat at Kimball Farm this month, setting an attendance record of approximately 140 participants this year, including approximately 40 town residents who don’t currently volunteer in town government.

Elizabeth Almeida of the Agricultural Commission uses a watermelon as a prop to ask how much of Westford's produce should be locally grown.

Elizabeth Almeida of the Agricultural Commission uses a watermelon as a prop to ask how much of Westford’s produce should be locally grown.

Unlike a normal town meeting, this “summer town meeting” combines a picnic atmosphere with an opportunity for town employees and elected officials to seek feedback from residents on key town issues.

Conversely, the event provides an opportunity for those like Kris Anctil of Northern Bank and Trust on Main Street to become more connected to the community.

“This seemed like a good opportunity to come out and see what’s going on,” said Anctil. “I just wanted to learn about Westford and what it had to offer.”

Despite winning awards from the American Planning Association, town officials aimed to improve the event this year by modifying its format.

Unlike in previous years, speeches by town employees and board members were kept to a minimum, replacing them with small four to eight person breakout groups focused first on community housing and protecting water resources followed by a look at the town’s Recreational Master Plan and the town’s reborn Agricultural Commission.

Emily Teller makes her priorities known on the big board.

Emily Teller makes her priorities known on the big board.

“We really wanted to engage with the residents, not just lecture at them,” said Town Manager Jodi Ross.

According to Ross, information obtained from the breakout groups will be available to the public in a few weeks.

More information on the event is available at westfordma.gov/retreat.

For those who attended the event, the town is looking for feedback on how it went at westfordma.gov/sprfeedback.