Stay grounded with Native Earth Teaching Farm’s summer events

Rebecca Gilbert — Brittany Bowker

Few people are eager to let strangers in their homes, tour their backyards, and inquire about what they do every day. “I was shy at one time in my life,” Rebecca Gilbert of Native Earth Teaching Farm in Chilmark said. “But not anymore.”

As she walks with a casual sense of purpose, Ms. Gilbert’s long floral dress drifts behind her while her free-flowing hair follows every gust of wind. She points to a fire pit with a layer of fresh ash, just to the left of a small wooden farmstand. “This is where we had our Women’s Circle last night,” she said. “It was a beautiful night under the stars.”

June is a busy month for Ms. Gilbert and her husband Randy Ben David, who maintain everything on their 35-acre farm — from animal upkeep and tractor work to hosting community events and workshops. Last Monday’s Women’s Circle marked the first event of their summer lineup. Ms. Gilbert invites guests of all ages to her monthly themed campfires from 6:30 to 9 pm for stories, tea, marshmallows, and time under the stars. She also hosts monthly themed potlucks, starting with the foragers’ potluck every second Thursday, and a gluten-free potluck every fourth Friday.

“It’s a way for everyone to meet, chat, and learn a bit about each other and where we all come from,” Ms. Gilbert said.

That’s what inspires many of the events offered at Native Earth Teaching Farm. On Sunday, June 26, Ms. Gilbert encourages everyone to get acquainted with our pollinators at this year’s Bug and Bee Appreciation Festival. The event starts at 10 am with a number of demonstrations, including primitive honey-wine making, a demonstration on herbal bug repellants, and a make-your-own honey-blueberry pancake station. The Island Bee Co. will bring in an observation hive for visitors to learn about locally raised queens. Beginning at noon, kids with pipe-cleaner antennas and buzzing kazoos will march in the Pollinator Parade, one of Ms. Gilbert’s favorite parts of the day. Aside from honeybees, Ms. Gilbert also stresses the importance of other native pollinators.

“We’re all part of this incredible web,” she said. “That’s why I enjoy connecting us through events like these.”

Since opening the farm to the public in 2002, Ms. Gilbert and her husband have shifted their focus from marketing their products to teaching their craft.

Ms. Gilbert’s natural dye workshops will also continue, on a “what’s-in-season” basis. Her goldenrod and indigo flowers are almost ready to be harvested for dyes, and Ms. Gilbert uses this as an opportunity to teach. Each year, a number of students sign up for her dye workshops, where they learn the complete skill from start to finish. Ms. Gilbert also offers apprenticeship programs, where individuals learn a number of skills over time and gradually gain experience.

“I’m really interested in empowering people to do things themselves,” she said. “If you learn how to spin yarn and then knit a hat, you’ll have a completely differently understanding of clothing and fibers that you didn’t before.”

The farm is also open for self-guided tours from June 22 to September 11. Ms. Gilbert marks the area with informative signs outlining what’s what, whom to pet, and whom to feed. Visitors will run into free-ranging sheep and pygmy goats. They’ll see a rare flock of heirloom ducks, hatched by Edgartown School’s first grade students. Ms. Gilbert is also hosting some temporary residents: two dwarf goats and a hive of Vermont-bred queen bees. A solar-panel-powered fence keeps in a giant pig that would otherwise torment the community gardens. Across the way, visitors will find a rare stud pig from the Berkshires. Every farmer takes pride in their compost, which is piled high next to a stereotypically scented pigpen. But it’s all made endurable by the 3-week-old piglets inside.

Ms. Gilbert can usually be found hanging around the farmstand, ready to answer questions from visitors. She also says the farm is always looking for a few extra hands. “If you’re sick of your houseguests, just send them here,” she said. “They’ll be occupied for hours.”

For more information on visiting hours and scheduled events, please visit Native Earth’s website at nativeearthteachingfarm.org.