Isham Farm enters nonprofit era

Helen Weston of Isham Family Farm

Weston combines environmentalism, performing arts and community connections into ‘First: Earth’ organization 


Observer staff 

It was an idea that bounced around Helen Weston’s mind during her time as a public school teacher — how to combine her passions for environmental protection and the performing arts into an entity that creates community and benefits the common good. 

When she retired from teaching music and performing arts in the Vergennes public school system, she set out to refine her thoughts into a real-world project. On a solo hike through the Long Trail from Massachusetts to Canada after her 2019 retirement, Weston conceived of the nonprofit, First: Earth. This summer, the organization comes to life at the Isham Family Farm on Oak Hill Road, where she lives and works alongside farmer Mike Isham. 

The organization’s name reminds people to prioritize the health of the planet in all activities. First: Earth has three prongs — a performing arts series at the farm’s events barn, an education series in a new outdoor classroom on the property and a community forum space where other organizations can hold events. Its board of directors was recently seated. 

The performing arts series kicks off Friday with the Lyric Theatre’s presentation of “A Year With Frog and Toad.” A wetland ecologist will host a discussion about vernal pools before the show, which is sold out. Other shows this summer include an opera, a Shakespeare performance and a ballet. 

“I’m over the moon thrilled about it,” Weston said of the performing arts lineup. “I reached for the stars with this first (season) and I feel like I landed on the stars.”

Weston has built an outdoor classroom on the farm and is starting two pilot environmental classes this summer. The classes are designed to establish the educational portion of the nonprofit and provide a basis for Weston to apply for grant funding to expand educational offerings in future years. She hopes to recruit college students interested in environmental education to teach summer classes as a way to help them launch their careers.

The community building aspect of First: Earth will be centered on the farm’s barn, where environmental organizations can host forums and events that build momentum around environmental causes.

“The more we connect as a community, the more we realize that we all have a lot of the same likes and passions. At the end of the day, it’s all about how we care about each other,” said Weston. “And by doing that, we want to protect each other and protect the Earth for the next generations, and not just human generations, but everything else out there that all ties together.”

Revenue that First: Earth generates, for example, from show ticket sales, will be donated to a different Vermont environmental organization each year, Weston said. Audubon Vermont will receive this first year’s revenue.