If One Is Suffering…
Rehoboth’s nearby sister town of Milton is known for its massive Dogfish Head Brewery and its quaint little downtown. Named for the 17th century poet, John Milton, it serves as the lazy mouth of the Broadkill River and the home of Wagamons Pond, with its bounty of fish ready for the taking. But somewhere on the outskirts of town, hiding among homes and housing developments, lies the Double L Ranch. Not one of the numerous farms that mark the area, but a smaller version with four acres, two stunning horses, six plucky free-range chickens, and a ferocious watchdog named Bella.
(Note that the oh-so-dangerous Bella bolted toward me on a recent visit and, you guessed it, joyously licked my hand.)
And what makes this ranch so special? Not the shamelessly friendly watchdog; not the cottage made of steel that was featured on the DIY network; certainly not the random mounds of horse manure (who knew that horses could be so…productive?). No, what defines the heart of this place is its owner, Jeri Berc.
Walking the ranch (and watching where I walk) with the inimitable Dr. Berc (aka Dr. Dirt) illuminates this fascinating person. Jeri is a retired soil scientist and conservationist who lives off the land. While a slice of meat may occasionally land on her plate, Jeri is mostly a vegetarian, feeding herself from the edible landscape of the Double L. There are fruit and nut trees, and a feast of complementary vegetables. Corn, beans, and squash, the three sisters of the garden, are grown in a cold frame next to a shed made out of recycled wood. Plus, the ranch survives on recycled rainwater. The place is a shining example of sustainable living.
Jeri has always been fascinated with the soil. Her resume reads like a kid in a sandbox. She is certified in landscape design and maintenance and has a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Soil Science from the University of California, Berkeley. After her school years, she worked in many environment-related areas. She was the United States technical delegate for international United Nations environmental treaty negotiations. At the USDA, she was active in including carbon sequestration efforts to combat climate change.
While I was busy napping in the early 1970s, she became an activist. She fought for ending the Vietnam War, marched for women’s liberation, and joined political collectives. She boarded a ship in Canada and went to Cuba, where she worked side by side with Cubans harvesting sugar cane. She vigorously rallied for gay liberation, bravely coming out in 1971.
Jeri and her wife, Gail Hecky, have long been associated with CAMP Rehoboth. They both are long-time members of the CAMP Rehoboth Chorus. Jeri’s work with CAMP Rehoboth’s Volunteer on Vacation program (the precursor to today’s CAMP Rehoboth Outreach Program) included kids visiting the Double L Ranch, where Jeri likes to share her knowledge with Cape students.
Jeri’s long history of giving has brought a new opportunity to her doorstep. She is the founder of 100 Women Who Care Southern Delaware, which is a newly formed giving circle of the 100 Who Care Alliance, which has over 600 chapters worldwide. The purpose of the group is to bundle contributions to local nonprofit organizations to stimulate and amplify giving. Each member or team of her chapter will give $100, four times a year, to a local nonprofit that they choose each quarter. They now have 65 women in their Founders Circle and are inviting others to join.
When asked what her life mission is, she says she has renewed energy from this new venture. She will get a chance to stimulate and empower others, and set an example for those who need giving in their lives. She lives her life hoping to inspire others to make a change for good; to live a life of sustainable giving.
After all, she says, “if one is suffering, we all suffer.” ▼
Michael Gilles is a playwright, actor, and director from Milton, and a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.