Camphill Village Copake, an intentional community founded to create a life of engagement and dignity with people with special needs, celebrated its 60th anniversary in September 2021. We are the oldest and largest Camphill community in the United States, and we are one of more than 100 Camphillcommunities—called the Camphill Movement—that exist around the globe.
The Camphill Movement was begun by Dr. Karl König, an Austrian pediatrician and educator, who fled to Scotland to escape Nazi persecution. König was a student of anthroposophy, described as a “path of knowledge leading from the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.” On this path, as articulated by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, one learns to meet every human being as an eternal spiritual being living in a particular configuration of body and soul. Inspired by anthroposophy, König and his colleagues in Scotland began the first Camphill community for children with developmental disabilities in 1939 in Aberdeen. (Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf school, also based on anthroposophy, in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany.)
When Carlo Pietzner, a colleague of Karl König, and others came to Sunny Valley Farm in Copake September 17, 1961, the Camphill Movement already consisted of twelve schools and villages in eight countries, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Germany, South Africa, and the Netherlands. There were already two Camphill schools for children with special needs in Downingtown and Donegal Springs, Pennsylvania. (These two schools joined together in 1963 to form Camphill Special School – Beaver Run.)
Camphill has always arrived at a place by invitation, usually from authorities, friends, and/or families who have wanted the Camphill way of life to be available. A great deal of preparation for the arrival of the “Camphillers” in Copake had already been accomplished by amazing friends who had built a foundation for the village-to-be with officials in Albany and formed a strong board of directors. Dr. König had visited New York City and Spring Valley in 1960 and given lectures about Camphill to audiences, which often included parents of people with disabilities. Parents of many of the first young people with disabilities to come to the Village had heard Dr. König speak.
The founding of Camphill Village was part of the transformative movement in the United States in the early 60s to improve how society cares for people with special needs. In our early years officials from dozens of states and many countries came to see how we were living in community with people with different needs. Recognizing the innate spiritual nature of each person, providing opportunities to learn and grow, and caring for the earth are fundamental to the Camphill way of life. A defining aspect particular to Camphill Village was the incorporation of art in its myriad forms in Village life. Carlo was an artist and encouraged artistic approaches in all aspects of daily living—whether it was in creating the daily schedule, preparing a meal, arranging a cupboard, celebrating festivals, etc. Music has also always been important in Village life. In all of everyday life, the on-going building of community—a way of life, rather than a reachable goal—is paramount.
When the previous owner leased Sunny Valley Farm to us for $1/year in 1961, the 210-acre property included a farmhouse (now called Orchard House), a bungalow (now called Aillinn House), and three red barns. Camphill volunteers quickly welcomed adults with developmental disabilities and all lived together, sharing their lives, work, leisure activities, cultural pursuits, sorrows, and milestones. Orchard and Aillinn Houses were the first of 22 life-sharing houses at Camphill Village. Work on the land, using biodynamic methods (also described by Rudolf Steiner), and craft shops, based on hobbies and interests of the early Camphillers, soon began.
The 60s and 70s were a period of rapid growth for our community. Families with means, many of whom lived in New York City and wanted a fulfilling life for their children with special needs, began to fund the construction of our homes and craft shops so we could accommodate their loved ones. Construction sites and truck traffic were just part of normal life! Within five years, there were already 36 people with special needs living in a total of eight houses in this valley.
In 1969, we began a Waldorf-style school program for the children of our volunteers and some friends in the area. In 1973 this fledgling school was joined by experienced teachers from the Waldorf school in New York City and moved to Harlemville to found Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. In 1970, we opened Fountain Hall, our beloved community center where we play music, perform plays, hold services, and throw fun parties and dances. By 1973 there were 210 people, including 97 people with disabilities, living in 15 life-sharing houses and four smaller houses. Most of the bigger houses included eight people with disabilities who generally shared a bedroom with a roommate. (Over the years the usual number of people with disabilities per house has decreased to five or fewer. We have more houses now, but the number of people with disabilities has remained about the same. At this time two people are roommates which we’ve seen has been helpful to each, but everyone else has a single room.)
Beginning in the 70s some Camphill Village coworkers—the term we use to describe our residential volunteers and students in Camphill communities—left in order to establish new Camphill communities elsewhere. These were Camphill Village Kimberton Hills in Pennsylvania (1972), Camphill Triform in Hudson, New York (1979), and Camphill Minnesota in Sauk Centre (1980). Co-workers from Camphill Special School began Cascadia Society in Canada (1984), Camphill Ontario (1986), and, later, Camphill Communities California (1998). Beginning in1990, volunteers from the Village, joined by volunteers from some European Camphills, also nurtured and supported three Camphill-inspired communities in India.
Eventually Camphill Village Copake founded Camphill Hudson in Hudson, New York (2009) and Camphill Ghent in Chatham, New York (2012). The Camphill Association of North America, founded in 1983, now has 15 member communities and 5 affiliate communities. Camphill communities and individuals in our region support new initiatives which are working out of Camphill fundamentals. These initiatives now include the Peaceful Bamboo Family in Hue, Viet Nam, Agualinda near Bogota, Colombia, and Ubumwe Community Center in Gisenyi, Rwanda.
Our complex community continues to evolve on these approximately 750 acres; Camphill Village is now home to around 235 people. Even though we don’t usually categorize, there are 96 people with disabilities, 109 coworkers, and 29 children of coworkers. A major focus is on land work—three gardens (vegetable, Healing Plant, and Turtle Tree Seed), farm, and estate upkeep—all based on the biodynamic agriculture methods described by Rudolf Steiner. We milk our 18 dairy cows by hand and walk them to and from pastures three-quarters of the year. Since 1997 we have created ointments, tinctures, and teas out of material from our two-acre Healing Plant Garden. You can see these products at the online Camphill Store. Most recently the Healing Plant has partnered with Harney & Sons in Millerton to market three teas created here using CBD. See the Healing Plant products online at harney.com—the Camphill Village Collection. Since 1998 we have been home to the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative, growing open-pollinated and heirloom vegetable, flower, and herb seeds. See our products at the Turtle Tree Seed website.
Our craft shops include a Weavery, a Bookbindery, and Woodshop and Candleshop. These products are also available at the Camphill Store. Our Bakery makes bread, rolls, and extra treats for the community and sells products at Random Harvest in Craryville, the Philmont Co-op, and at Hawthorne Valley Farm Store. Since 2006 we have enjoyed lattes, espressos, and more at our Coffee Shop in the Village Green here at Camphill Village.
Another important aspect and major impact to our life is our participation with other Camphills in the eastern US in the Camphill Academy. Our branch of the Academy offers three- or four-year programs of study in Social Therapy and Social Agriculture and Biodynamics, and includes degree completion options. See a more complete description at camphill.edu. These programs are two of the reasons young people from across the globe come to Camphill Village. In any given year we are home to co-workers from between 20 and 25 countries. The many cultures represented enrich our community beyond measure.
Over the decades, Camphill Village has hired a number of staff and consultants—at this point we have 40 full- and eight part-time employees and about 20 consultants, mostly part-time. These local residents work in fundraising, quality improvement (to ensure we adhere to New York’s safety and legal standards), the co-worker recruitment department; our finance office, building and maintenance department, and in our medical work (nurses, part-time physicians and therapists).
As Camphill Village continues to evolve to meet the needs of our community members, we are still inspired by the path laid by our founders and others. We will always endeavor toward our vision of a world that recognizes the potential in human disability.