The Camphill Community in Soquel, CA is not about one garden or farm, but about a network of people all over the world. This network has some common threads; each is based on anthroposophical values, with focus on the Waldorf and Biodynamic practices of Rudolf Steiner. Along with these core beliefs, each Camphill Community is a “life-sharing” facility that houses both the developmentally disabled (called “friends”) and their caretakers (called “coworkers”). This non-profit organization was established in Scotland in 1939 in the form of a Waldorf school, and now supports over 100 locations internationally.
While not all of the Camphill locations are agriculturally based, each maintain the same values of individuality and collective housing. They value each individual within the community, each person carrying out a role, with the strong emphasis of individual purpose and responsibility in helping the community be whole as well. “You can never make an assumption about what people are capable of,” says Anya, the main public relations representative and one of the live-in coworkers. She emphasizes the importance of making the friends in the community feel “integrated as opposed to isolated,” which is often the result of rotating “shifts” of a traditional care facility. Anya articulates how the friends do not hear “so-and-so has down syndrome” or “he is autistic,” they know that Scotia has a cat and that Rosemary cooks desert. The program is not client-centered but community centered, ensuring everyone knows they are needed to complete the whole.
As we arrived, the group was gathering for a morning circle and discussion. We were ushered into the main hall to be a part of the process. Camphill welcomed us in, allowing us to state our mission and intentions. There was a great sense of welcoming and inclusion, and we immediately felt the beauty of this daily meeting.
After the communal check-in, Steve, the farm’s biodynamic sensei, showed us around the farm and community grounds. The farm has a breezy feeling about it, and as we walked we all caught on to the overall sense of acceptance and growth. “The only thing we are intense about is human freedom,” Anya recognizes.
Robert, the farm manager, is working through his first growing summer in Soquel while trying to stay true to the biodynamic calendar, a daunting task. Both him and Steve took the time to describe biodynamics to us in their own way. Biodynamics at Camphill specifically works with human connections first, and then with the cosmos and nature spirits as typical of most biodynamic practice. Robert articulates his faith in biodynamics particularly well through observation: “If you observed the tree through all of the seasons, it is obvious the earth is breathing.” Steve explained to us that his approach to seeing the farm as a system is integrating the residents (who are also the people who will be eating the food). This, to him, is really biodynamics in action.
Their farm currently feeds about 30% of the community’s food needs (three meals and three snacks a day), and they are looking to fill more of that void as land opens up and money becomes available. The Rudolph Steiner Foundation is a major way the community is able to thrive without worry of land being taken from under them, a very real concern for farms with funding hardships. Steve describes the Foundation as being very helpful and forgiving as opposed to other sources of loans. This is an amazing resource for all things founded on Steiner’s philosophies.
Anya talked with us some more about communal decision-making and community functions. She believes in working with everyone in the community and out. They work closely with other local non-profits (including the Homeless Garden Project) and hope to continue to be an integral portion of their Soquel community. As a fully consensus-run organization, there is also responsibility within groups that focuses on individual aspects of the foundation. “We’re all about circles here,” Anya says while referencing the specific committees within the larger group dynamic. While big decisions will always involve everyone, there is a greater trust in people to make decisions for themselves and the group as a whole.
As our tour was coming to a close, Anya walked with us to one of the on-property homes for the communal lunch, a weekly occurrence. The group was ecstatic to see us and have the ability to engage with us more personally. Everyone had a different story and everyone wanted to hear ours; we felt honored to be to accepted into such a dynamic group of individuals. Truly a wonderful model, we recommend visiting the Camphill community near you. They accept AmeriCorps and other volunteers from all over the world for year-long internships. This type of opportunity seems like a wonderful way to work on interpersonal skills and connect with a very well-thought-out, wonderfully integrated community. This organization seems only to be moving in the right direction, continuously increasing their reach and strengthening their values through dedicated practice. Camphill, we love you!